Hong Kong international students torn between staying or leaving

Inkstone 發布於 2019年11月15日00:11
International students in Hong Kong are debating their future after protests intensify this week.

Maya Boehm, an American exchange student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), has her bags packed to fly home at a moment's notice.

On Tuesday, St Edward's University in Austin, Texas, told the 20-year-old that she and her classmates had been summoned home to "ensure the continued safety and security of our students" after chaotic clashes the previous night between anti-government protesters and police on the campus.

The religious studies major has not been given an exact timetable for her return, but she expects to be on a plane within days.

"Everything is very unpredictable right now and I just have to take things not only day by day, but hour by hour," said Boehm. "It breaks my heart to have to leave like this."

Boehm is just one of many foreign students in Hong Kong whose lives have been disrupted as at least six universities became the latest flashpoints for the unrest that has gripped the city since June.

The violent clashes at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and other schools rattled international students who now consider leaving the city.

After CUHK became the site of some of the most violent clashes yet, foreign students are being called home or face the agonizing decision of whether to wait out the unrest.

CUHK canceled the rest of the semester while most other universities suspended classes until next week or replaced lectures with online modules for the rest of the term.

Hundreds of mainland Chinese students have left or are leaving, and Taiwan has evacuated 81 of its students studying at CUHK.

"Deciding to leave or stay is all that exchange and international students are talking about," said Boehm.

"Some students still want to salvage their experience and think that waiting it out will allow them to continue to go out and have fun, and that by going home early, they could miss out."

Hong Kong's eight publicly funded universities are home to roughly 18,000 non-local students. Students from more than 50 countries and territories make up about one-fifth of CUHK's 20,000-strong student body.

Lily Wang, a master's student in communications at Hong Kong Baptist University, said she left with three friends this morning for the mainland.

"We took a taxi together to the high-speed train station and then went to Shenzhen. We couldn't wait anymore as relatives back on the mainland were very concerned about our safety," she said.

"I never imagined that one day my personal safety could not be guaranteed in Hong Kong, a city that was once so safe."

Some schools from other countries have called on their exchange students to return home and hundreds of students from mainland China have left or are leaving.

Hong Kong marine police deployed a ship to help students from the mainland leave the CUHK campus on Wednesday morning.

Multiple American universities including St Edward's and the University of South Carolina have told their students to return home as well.

According to Taiwan's education ministry, 41 Taiwanese students at CUHK have already made the trip home at their own expense.

For others, family members are calling on them to return.

Olamide Akintokun, 20, a British exchange student at CUHK, said she was seriously considering returning to the UK due to her parents' concerns and her frustration with the regular disruption of transport and everyday life.

"It's honestly more 70-30 with me at the moment," she said. "Because I am not really enjoying my time here anymore, classes haven't been on, yet exams and deadlines are around the corner and my parents are worried sick."

Akintokun, who studies international business management, said the protests had forced her and her friends to take special precautions on campus " such as carrying identification with them in case they were stopped by police. She also described "a feeling of censorship."

"You can't say something or dress a certain way around protesters because they might get angry," she said.

Akintokun said two of her classmates from the UK and Japan had already returned home, while two others from Canada were making preparations to leave this week, due to concerns over personal safety or further interruption to their studies.

Swedish exchange student Nisse Dahlgren, who is studying political science at CUHK, said three of his American friends had gone home in recent days because their families had expressed concerns or their insurance provider threatened to cancel their coverage.

"As for me, I have no intention of leaving at this time, but I am starting to grow weary, of course," said Dahlgren, 26. "I have not yet received any recommendation or inquiry from either my home university or the Swedish consulate."

Students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong take a break after a night spent clashing with police officers. Protests rocked the campus this week.

At Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), last week's planned graduation ceremony was canceled in the wake of the death of 22-year-old computer science student Chow Tsz-lok, who died after falling in a car park near where tear gas was fired.

"That was quite a big shock," said 23-year-old Jacob Junior Kang, a New Zealander in his final year of study for an operations management degree at HKUST.

"It was really tragic to see everyone's reaction to his death. But it was also sad to see how many international students' families had flown all the way across the globe just to have the graduation be canceled."

He said the events had changed international students' feelings about safety on campus.

"We thought the safest place would be the school," Kang said. "We had faith that the schools would protect the students. But from what we have seen at CUHK, there is no guaranteed safety for the international student community."

Taiwanese media reported that 126 Taiwanese students from CUHK would take a flight back home on Wednesday.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday afternoon, Singapore's consulate in Hong Kong assured Singaporean students it was "closely monitoring the situation." In August, Four universities in the Lion City pulled the plug on student exchanges with Hong Kong this semester on the advice of Singapore's education ministry.

Indonesia's consulate also said it was monitoring the situation, and advised students to stay safe, obey the law and contact the consulate on its 24-hour phone line with any problems.

The Norwegian foreign ministry said on its website that "students should continuously evaluate campus safety."

The Technical University of Denmark has urged its 36 students in Hong Kong to pack up and return home.

Eight other consulates did not respond to requests for comment, while the Japanese consulate released a statement warning all nationals to avoid the protests and refrain from filming protesters.

Additional reporting by Phoebe Zhang, Kristin Huang, Lawrence Chung and Sarah Zheng

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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