Hong Kong International Students Versus Local Students

photo by Wikimedia

View of Hong Kong from the Peak photo by Wikimedia

I lived in Hong Kong from sixth grade to senior year of high school. I never really knew what an international school was until I moved there. The school was like a mini version of NYC, it was extremely diverse and it felt like home inside but once I stepped outside the school everything was just so confusing. Two different cultures; foreign and Chinese were solely separated by a thin school wall. Living in a foreign country definitely wasn’t easy.

International schools are schools that promote international education (such as AP and IB systems) and do not follow the same education system as the city they’re in. All the different education systems they follow are accredited worldwide. The student bodies normally consists of students from 100-160 different countries.

photo by AIS

American International School of Hong Kong photo by AIS

The school I attended in Hong Kong was the American International School, it is one of the fifty-two international schools in Hong Kong.

There are tensions between the international and local school students due to misunderstandings such as financial differences. Local students see how the students pay a lot for their education whereas local school education is mainly funded by the government; it makes them think international students think highly of themselves. It was kind of like the differences you would see between students from boarding schools and public schools.

photo by Baycrest

Diocesan Girls’ School of Hong Kong photo by Baycrest

This is one of the local schools in Hong Kong, Diocesan Girls’ School.

International schools provide one of the best sports facilities for all their varsity teams while most local schools use the parks near the schools. Whenever there are friendly matches with local teams they assume international students look down on them and conflicts would happen during games.

AIS vs. ICS basketball game

AIS vs. ICS basketball game

Local students would think international students are obnoxious and loud because they would be speaking in English, a language the locals do not really understand. It’s understandable because it does get annoying when you constantly hear someone talking yet you don’t know what they’re saying.

Hong Kong local students

Hong Kong local students

Cultural differences would cause misunderstandings as well. International students in some way interact with people differently compared to local students. Asians are more conservative so they would seem more shy whereas foreigners like Americans are more open and there would be more physical contact.

students at AIS

students at AIS

There were incidents where I had firsthand experiences. International students really like to hang out after school so you would see clusters of them in the busiest areas of Hong Kong. We would be shoving each other, laughing and talking really loudly and that annoys the local people around us. But if you picture this happening in the states, it’s pretty normal because that’s just how people are here and it’s “socially acceptable” to be enthusiastic, loud and physical.

Since international students automatically speak in English wherever they are, locals assume they don’t know Chinese and say insulting things about them in Chinese; which worsens the relationship between the two.

Hong Kong McDonald's by wikipedia

Hong Kong McDonald’s by wikipedia

I once walked into McDonald’s with my friends and I had trouble ordering, I couldn’t read Chinese and the person (around my age) taking my  order couldn’t understand what I was saying in English.

When she finally got my order I got really happy and was like “Yes!! YES! That’s exactly what I want!” but I guess she felt offended because she whispered something in Chinese along the lines of, “Wow these foreign kids… they really think they’re big shots. You’re living in OUR country, at least learn some Chinese.”

After encountering incidents like that, international students end up disliking local students as well because of the way they were insulted. Difference between cultures really make a big impact between the students. This probably doesn’t only happen with students in HK but also between foreign and local students in other countries.

I believe that the language barrier is what really causes problems.


2 thoughts on “Hong Kong International Students Versus Local Students

  1. I’m actually attending the American International School at present in Hong Kong and strangely, I’ve found the opposite reaction. I’ve been learning Cantonese so as to communicate better with local people and they almost always seem put off by my efforts. They say, “Why are you learning Cantonese and not Mandarin?” “Well, because everyone here speaks Cantonese.” Even still, it’s been great fun and AIS is more of a local school with American curriculum it seems now (excluding the private school factor). Students widely speak Cantonese, although we have an array of other languages – Hindi, Korean, Japanese, French, Spanish…

    It was pleasant to see how the school was in the past.

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