From Hong Kong to South Bend: An international student’s perspective on celebrating differences and taking advantage of opportunities

Author: Colleen Wilcox

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James Luk ‘21 is an international student from Hong Kong majoring in political science with a minor in computing digital technologies. Luk is a Kellogg International Scholar, Notre Dame International Security Center Undergraduate Fellow, founder of the Hong Kong Student Association at Notre Dame, and previous student intern at Notre Dame International. He is currently studying abroad in Jerusalem. Luk writes about his experience on campus as an international student, and why it’s important to seek out opportunities as an undergraduate student.

I applied to the University of Notre Dame from Hong Kong knowing four things: Notre Dame’s ranking on US News, Notre Dame’s strong Catholic identity, Notre Dame is big into football, and my desire to have a unique college experience. Having never visited the campus before, I had doubts about Notre Dame. I had minimal knowledge of American football, I was not Catholic, and it was the first time I would be an ethnic minority. At the time, I wanted to major in international relations, which is taught as a field of political science at Notre Dame and not its own major. This made me uncertain if I could pursue my interest in global issues.

After a year and a half at Notre Dame, I can happily refute and ease all these prior assumptions and hesitations I had. I have grown to love football weekends at Notre Dame. Students, alumni and fans travel to campus for the weekend. The atmosphere on campus is filled with enthusiasm and school spirit, it makes me feel like I am part of the Notre Dame family and something bigger than just myself. While there was an adjustment period to being a minority student, my roommates really helped me feel welcome. They were genuinely interested in the differences of our upbringings, and it allowed me to be myself without feeling ostracized for being different or not being Catholic. I even traveled to two of my roommate’s homes and met their family over school breaks.

Personally, what surprised me the most was the vast amount of opportunities and funding available for students to conduct undergraduate research and engage with the community outside Notre Dame. I am part of the Kellogg Institute’s International Scholars Program. The program not only provides students with the opportunity to develop their research skills as a paid research assistant, but more importantly, it encourages a one-on-one mentorship with the professor you are working with. Last semester, I worked with Professor Michael Hockx to conduct literature reviews to create an academic database of censorship theory and censorship methodology. We touched on a number of topics, such as moral censorship and self-censorship, which sophisticated the definition of censorship beyond the common understanding.

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I am also part of the Notre Dame International Security Center Certificate Program. The program focuses on educating students in the field of international security, broadly defined. Last semester, I recorded a podcast as part of a series that aims to create a forum and outlet where students and scholars in international security can discuss their areas of interest or expertise.

I have also had the opportunity to study abroad in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem study abroad program in the spring allows students to study at Hebrew University, an Israeli institution in Jerusalem and Bethlehem University, a Palestinian Catholic institution in the West Bank. The structure of the program offers a much more complex understanding of the conflict beyond the simple black and white, right and wrong narrative. By interacting with students in class and the community at large, I have gotten to hear narratives from both sides. At times it has been unsettling and troubling, but this engagement with the community outside of Notre Dame has provoked self-reflection and personal growth.

I hope my experiences at Notre Dame so far can show other students the vast amount of opportunities available at Notre Dame and why I think Notre Dame’s undergraduate education is so special. Political Science Director of Undergraduate Studies Professor Joshua Kaplan once told me that succeeding at Notre Dame requires the student to be active. I think that is very true for me. I took a leap of faith in coming to Notre Dame and the opportunities available for undergraduate engagement both within the US and around the world have definitely been worth it for me.

Originally published by Colleen Wilcox at hongkong.nd.edu on February 19, 2019.