Hong Kong ethnic minority students find opportunities to thrive in Taiwan
In the second of a three-part series on such minority students, we look at a Pakistan-born Hongkonger thriving at university in Kaohsiung
Mahroof Hussain was not the best pupil at secondary school, failing miserably in the Hong Kong Diploma for Secondary Education exams in 2012.
But now he is interning at one of Taiwan's biggest corporations, E United Group, which runs manufacturing companies and entertainment businesses.
He also coaches a cricket team there and successfully lobbied I-Shou University in Kaohsiung, at which he studies, to start a halal kitchen for Muslims.
"It's always great to meet new people and a new culture," said the Pakistan-born Hongkonger who moved to Taiwan in 2012 and is now studying international business administration at the university. "Once you are away from home, you become independent."
Hussain, who arrived in Hong Kong at the age of six in 1999, decided to apply to Taiwanese universities after joining a tour of institutions there organised by a teacher at Delia Memorial School (Hip Wo) in Kwun Tong.
A study published last week found that ethnic minority students who do not speak or write Chinese cannot qualify for 70 per cent of the city's non-degree tertiary education courses.
While some struggle with these limited options, ethnic minority students like Hussain have managed to find another path to higher education.
He and four fellow Delia pupils made up the first group from the school to enrol in Taiwan.
He said Taiwan's universities had lower entrance requirements, which allowed pupils with lower DSE scores to get a degree in four years. In Hong Kong, doing so would take at least six years, as they must first complete an associate degree.
He added that Taiwanese universities' programmes were cheaper than many local self-financed programmes. Hussain's annual tuition fee is NT$160,000 (HK$38,520) and his lodging expenses total NT$20,000 a year.
But he encountered difficulties at first, mainly because of the language barrier and a lack of halal food.
"Language became a problem in daily life," he said. "We had no classes teaching us Mandarin. The way I learned was just to go out and meet friends. Now I speak Mandarin with no problem."
When Hussain found that there was no halal restaurant in or near the university, he had to eat plain bread and vegetarian food for some time. Then he and another Delia graduate decided to speak out.
"As Muslims it was our responsibility to improve facilities for future Muslim students coming here," he said.
They met the dean of international affairs, leading to a two-to-three-month negotiation. They were allotted an individual kitchen and started to cook their own food there. Now, about eight students eat there daily.
As soon as he entered I-Shou, Hussain, a passionate cricketer, joined local team Daredevils. This year, he joined another team, Pakistan Badshaw. He also met a cricketer who had been promoting the sport in Taiwan from primary school to university. He decided to join this cause.
He later started coaching a women's cricket team at Chang Jung Christian University in Tainan and is persuading his university to form a team. He and the women's team toured Hong Kong in October last year.
Now interning at E United's public affairs department, Hussain says he wants to work in Taiwan after graduation. He said the international affairs dean recommended him for the internship and that he was the first among the university's international students to intern at the group.
"It's very difficult for international students to get an internship in Taiwan unless it's an English-speaking company, because everything there is in Mandarin," he said.
"Hopefully I can get a good job there. I like the environment."
Hussain drew a contrast with his adopted hometown. "Hong Kong is always very crowded," he said. "It's like rush hour 24/7."
He said Taiwan was a good choice for those who cannot enter Hong Kong's universities. "If they come to Taiwan now, the platform is set for them," he said
Hussain said there were about 30 Delia graduates studying in Taiwan, either at I-Shou or Ming Chuan University in Taipei.
In the final part of the series, we look at ethnic minority students and the 'One Belt, One Road' initiative