A “majority of students in HKU do want to mingle with students outside their ‘group’, but maybe only a few can take the ‘first step’,” says Felix Kevin, the President of SCENe.
According to Kevin, a third-year Accounting and Finance major, it is rather human of us to choose to stay within our comfort zone and interact with people of a similar background, nationality or language. He thinks it is instinctive for us to group that way.
In terms of the university’s undergraduate population in 2014-2015, 50.4% of all undergraduates were from the Mainland, with 25.8% from other Asian countries, and 23.9 % from all other countries. There is a need to integrate such diverse groups.
This is where SCENe or Student Cultural Exchange Network steps in. Established in 2013 by two HKU students, SCENe aims to promote communication within different cultural groups in HKU through their events.
SCENe organises activities targeted at facilitating interaction between students. Their annual HK12 event is an “Amazing Race” where participants are sorted into groups with students of different nationalities as they complete challenges around Hong Kong in about twelve hours.This year’s edition of HK12 was held on March 28.
Sena Salim, a second-year Food & Nutritional Science major from Indonesia who participated in HK12 last year, says that she enjoyed the interaction with students from other nationalities.
“Having different nationalities in a group wasn’t a bad idea,” Salim said, “At first our communication wasn’t good, but after several hours of going through missions together, it got better. My team had two members from Mainland and they certainly helped a lot, given that I don’t speak Chinese or Cantonese.”
Inclusivity is clearly a hallmark of this student society. The SCENe committee itself is a diverse unit; its members have represented over 10 countries.
“It is crucial for us to convey that we are not exclusively an international student organization”, says Tanisha Kharwadkar, a second-year Law student from India who has been a committee member for over a year. “ We want all students of HKU to mingle and have great university experiences together whether you are a local student or a non-local.”
SCENe is one of the few independent societies in HKU, but it does have plans to join HKUSU in the future.
The preparation to join HKUSU in terms of registration and documents is demanding, Kevin mentions. He says that the difference between HKUSU and non-HKUSU societies is the “different style of managing a society.” HKUSU societies tend to have a solid bureaucratic system whereas other societies have a more casual approach to executing events.
Societies like SCENe are able to maintain their independence from HKUSU mainly due to the availability of funding like the HKU Class of ‘84 Social Inclusion Fund through CEDARS.
Kevin adds that external funding from government sources or sponsorships from companies are alternative options for non-HKUSU societies to consider. SCENe has been able to secure non-monetary support from companies in the form of marketing or logistical support. This way, non-HKUSU societies can begin their operations and prosper, while remaining independent and flexible in their approach.
In the long-term, SCENe hopes to make the HKU community more welcoming. Kevin acknowledges that their impact is minimal given the vast student body, but they are taking small-steps forward.