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You are correct that a Recent Content widget will only show content that lives in the place (and it's subspaces if you select that). This is the way it is supposed to work.
The recent activity widget WILL bring in the mentions from other places. The status update field will disappear if you turn off status updates in the group (I think it must be a group because you can't use status updates in spaces?).
I personally do not like status updates for that reason - they have limited capabilities. And they don't count as a "true" content type in that they don't appear on your Content page. While people are familiar with them because they are kinda like a tweet, if they are over-used this can lead to a lot of frustration when trying to find important conversations later on.
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As Michelle mentions, turning off status updates in your Group will remove that "What's going on?" prompt from the top of the Recent Activity widget.
For the Ask a question function, I would recommend adding the Ask a question widget to the page as well. (Assuming it is available in your version, we have it as an available widget in on-prem 9.0)