I attended college at a small central
Texas university in which those who were not from were considered international students. Actually, to be fair, there were a few Koreans and Japanese students, and maybe a handful of other non-Americans. Texas
Yesterday, I was invited to join a luncheon for all international exchange students at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). I was there to give a plug about our church and be a “face of the local community,” welcoming these newly-arrived young people to the city.
We are assigned tables, and I sit down with seven students from seven different countries:
Czech Republic, France, Hong Kong (a local student assisting with the welcome activities), Germany, Mainland China, Denmark and the . Netherlands
I begin with the usual get-to-know-you questions: What’s your name? Where are you from? What are you studying? When did you arrive in
And then our conversations diverge into many directions. In an effort to engage the Czech girl sitting next to me, I ramble aimlessly about HKBU… it’s about fifty years old, which is actually quite young. The university I attended is over 150 years old, I brag. She politely responds, “My school was founded in the 1300s.” Oh, I say.
Our table of mismatched strangers continues talking. “Are there any good French restaurants in
Hong Kong?” I have no idea, I say. The local Hong Kong student doesn’t know either.
guy asks questions about my job, and I have trouble talking with him because I am distracted by his t-shirt. It has a cartoon drawing of a scantily-clad female with foreign objects protruding from various body parts in her upper regions. “Well, I lead worship at a church…” Netherlands
“If we do some traveling in
while we’re here, where should we go?” the students ask. I suggest two highly-recommended locations, both popular among tourists. No, I haven’t been to either place, I admit. China
Actually, there are no long holidays during the fall semester, the students realize—especially unfortunate since the spring semester contains both Chinese New Year and Easter. “Most international students skip out on classes for a few days or a week, so they can go sight-seeing in a nearby country,” I offer helpfully. Then I bite my tongue. What kind of advice am I giving? Me, a “member of the local community,” encouraging these neophytes to play hooky?
I try to be the hospitable host for my half of the round table, refilling tea cups and placing dim sum items into bowls. I spill boiling water all over the table cloth. “At least I didn’t drop a spring roll into my cup,” I chuckle. “I do that often.” The students smile kindly.
“Is there any difference between Catholics and Baptists?” pipes up the French guy. Well…a few, I answer. The restaurant is so noisy—over 200 international students, in addition to faculty and members of the community—so how can I get into a theological discussion here? I run through the basics.
The meal begins to wrap up. In fact, the food is a poor excuse for the delicacies of traditional dim sum and Cantonese fare. “Don’t judge
Hong Kong cuisine by this sad cafeteria-quality food,” I say wisely. It’s the best we’ve had so far, the students politely comment.
Like kindergarteners, the 200+ university students are asked to depart for the next activity in order of table number. We arise, close with the niceties that are expected after such an occasion, and move into different directions.
This international lunch is a snapshot of a typical
Hong Kong experience for me. Thrown into awkward situations with people from all walks of life, from various regions of the globe, and with completely different personalities and worldviews. Discussing multiple topics—everything from food, travel, cultures and language, to religion, music and history. Being asked odd and sometimes ridiculous questions about the . Occasionally being the expert on US Hong Kong (if interacting with a newcomer) but usually being the foreign idiot (when chatting with locals). Trying to answer the question “Why did you come to Hong Kong?” for people who have no concept of Christianity or church.
These are reasons I love this city—you never know who you’ll encounter or what you’ll learn from another expat or local. The “internationalness,” I like to call it. Never a dull moment, always having to be on your toes, not sure what kinds of people will walk into your life tomorrow.
(But I still come away from every Chinese meal wanting a bite of chocolate or some such satisfying dessert…I guess I’ll always be an American.)