The Art of Integration

When I told people that I was moving to Hong Kong, they asked, “For how long?” I fully recognise that when business people move to foreign shores, that they often do so as expatriates and for a specified or unspecified period of time. Very often these same people do little to fit in. They continue buying their groceries from international brands, they eat in Western restaurants, they don’t learn much of the local language or culture and perhaps do nothing to befriend local people.

When you immigrate as a child, you are forced to fit in i.e. if you’re fortunate enough to be sent to a local school and not an international one. You soon make friends, learn a second language, learn a lot about local culture and feel very much at home. As an adult my move to the Netherlands was also pain free. I immediately started a Dutch language course and I avoided becoming a member of a British or South African Women’s Association. Through work, I soon became acquainted with Dutch nationals, who still remain friends today. 

With immigration, comes integration, or so I believe anyway. I prefer referring to myself as a ‘localised immigrant.’ Beyond professional networking associations, I actually try to avoid groups which may ostracize me from meeting local people. But, I was fortunate! A wonderful Chinese lady reached out to me through Linked-in (prior to my move) after I had posted an update which had inspired her. Neither of us, generally speaking, reach out to strangers through Linked-in, but we agreed that our professional backgrounds and ideals lent themselves to further investigation. When we met recently in Hong Kong, it was as if we had been friends forever. We attended a couple of courses together at the Hong Kong University, during which I have met three of her friends, and we all just know that we’ll be friends for a very long time. Was this just luck? Or, do you attract the people that you need in your life? Or, is it just so obvious, that if you attend activities that you’re interested in, you’re bound to meet like-minded people i.e. as long as you’re open to meeting other people. Remember, you are the visitor to the country and the locals don’t need to change for you. Would it surprise you to hear that we all have an interest in CSR? I guess not! 

This evening we had a fantastic meal in a place that I probably wouldn’t have dared go to on my own, just because I don’t speak Cantonese yet. I say yet, because that’s my next mission; to study the language and to be able to have conversation; no matter how badly I pronounce the words. This evening, I was also christened again as these lovely ladies took the time to discuss what my Cantonese/Mandarin name should be. More on that next time.

Our next step is to meet regularly in each other’s homes, which is entirely unusual for Hong Kong. Homes are small and people generally don’t invite strangers to visit. But, we all believe that if we cook for each other, we will get to know one another better and we can use the time to discuss important personal, CSR and business-related issues. 

So, how long will I be living and working in Hong Kong? Perhaps I’ll answer that question with “how high is up?” I don’t know? But given the fun I’m having, the number of friends I’ve already made and my fantastic new job at Cisco Systems, it could be for a very long time!

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