This year marks the 20th anniversary of the formation of the University of Toronto Erindale Hong Kong Students’ Association at UTM. This coincides with not only the 150th anniversary of Canada and UTM’s 50th anniversary, but also the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong joining China as a special administrative region (SAR).

UTEHKSA’s president, Josiah Chan, a third-year double major in management and sociology, explains, “Twenty years [ago, Hong Kong was] a British colony. After that, we turned over back to China—the sovereignty returned back to China. So this year is very significant.” As an SAR, Hong Kong possesses its own government, legal system, police forces, and more, but falls directly under the Chinese Central People’s Government.

According to Chan, when Hong Kong became an SAR, Hong Kongers had the financial means to immigrate to other countries at the time (in comparison to Chinese mainlanders). Canada was a popular choice.

“Being a group of minority here at that time, [the immigrants] thought it to be beneficial to establish an association for socializing and meeting new and old friends in a foreign country,” says Chan.

This is how the UTEHKSA was established in 1997.

Originally, the club was known as the University of Toronto Erindale Chinese Students’ Association, but was renamed as the UTEHKSA, which according to Chan, was “to better position the club to serve the Cantonese/Chinese community within and around GTA.”

Chan states that this year, the UTEHKSA welcomed 200 new first-year students to their club, to an already existing total of 500 members. The membership fee is $10, while a renewal is an $8 fee.

“We usually hold one event per month, mainly serving the Chinese community at UTM, and GTA as well […]. This is because UTM doesn’t have a specific activity or program to target the Chinese community,” says Chan. “So our function is to fill that gap.”

What’s unique about this club is that they hold pre-orientation events for incoming first-year students in Hong Kong.

“We are still a minority—in terms of mainlanders. Many of our members are CBC (Canadian-born Chinese) or international students […]. We host an event called Pre-Orientation in Hong Kong in the summer. The purpose of that was to let the first-year students know about our existence, and to know better our background of each campus,” says Chan.

The UTEHKSA reaches out to first-year students through a combination of social media and word of mouth—especially as many of the UTEHKSA originally studied in high schools in Hong Kong. Pre-Orientation was facilitated by UTEHKSA members who went home for the summer.

Beryl Lee, a third-year CCIT and economics student, as well as the VP external for UTEHKSA, states that approximately 100 first-year students attended the 2016 Pre-Orientation Day event. The event was held at the Best Western Plus Hotel.

Throughout the 2016-17 academic year, UTEHKSA has held various events, such as an Orientation Day (which came after the UTMSU frosh event), a Foodie King competition (where there were individual and group challenges, such as a hot dog eating competition, held in collaboration with CUAUTM), a Mahjong tournament in January, and most recently, a booth selling rose bouquets in time for Valentine’s Day.

For the remainder of the year, UTEHKSA is planning to hold a Battle Royale on March 10, an annual semi-formal, and a banquet on March 25 in collaboration with their St. George and Scarborough counterparts. This year’s semi-formal is titled La Nuit De La Victoria, and will be held on a boat cruise.

Last year, UTEHKSA, University of Toronto Hong Kong Students’ Association St. George, and University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Chinese Club joined together to form the University of Toronto Hong Kong Students’ Union. This union is the largest Hong Kong student group at U of T, where students can take advantage of the annual semi-formal and other opportunities held across the three campuses. The UTHKSU consists of three joint presidents, one from each club.

When asked about what he was responsible for as the president, Chan begins with, “Oh, boy.”

“[I am responsible for] internal grievances, affairs, financial literacy, and communication between members and the association and the outside world […], making valuable connections within the UTM community, other Chinese clubs, or other English-speaking clubs—especially the UTMSU.”

On the other hand, Lee is responsible for sponsorships and helping organize events in the GTA.

“I think that the challenges would be that given that we are the minority here at UTM, sometimes it’s a little difficult to hold events, such as the Mahjong tournament, since some people don’t know how to play it. Those events will have less people [coming out],” says Lee.

Being a part of the UTHKSU means that Chan and his team look beyond their own campus—and consider the external community of Hong Kong students too. For example, UTEHKSA offers various sponsorships and discounts for its members. According to Lee, and the UTEHKSA website, this year’s sponsors include the UTM Easy4.0 Education Inn, Food Hwy, and various salons and restaurants.

In return, Lee says that the club offers them marketing. “We promote their company on social media, like Facebook, Instagram, and WeChat,” says Lee.

Additionally, UTEHKSA hosts seminars. In fact, the club has connections with the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office based in Toronto.

“Usually, they visit our campus once a year, and we help promote their talk,” says Chan. “They usually talk about the working condition in Hong Kong, and the opportunities in Hong Kong.”

“I think exposure is important,” says Chan, which is especially true when it comes to UTEHKSA. UTM students may find it hard to approach the club, as many may mistakenly believe that the club is only open to the Hong Kong student community. UTEHKSA is in fact open to all students at UTM, and language is not a limiting factor either.

“I just want to correct that mindset, because we are […] trilingual citizens in Hong Kong,” says Chan. The three languages include English, Mandarin (spoken by mainlanders from China), and Cantonese (for Hong Kongers exclusively).

“Language is not a barrier to us. I think our marketing team has been terrific, but still we are not reaching a point which I expect,” Chan says.

Lee agrees with Chan’s sentiments, and adds, “I think that we reach out to the local area and the Cantonese people, but we can’t reach to other cultures in UTM or even in other areas.” To increase exposure for their events, the club has been working alongside UTMSU in order to share their events with the student population.

“Through this platform, I just want to clarify this notion, because we are passionate, outgoing, and we just want to reach out to the community so that they know of our existence, and perhaps participate as well,” Chan says.