A Vicarious Globetrotter Interview with Ariq Hatibie
By Sarah WidderFreshman Ariq Hatibie is going places. Born in Jakarta, Indonesia, Ariq lived there for just two years before living two years in Singapore and then moving to Hong Kong where he’s lived ever since. Living in Hong Kong from such a young age has redefined what he interprets as home. “I would consider myself to be from Hong Kong,” he says.
His years in Hong Kong have affected Ariq in many ways, from the language he speaks to the opportunities that he is able to seek. Ariq learned Indonesian first, but “because I lived in Hong Kong for so long, English sort of overtook that. I would say I have two native languages, Indonesian and English.”
This results in a mixture of English and Indonesian at home. Ariq claims not to be an expert at Indonesian, and he certainly seems very comfortable with English. The prevalence of English in the environment as Ariq grew up made it easy and natural to pick up the language. English is one of the official languages of Hong Kong, and American media is pervasive – Disney Channel and Cartoon Network were fixtures in Ariq’s young life. In school, most of Ariq’s teachers were British, or from Australia or New Zealand. Schools in Hong Kong train their students well in English, but at an international school like the one Ariq attended, the students speak English among themselves more than at a local or public school.
Ariq has been pretty independent throughout his life. This manifests in many ways, starting with his name. His parents named him Taufan Ariq, but “I didn’t really take a liking to Taufan… In Chinese, it would resemble something like fried rice, so I went with Ariq.” He was able to choose his name and explore his interests due, in part, to his parents. “They left me to my own devices,” Ariq says gratefully. They certainly wanted him to do well, sending him to a more expensive international school instead of a local public school. Ariq recognizes the privilege this was, especially given that his parents came from a much less privileged background. “Living in Hong Kong, a lot of it can fool you into thinking it’s that easy.”
The diversity of Ariq’s international school has also helped him maintain perspective and tolerance. “We have tons of people from all sorts of different backgrounds,” he says, “so it really influenced my worldview in terms of being tolerant about other people.” In many ways, his school was relatively similar to high schools in the U.S. His school did not track GPA, nor did it publish a class rank, but there was still an academically competitive atmosphere. There is also a prevalent culture of tutoring for schoolwork in general and standardized exams in particular. “Parents think that if you don’t go to a tutor, you’ll fail. There’s this huge industry of people who tutor and go to tutoring.”
The expectation for success spans across public and international schools. Even with this culture of intense studying, students at Ariq’s school seemed primarily competitive against themselves. The education system is high quality, even in public schools, so students enter college well prepared. The Hong Kong system is generally tailored towards college in the U.K., with a more narrow emphasis on what Ariq calls “pointy” people studying one subject in particular, compared with the “well-rounded” candidates for American colleges.
The college application process was also colored by Ariq’s experience growing up in Hong Kong. “If I grew up in Jakarta and went to a public school there, I would have never even dreamed of applying outside of the country I was in.” Ariq was able to dream big coming from Hong Kong, which had a profound influence on him. “The fact that there was that possibility for me, where I went to school and where I lived, rubbed off on me in the sense that I want to go places.” Most students from Hong Kong apply to schools in the U.K., although there are some schools tailored to sending students to American schools. Hong Kong’s atmosphere has also inspired some of Ariq’s big dreams for law school and his career: “Hong Kong is a very ambitious city, and that ambition has definitely rubbed off on me.”
Ariq had his sights on schools in the United Kingdom, and initially only applied to schools in the U.S. because a couple of his friends persuaded him to try it out. “I thought, ‘why not?’ and didn’t really have a preference between the U.S. and the U.K., but in the end I was choosing between a law school in the U.K. and Yale.” This choice had many facets to consider. Schools in the U.K. often direct students into a particular career track almost immediately, while a liberal arts degree from somewhere like Yale allows much more freedom of choice after graduation. Ultimately, Ariq passed up the opportunity to become a lawyer in just five years in the U.K. to be able to explore various paths at Yale. “I sacrificed a bit of time and also sacrificed a bit of certainty,” he says. This uncertainty may be unsettling at times, but Ariq has embraced it with positivity. The uncertainty is all part of the fun, Ariq says, and his choice has allowed new opportunities, such as taking Directed Studies, that he wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
Ariq’s future plans aren’t set in stone, but he has talent, ambition, and confidence. Although he passed up an assured law degree, he says, “I’m still gunning for law school!” The major that he will pursue, and if he will go directly to law school or work first, are both still unclear. Regardless, Ariq hopes to make his future in a big city. “I’ve been accustomed to the big city atmosphere and I really like it, so I just want to work in a big city like New York or London, or maybe back home.” Some of Ariq’s future depends on how freely he is able to travel and obtain work visas, which could get much more difficult in America under future President Trump.
A particular difference that Ariq has found between New Haven (and America in general) and Hong Kong is in the safety and accessibility. “In Hong Kong, you can walk pretty much anywhere in the dark, at any time of night, and you don’t get the feeling that somebody’s out to get you.” This feeling of safety comes from a combination of ample lighting, plenty of people around, and good police. Public transport is also smooth and convenient, making the city very accessible.
This is not to say that Hong Kong is without its inequalities. “It’s a rich place, with very high standards of living, but it’s a very unequal place as well. It’s mercilessly capitalist.” Some people live in luxurious spaces, while others live in subdivided flats that Ariq describes as “cages.” Ariq’s good feelings about Hong Kong do have qualifications: “It’s a great city if you are in a position to reap its rewards, but if you’re poor it can be a little bit tough.” In all, though, Ariq has been lucky –– “it’s only been good to me.”
The cultural and ethnic diversity of Hong Kong is similar to what you can find around the United States, the main difference being that, in Hong Kong, the diversity is due to a lot of expatriates. Hong Kong also has “a sense of closeness and density that is hard to replicate anywhere else.” This unification does not require common citizenship, and Ariq sees citizenship as much more of a tool used for travel than a tie to a homeland. “In terms of identity, I associate myself more with Hong Kong, despite the fact that I’m ethnically Indonesian. My worldview has been influenced so much by living in Hong Kong.” However, that is not to say that Ariq feels fully tied to Hong Kong. If you asked Ariq, he’d call himself an expat.
Ariq’s experience as an international student has been overall positive. “I do get the vibe that people are interested in international students here.” When people learn that Ariq or one his international friends are foreign, “they just light up. People want to know the story of an international student.” It has been good to discuss his background with people, especially due to the misconceptions that many people have about Hong Kong. “There’s a conflation of Hong Kong and China as being the same, and as a consequence a perception of Hong Kong as more authoritarian than it actually is.” Discussion of the difference between China and Hong Kong helps rectify these misconceptions.
Ariq seems as though he has not had any regrets in choosing Yale over school in the U.K. Even the uncertainties of coming to a new country without a set plan of major and career did not deter him. “When I made my decision to come, my whole mindset was ‘Screw it, let’s see where this road takes me!’” I am excited to see where Ariq goes with his positivity, talent, and ambition.
Sarah Widder (’20) is a prospective cognitive science major in Berkeley College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.