Embrace a different culture

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2006, 12:00am

EXCHANGE STUDENT Romilda Attie won't be able to celebrate Mother's Day with her mum this year, but she'll spend it with her host mother Yip Tang Lai-man.

Romilda, an 18-year-old exchange student with AFS Intercultural Exchanges, comes from Marseille in France.

She has been living with her host family - Mrs Yip, her husband and their two-year-old daughter - Patrice, since last August.

She is studying at STFA Lee Shau Kee College.

'I like Chinese culture,' said Romilda, who is a kung fu fan.

'Hong Kong is one of the most distant destinations that we can choose for our exchange year. I'm young and I want to see and do something totally different.'

Mrs Yip said she decided to host an exchange student because she thought it would be a good opportunity for cultural exchange.

She said after living with Romilda for two months, she already felt that the teenager was part of the family.

Initially she worried that Romilda might find it hard to get used to Chinese food and the Hong Kong lifestyle, including sharing her bedroom with a domestic helper.

But Romilda adapted to her new environment very quickly.

'I didn't experience any cultural shock. As an exchange student, you expect to see a lot of things which are different from your homeland,' she said.

'For example, I found it hard when I first tried certain types of Chinese food.

'But I told myself it's not something bad. It's just different. You need to be adaptive and observant.'

Mrs Yip works long hours at an IT company, but she seizes every opportunity to talk to Romilda.

'I think it's the quality rather than quantity that matters,' Mrs Yip said.

'We talk about everything, such as my work and her school life. If there's anything we're not happy about, we talk things through.'

Romilda agreed and said communication is the key to a strong and loving relationship, especially within a family.

'If you don't talk, you don't know what the problems are and the relationship will deteriorate,' she said.

Romilda said she's also very close with her mum. She said they're best friends and share all their news at the dinner table.

She said French families usually spend a lot of time together so she was surprised to see that many Chinese families lack communication.

'Some of my classmates told me they don't talk to their parents.

'When they go home, they just say 'hi' to their parents and that's it,' she said.

'I find it quite strange. It's like you live with them but you don't really know what they think.'

In France, Romilda and her sister usually buy their mum a present or make her a gift for Mother's Day.

But this year, Romilda will have dinner with Mrs Yip and Mrs Yip's mother.

Looking back over the last nine months, Mrs Yip said she feels lucky to have shared joyful and difficult moments with Romilda.

'The experiences I had with her have made me better prepared as to how I'm going to treat my baby girl when she turns 18,' she said.

Romilda will go back to France next month.

'I'm going to miss her,'

Mrs Yip said.

'But we will be connected for the rest of our lives.'

For more information about AFS, visit www.afs.org.hk or e-mail to info-hongkong@afs.org