MDes Talks: On Making New Friends

Moving to another country does not only implies to face administrative challenges, but it also means starting from zero when it comes to friends. Once you are in the new spot you look for a flat, get your bank account, a phone subscription, start going to school. And suddenly you realise the everyday routine is formed, and everything calms down and settled - this is when you get the space and realise the complex network of friends, family, colleagues, classmates that you want to reach out, are on the other side of the planet.

My french teamMy french team

Personal Strategy

And at this very moment I asked myself: how do we make friends? So far it has mostly been in an organic way, they just tripped in my life thanks to different situations. From time to time, I browse on the internet to find correspondents around the world. When I travel, I pick my Airbnb with a lot of care, so I already make my first contact in a new city before arriving.

One Saturday afternoon, while I was on my bed wondering about that very question, I decided to ask the wisdom of Google. And so I typed: Where to meet people in Hong Kong? Yes, Google is a search for any answers. After showing pages containing basic advice like going to a bar or so, one page talked about joining a local dragon boat team.

It was an interesting option considered that you can do sport, meet people and share a passion. But I wasn’t ready to roam the neighbourhoods so I instead checked sports teams of Poly U. After a few days of thinking, I finally joined the rowing club with another person from my class. Quite an adventure it turned out, as we were both shy and hadn't done sports in a while. After pushing each other toward the club, we finally went on board.

Rowing club
Rowing club

And speaking of PolyU, the School does a great job of helping us. It offers a lot of other opportunities to meet people, from the Facebook group made this summer for international students, which introduced me with some of my first friends and my flatmate, to different events organised during the semester. Even the choice of electives brings new people around.

Clockenflap with PolyU friends
Clockenflap with PolyU friends

Belonging

Everyone choose a different strategy when it comes to building a network. Most people don’t think much about it, in fact, each one of us follows a pattern. What kind of people do we want to meet, local or foreigner like us? What is the importance of those new friends? How do we see Hong Kong in our life, as a brief stop or as a long period of stay?

Letting you drag into adventures by local friends
Letting you drag into adventures by local friends 

Human beings are social animals. They gather in groups usually with whom they share the most common points: same culture, same passion, same job or religion. It is the easiest way to network - you get directly included in a group where you can easily relate to and share with most of the people of the group.

Commonality is why you see community gathering in every city - there are socio / urbanism theories around this topic, and they are quite interesting. Cities like New York used to be described as the melting pot, where everyone is mixed in a common culture and evenly spread in all neighbourhoods. 

If looked closely at the social fabric in everyday life, the reality has shown that people sticking with their ethnicity or home country community, has changed the even melting pot in a mixing bowl.

Picture how the salad looks like when you put all the ingredients in the bowl, and before tossing, all the cheese cubes are together, same for the cherry tomatoes and the diced avocado? That is more what cities look like.

My Own Way

This is a comfortable way to get settled, but I didn’t choose it. I have always tended to find exciting people with not obvious resemblances.

I know this approach sounds weird for a lot of people - I’m often asked if I have met some French in Hong Kong, or if I want to be introduced to some of them as there are quite many of them here - I don’t mind people having this reaction regarding what I explained just before.

And no, I didn’t meet any French, except my tutors.

Now you would ask me why am I doing this? It’s not that I avoid them, it is just that I tend to meet more local people.

First, if I wanted to meet French people, Paris was a great place to do so, and I think travelling 8000km to meet my ex-neighbours is a big waste of money.

Second, because I want to stay in Hong Kong for a while, not just to do my postgraduate program and go back from where I came from. And for me, staying in a new country is learning who the people are, how they live, their traditions and so on. If I stick with Europeans, I will remain a spectator of the city and not part of it.

I’m hungry for more than just what meet the eye, more than just what’s make a difference between France and Hong Kong. I want to know about the cinema, the music, the history, the art from the past but also the present.

Language is where my commitment reaches its limit. I'm bad at learning languages even though people tell me "but your English is very good" when mentioning this limitation. Remember, it took me more than 15 years to have decent English. I am fascinated by the languages and their writings, so this is going to be a complicated relationship.

I may also miss some occasions because of my choice because there are great people everywhere.  I will probably change my strategy and meet even more people when I feel more confident about my knowledge of the city.

Take any opportunities, stay curious, keep your eyes open and don’t be in a hurry because building friendship can be a slow process. This is what I try to keep in mind.

Flatmate VS landlord tournament
Flatmate VS landlord tournament

Photo Credit: Mathilde Gattegno

Posted by Mathilde Gattegno – from Paris and love to see the world. Graduated from architecture with an option in civil engineering. Curious about everything, a huge bookworm, a little bit geek and also enjoy music, sports, going outside to take pictures. Hong Kong is a brand new playground!
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MDes Talks is a series of Student Blogs contributed by students in different specialisms under the Master of Design Scheme. It is set out to share students’ first-hand experience in the d-school pedagogy, their projects, takeaways, and student life in general.
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