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Shamillah is a junior Economics major in Davenport College. She was born and raised in Uganda, and moved to New Mexico for two years before attending Yale. She loves to sing and dance, and has therefore been involved in Konjo African Dance Troupe, the Yale Undergraduate Gospel Choir and ASEMPA, an African Acapella group. She is also very involved in the Yale African Students Association, a cultural group on campus, as well as the Afro-American Cultural Center.
The Yale University New Asia Exchange program (YUNA) has, without a doubt, been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my sophomore year. The program brings together 8 Yale students and 8 students from the New Asia College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) to engage in cultural exchange for a total of one month. Four months ago, we began planning to host our fellow program participants. We organized meals for our peers as well as different activities, both academic and casual for the students.
Even after all of the planning, I was not fully prepared for their arrival on a snowy January evening. The group of Yale students and New Asia students got along really well right away, with jokes, laughter, and eagerness to learn about each other. In those first two weeks, the New Asia students learned from us about the United States, centering on the year’s theme of “Capitalism and Society”. I found, however, that I learned even more from them about Hong Kong, Mainland China and Macau, and the interesting diversity of problems associated with each region. I also learned a lot from the events that my fellow Yale students had organized: it is highly unlikely, for example, that I would have visited “Occupy New Haven” if a fellow Yalie hadn’t coordinated a visit for the New Asia students.
This, however, was not the end of my learning experience. At the beginning of spring break, we, the Yale students, travelled all the way to Hong Kong. The 14-hour flight was well worth the jetlag! We arrived to the hospitality of New Asia College’s “Friendship Lounge”, which would be our home for the following two weeks, and to the kindness and enthusiasm of our New Asia fellow program participants.
On the academic side of the program, capitalism and its manifestation in Hong Kong could not have been better represented. We attended lectures by numerous influential people such as Honorable Jasper Tsang, the President of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, Dr. Gao Xi, an exiled mainland Chinese activist, and Professor Stan Wong, a political science professor at CUHK. We learned about the interaction of business and government in Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong social security dilemma. We toured “Occupy Central” (a movement mirroring “Occupy Wall Street”), spoke to local organizers, and were reminded of the existence of social inequality in this highly developed Asian pearl. Additionally, Prof. Gordon Matthews, a lecturer in the Anthropology department at CUHK showed us around Chungking Mansions, revealing a side of Hong Kong to us that we might never have discovered individually.
Our academic journey on capitalism took us to Macau, a special administrative region of Mainland China that is renown for grandiose casinos that line the city. We had been introduced to this region by CUHK students during the Yale YUNA Symposium. We toured a casino and spoke to a professor of gaming at the Macau National University. We began to understand the necessity of gambling to Macau, and the enormous boost in GDP that the economy had enjoyed after opening up its boundaries to foreign casino enterprises. I marveled at the interesting blend of Portuguese and Cantonese culture in the area from the architecture with its arcs and dips to the utilization of Portuguese in the region’s law. The cuisine was, of course, also an interesting blend of sauces and seasoning that drew from the East and the Mediterranean. My appreciation for the fusion was enhanced by the fact that we had already sampled numerous Cantonese dishes in Hong Kong, such as dim sum, the 1,000 year old egg, lo mein, as well as interesting cuisine from Tai O, a fishing village in Lantau Island.
But the most outstanding portion of the program was the sincere cultural exchange that we shared with the New Asian students. Capitalism and its effects were given a face in the New Asian students as well as Mr. Fok, the Hong Kong Program Manager of YUNA, through numerous conversations. More importantly, however, the New Asia students became our friends. I visited the home of my pen pal, Charles, and was received so warmly by his family. It was like I was an old friend with students that I had only met a few months ago. It was sad to leave, but I definitely had a most enjoyable spring break with the YUNA program in Hong Kong. Many thanks to New Asia College and Yale-China for making this a possibility, and I hope that many more will continue to benefit from this enriching experience.