Author’s Note: Turns out this blog kind of has a following. Which is weird. But really cool! Some people have asked me to write more about Hong Kong so viola!
Each experience abroad I feel like there’s always a single word that encapsulates it well. Last summer, it was “numinous”. So much of my time in Haiti was just spent learning how to love and be humble. This summer, I feel like the word I’m walking away with most is “intentional”. Every day, I asked for opportunities to speak into these kids’ lives in a positive way they maybe would never experience. I asked that I would not only be wise enough to recognize these opportunities but brave enough to seize them.
My favorite moment of class happened the second to last day. I asked myself what was something that stood out to me about the culture and the kids’ daily lives that I wanted to speak into and to get them thinking about. I wanted to make sure the lesson I left on was something that directly hit the burning desire of their hearts.
And in Hong Kong, there is no societal desire higher than importance.
Hong Kong society at its core is entirely based off of stature. They mindfully want to raise their stature in all things, money, materialism, and education. It’s all about what you have and your accomplishments. You can see this easily in the downtown business section of Hong Kong Island. The modern, pristine architecture holding multi-million dollar conglomerates share the streets with Armani, Gucci, Tiffany’s, you name it. If I can’t afford it, it’s there. Everyone walks around in their sleek heels and suits, oozing power and prestige. Celebrity tutors flash their bought smiles at you from the video billboards. It’s overwhelming and impressive.
But what does this mindset look like on Kowloon, at less glamorous places filled with government housing and poorer schools? How does this culture affect children of bus drivers and noodle restaurant owners whose sole desire is to propel their kids to their success they weren’t afforded? How did this affect my students?
This is what I focused on observing during my short time at Ning Po #2. I wanted to see how a culture of excess in the extremes affected the quote-on-quote have-nots, especially because Hong Kong is such an honor/shame society.
The way I could see this the most was their view of education. Some of the students, who were considered brighter and had more opportunity, were literally treated better. It was hard even for me not to give them more attention because they studied, eagerly answered questions, and went above and beyond. This summer program was not to be fun for them, it was another competitive advantage to get them into college.
The students who were “less bright” (which is in no way true and by the way is still fascinatingly above the average US student) had to live in an environment where they were constantly compared. Every students knew the others’ test scores. They were told they were worthless because they wouldn’t be going to college. This made them not try. It made them not care. In the lowest level class at ELIC this was apparent in the bad attitudes and horrible behavior they threw. They didn’t believe that creativity or alternative skills were essential and vital like we do here; they believe that not following what everyone else is doing is worthless. It broke my heart to have a kid believe if only they were better than one person, they were important.
So the day before I set up the lesson. In their journals I asked them to write down their responses to the following questions.
I mostly got answers like “someone who works hard, someone with money and power, someone who studies and makes their parents proud”. I asked them to keep thinking about this for the next day.
When they came in on the last day of school, I had them break routine and turn their chairs around. Together we brain-stormed a list of things Hong Kong values. Immediately it was “money” then “college, school, new things, power, and beauty”. I showed them the list I made for America. I put “money, involvement, justice, beauty, intelligence”. I then asked them if we could make a list of things Miss Maggie’s class thinks is important and what we feel like makes someone a good person.
Together, talking each one through, we came up with “helping others, being kind, working hard, being passionate, creativity, humility, love”. The room became very quiet as they compared this list with the one they always were toldwas true. They focused with an intensity I had never seen them have.
I then got to tell them that I saw them do all of these things during my time with them. I told them that they were worthy, important, and loved. At the end, they all began to clap, some scribbled it in their notebooks, others cried. I’m not sure if they were ever told this before or if it would ever be vocalized to them again. For the summer at least, Miss Maggie’s class knew they were all equal, all good, all loved, and all important; not just because I loved them but their Father does too.
That’s why my summer was worth it.