I remember the feeling I got when I first moved into my dorm at UC Berkeley my freshman year. I was so excited, yet nervous, about moving into a new phase of my life; living in a dorm would be the mark that I am no longer living with my parents. My experience living in the dorm in America was amazing, as I found my second family to do everything with.
As a result, I was so excited to be able to have that experience again at the University of Hong Kong. This time, I am a 3rd year undergraduate student moving into a dorm, and I was so excited to meet everyone on the floor and find my sense of belonging and community in a new country.
However, dorm life was not what I was expected, and I was hit with a huge culture shock. Students here are very serious about their dorms and hall culture. I remember during my first two weeks, I would hear the new incoming students chanting, stomping, and screaming Cantonese songs up until 4am.
Unlike the United States, the dorms here are very similar to fraternities/sororities, in which everyone in the dorm is expected to be brothers/sisters and hang out with their hall mates all the time. Furthermore, there are monthly formal meetings called high table dinners that everyone is expected to join, and if you do not attend, you must provide a legitimate reason for your absence.
The dorms here also have clubs and sports competing with other dorms such as choir, badminton, drama, lacrosse, and many other activities. I am actually in my hall’s badminton team, and I just played my first match as boys double. It was really intense as I didn’t expect them to take it so seriously. Almost everyone on my floor was present, and they had a hall song and chants that they would sing after every game. All the local students on my hall kept on saying, “You have to win this for the team,” and it just put a lot of pressure on me. My roommate told me that local students have to join 2 sports team and 1 non-sport activity/club per semester, and this is just crazy to think about how stressful this could be for students.
I heard from my roommate one of the reasons why students have to keep up with this hectic schedule is because their dorm contract is conditional. That means that if they are seen not participating by other students and the person in charge of the dorm, they could be kicked out of the dorm next semester. Furthermore, there is a hierarchy in the dorms, as new students have to do activities that the higher status students tell them to do. For example, new students have to meet a “room visit” quota by visiting a certain amount of rooms and asking people random questions to report it back. This is so different from dorm life in the United States, and it is quite crazy to think about how one’s position in the dorm can be taken away if they do not meet these criteria. That is why I understand why everyone makes participation in these hall activities such a big deal.
Luckily for me, since I am a foreigner, they tend to not bug me about these activities. However, this could be a negative thing, because I feel so out of the loop. Oftentimes, I’m lonely in my dorm as I am not really close to anyone. I heard a lot of stories from my other international friends how they don’t feel like they belong living in the dorms either, and I definitely understand why. I do not know if it is the language barrier or the cultural barrier, but the local students here do not make a huge effort to include international students in their activities. Everything is really exclusive here as I actually had to message people and ask several people in order to find when and how I could join the badminton team. It has been quite a rough two months living in the dorm, but it can only get better right?