MDes Talks: Understanding Filipino Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong

Studying Cross-cultural Management

Cross-culture management is one of the two business courses we (ID&BM) students are required to take in our first semester (the other is Essential Business Theories and Concepts). It was really interesting to me because we had the chance to know students from another faculty (the Faculty of Humanities) and even could further work with them.

In this class, we teamed up with the students from the Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies, to get the cultural diversity within the group and as a group, to explore cultural differences in many ways.

In order to work better in a team, we set our group norms at the beginning of the first lecture, which was about respecting cultural differences within the group. We explored various topics together, for example, how cultural difference influences management and how culture affects communication behaviours.

MDes Talks: Understanding Filipino Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong

In one of the assignments, we were asked to study cultural differences and adaptation by interviewing four Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong. It was an unforgettable experience for me – I never had the chance to really talk to the foreign helpers and understand their culture. There are more than 300,000 foreign domestic helpers employed in Hong Kong, a majority of them are women, and almost half of them are from the Philippines. We were tasked to analyse different modes of leadership and communication between local employers and foreign domestic helpers on topics around food (preparation, cooking, eating habits).

Differences between Hong Kong and Filipino cooking styles

We successfully approached four Filipino domestic helpers in Kowloon Park and interviewed them separately. At first, they were not willing to talk to us as they did not know us personally. However, after some small talks, they got to understand what we wanted to do and started making friends with us.

MDes Talks: Understanding Filipino Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong

We began the interview with simple questions, such as, what do you usually cook for the local family, what are the differences that you notice when comparing food preparation in your home country. In their responses, we found out that Filipino food uses more ingredients in sauces or marinades, for example, vinegar, cooking oil, coconuts, garlic and peppercorns are common in Filipino dishes. In comparison, local Hong Kong families, in their view, use little variety of ingredients and limit the method to cook to steam or boil.

MDes Talks: Understanding Filipino Domestic Helpers in Hong KongFilipino Dish: Sinigang (Photo by Yvette Tan/ Flickr)

Adaptation to the Hong Kong family

Through the interviews, we also understood that Filipino domestic helpers had made lots of effort on adapting the culture in Hong Kong. In order to help them better adapt to the local environment, the employment agencies provide them training courses on local cooking, language and housekeeping. They are required to take these courses before working in a local family. These courses aim at reducing the conflicts caused by the differences in cultures.

When they are by themselves, these Filipinos mentioned to us that they often go online, for example to YouTube to check Chinese recipes. In addition, sharing with their friends is a way to learn new Chinese dishes. One of the Filipinos explained that she prepares Filipino food for herself separately since she is not used to local food while her employer does not have any objection to this. Finally, if the Filipino domestic helpers still do not adapt well to the local family regardless of trying, they can look for another employer as soon as their contract is over.

What I Learn from the Class

MDes Talks: Understanding Filipino Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong

Living in a different country is invariably hard at the beginning. As an international student from Taiwan, even we share some similar value in Hong Kong culture, I still had a hard time adapting to this new place. By understanding how others adapt to the new environment, I found many ways to adjust for a better adaptation.

The subject Cross-cultural Management provided me a chance to see “culture” differently. Before taking the class, I was not aware of how powerful a culture could be to influence people’s decision making, behaviours and thinking. By looking at culture as a precedent or an underlying influence that shapes people, we will be able to communicate with people from a different background more effectively, or to at least avoid misunderstanding before turning it into a bigger conflict.


Image credits. Header image: Michael Coghlan/ Flickr. List and content images: Pei Tzu Chu except specified.

Posted by Pei Tzu Chu - Being passionate about life, never stop exploring. Graduated in International Business from National Taipei University of Business, Taiwan. Appreciating how design changes the world and bringing surprise to life. A current Master's student in International Desing & Business Management (MDes).

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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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