Not money, but beauty: The French student seduced by ‘the other Hong Kong’

exchange student
French-born Eléonore Mathieu decided to become an exchange student in Hong Kong. This decision has worked out in her favour. Source: Eléonore Mathieu

Had Eléonore Mathieu not gone to Hong Kong as an exchange student, she would never have had the opportunity to experience a different culture and way of life, hone her research skills, and apply for a job. Here, where the sea envelops the city and majestic mountains stand guard on all sides, Mathieu reached her highest potential.

After growing up and spending most of her life in a high school in France, the 22-year-old studied literature for two years in Paris. While she was and still is passionate about literature, she knew her real interests lie in cooking. Her dream to work in the hospitality industry led her to Neoma Business School, where she learned more about navigating management and business. 

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France held a special place in her heart, but Mathieu realises that she needed a study abroad experience. Source: Joel Saget/AFP

A sweet spot for management courses and culinary events

It was in the Rouen campus that she found the right balance — courses about management and business and associations activities revolving around cooking and organising culinary events. The school’s unique offerings and atmosphere helped Mathieu grow as a person, and most importantly, learn how to work in a team.

Everything was going well for her in her home country, but her desire to experience more brought her to the city of Hong Kong. “When I entered Neoma Business School, I didn’t have a clue about what being an entrepreneur meant. I had plenty of ideas but I didn’t know where to begin. Thanks to the entrepreneurship courses in Neoma Business School and in Hong Kong Baptist University, I realised that it was about having a specific mindset, good reflexes and tools,” she tells Study International.

Mathieu’s new status as an exchange student opened her eyes to how wrong she was about Hong Kong too. “I saw Hong Kong as the city of skyline landscapes, the business and finance heart of South East Asia, where people in suits were speedily working from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m,” she says. “I was so wrong!”

exchange student

The Hong Kong Baptist University School of Chinese Medicine. Source: Sam Tsang/Pool/AFP

Learning about entrepreneurship in Hong Kong

This side of Hong Kong is what Mathieu wants people to see the most — food vendors along every alleyway, temples in the middle of the central district, and people eating fresh cured duck as they walk along. Though the professors at Hong Kong Baptist University gave power and opportunities to students through entrepreneurship competitions, specific courses, and counselling, the most memorable moments for the French native was when she experienced the city outside of the classroom.

“I cannot count how many hikes I did in Hong Kong, each more beautiful than the last with sunset views and lagoons. I really have the feeling that most people don’t know this other half of Hong Kong — nature, hospitality, amazing nightlife and food excellence.” 

Mathieu shared that if you don’t know where to start with your entrepreneurship journey, Hong Kong Baptist University is the best place to begin. “Having people believe in my ideas and projects helped me gain confidence and also have faith in my own skills. Giving a voice to students is the first thing you should do if you want to empower young entrepreneurs,” she added.

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Hong Kong was a beautiful city that taught Mathieu a lot, for which the exchange student is forever grateful. Source: Bertha WANG/AFP

Exchange student success: New cultures, new experiences, newfound confidence

After six months of studying online about entrepreneurship in what she calls “Covid-19 pandemic” Hong Kong, Mathieu now knows where to start and how to go about realising her theories. Thanks to the countless projects and conferences, the 22-year-old can now say with confidence that she knows where she’s headed next: a full-time job in Hong Kong.

What would have happened if Mathieu did not pursue her studies in Hong Kong? According to her, it would have changed everything: “Discovering a culture so different to mine helps me to grow as a person and as a student who wants to become an entrepreneur. I think I would have the same project idea but it will not be as precise as it is now. Meeting people from other countries was also very helpful. We all have different backgrounds and hopes and different ways of thinking about success.” 

Asked what advice the exchange student had in store for students interested in joining the “Entrepreneurs Across Borders” programme, she suggested not to concretise any project if it’s unnecessary. “Don’t be afraid! Even if your idea is just an idea, do it. Show ambition and determination and if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it will work.”