Hanze students in Hong Kong: ‘We are not finished here’

Protests, demonstrations and violent clashes with the police. Yes, they’re seeing it happen up close, but Hanze students Frans and Rodney are in Hong Kong and will remain in Hong Kong.

‘The people here are not protesting against China’, Rodney wrote in an email from Hong Kong. ‘The protesters are flocking to the streets for democracy and freedom.’

Hong Kong, days after the local elections on 24 November.

Rodney (20), a third-year Business & Retail Management student, is doing a work placement at ZAZU, a company specialising in products for children. He is designing a social media marketing plan for ZAZU and wants to keep working on it.

Rodney: ‘To go home now…that wouldn’t feel right.’

‘I’m not finished here. I’m definitely staying until the end of January, maybe even longer. Going home right now wouldn’t feel right. Like all the other expats, I can go home. The people I interact with here are already home.’

Hong Kong: protest slogan on a bin

Rodney: ‘If you pay attention, you can see the protests everywhere.’

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (Hong Kong SAR) has been the scene of protests and demonstrations since March. The authorities don’t always respond gently, to put it mildly.

‘It’s difficult to travel to certain areas’, wrote Rodney, who himself has not been significantly affected by the restrictions.

‘I live near Victoria Park; it’s been fairly quiet there. The stations in the areas where demonstrations take place are often closed. You need to check whether you can make it to your destination.’

Frans: ‘These are students, young people, they’re trapped; they can’t get out’

Such inconvenience is nothing compared to the problems experienced by the protesters in Hong Kong. Tensions ran extremely high in the days leading up to the local elections, resulting in violent clashes between the police and the protesters on campus and in the vicinity of the Polytechnic University (generally referred to as ‘PolyU’).

Reportedly, the resistance on campus still has not been completely broken.

‘It must be awful’, said Frans (24), who is pursuing a Marketing & Management minor at PolyU. ‘These are students, young people. They’re trapped; they can’t get out.’

Frans: ‘I had to run from the police and tear gas’

The situation brings out the worst in people, but also the best.

Rodney: ‘It’s so great to see people taking action together. Everyone is unified, everyone helps each other. It’s very inspiring. In this culture, society is more important than the individual. You can see it in the protests, too; so much solidarity.’

Frans picked up on this, too.

‘We’re so fortunate in the Netherlands’, the third-year Communication and Multimedia Design student wrote. ‘In the Netherlands, people our age don’t have to fight for freedom.’

PolyU entrance in Hong Kong

Frans: ‘Students use furniture to build barricades.’

At the Polytechnic University, where the most intense skirmishes have taken place so far, you can’t ignore the turmoil.

‘I had to run from the police and tear gas’, wrote Frans, ‘but that was mostly my fault. I was curious, which makes sense. It’s the university where I’m studying, I live nearby, and I have friends who are participating.’

Rodney has friends involved, too.

‘Some of them can’t get to work, on top of everything else. But I also have friends who are no longer on speaking terms with pro-Beijing family members. On the other hand, my housemate is from China, and she’s nervous because she isn’t from Hong Kong.’

Rodney: ‘The Hanze asked me to come back, but no…’

These are violent times, and people have been killed and injured. Yet Frans and Rodney are not planning to leave Hong Kong like the majority of students from Groningen did.

‘If you don’t want to have anything to do with it, you can definitely avoid the protests’, wrote Frans, who hasn’t had to discontinue his studies.

‘When the protesters occupied the university, the programme immediately came up with an alternative plan, so that we could mostly finish our courses online. I don’t really feel unsafe here, either. It’s a matter of being alert.’

Rodney feels exactly the same way.

‘The protests are mainly in the vicinity of PolyU, which is on the mainland. I live on Hong Kong island. The Hanze asked me to come back–they even offered to arrange something that would allow me to finish my work placement in the Netherlands. But no, I’m staying here. If I were to quit now…no, that wouldn’t feel right.’

The iconic symbol of the peaceful protests in Hong Kong: the umbrella

Photos: Frans and Rodney