For School of Business and Management undergraduate Rina Lookman Jio, from Indonesia, it was like having a home away from home. For her welcomer Prof Billy So, Chair Professor and Head of the Division of Humanities, there was a fascinating chance to gain an inside perspective of another culture. These are just two of the many benefits of the HKUST Host Family Program, which enables academic and staff members to introduce the University and Hong Kong to incoming non-local students in an informal way.
Unlike many host family arrangements, students joining the HKUST program do not live in, but connect up regularly with their hosts for different activities. Joining family meals, lunches, visiting local sites and celebrating festivals are just some of the occasions that participants enjoy together. “Such an arrangement requires commitment from both hosts and students as they need to arrange to find each other during busy semesters,” said Prof Paul Forster, Program Director (Global Learning), at HKUST’s Global Student Office. It also enables more hosts to participate given often tight residential space, he explained. Live-in would be impractical in Hong Kong.
All those joining take part in an orientation session at the start of the School year and then have the flexibility to decide their own schedule of meetings and activities. "It has made a difference having a ‘family’ at HKUST," said Rina. "Dinners together with my host and other host students all helped to make me feel at home." As well as Rina, Prof So has hosted students from Korea, Singapore and Mainland China in the three years he has participated in the program.
Others joining include deans and tutors, secretaries and technicians. President Tony F Chan has also hosted students. This year, the program expanded to exchange students as well as full-time non-local undergraduates, and included alumni among the hosts for the first time. Students hailed from around the world, including India, Korea, France, Norway, Mainland China and Southeast Asia. One or two students are normally teamed with each host.
Prof Forster, who also hosts students, said: “We find friends in surprising places. Often, chance meetings lead to long friendships. While we all tend to get busy, I reach out to, and still receive messages from my host students who are now alumni. I might need them to host me some day when I retire!”
President Chan hosts Xia from Mainland China and Alex from France at the President's Lodge.
Internationalization is an important element of campus life at HKUST, helping the University community be more aware of different cultures and perspectives. Around 600 exchange students and 300 full-time non-local students study at the University each year. HKUST also sends out 600 exchange students abroad annually. Recruitment of hosts for the program usually starts in September and all HKUST staff members, faculty and alumni are eligible to apply.