It’s coming to the end of my first semester abroad and I’m stuck in a paradox. On one hand it feels like I’ve been living here forever, but with my flight looming closer, it feels like I’ve hardly been here at all. There’s still so much I want to do, so many places in Hong Kong I haven’t visited, it astounds me where all my time has gone! Although I will be back in the New Year for round two (year long exchange programm ftw), going back home only solidifies the fact that I’ve only got one semester left before returning to the real world of degrees, internships and job-hunting (not that it’s not always on my mind already ;-;).
I’ve realised I haven’t written that much on the topic of living and studying in Hong Kong, so here’s a semester’s worth of observations. Be prepared for a long ‘un.
Although I didn’t get allocated student halls (or any of my three choices for that matter, grr), I did luckily get university-managed accommodation. Aside from the super cheap rent, (around £1000 for the whole year!!), it’s not much to write home about. The living space is very basic, one cramped kitchen and one tiny bathroom are shared between 6 lovely girls – all of whom are also on exchange from the UK. There are two people to a bedroom, which isn’t as bad as the three I had anticipated. My roommate is awesome (hey Astrid!) and we get along really well having many things in common, including going to the same university! The student flats are situated at the side of three halls on Sassoon Road, Wei Lun, R.C. Lee and Lee Hysan. At the start of the semester we were woken up in the early hours of the morning by groups of first year students practicing drills and hall chants. A week of this culminated to a standoff/inauguration ceremony between the three halls in the courtyard below our flats. The sight of hundreds of people synchronised in action and proudly singing their hall anthem was amazing to watch. Being part of a hall is such an important part of the university experience at HKU and it’s easy to see why – the sense of community and solidarity is staggering, even felt by a bystander like myself. However, the strong emphasis on hall culture doesn’t make me surprised to hear the horror stories. If you’re an exchange student, they leave you alone for the most part, but if you’re a local, it is expected that you always participate in each hall activity. Not doing so may mean social exclusion or possibly even getting kicked out for not contributing! While living outside of halls is much more relaxed, being surrounded by them can be pretty damn annoying when you’re woken up in the middle of the night by random jeers in the courtyard…
There’s a stupid system here where your email address is seemingly a free for all to every society. This means you get around 20 emails a day, the majority of which are spam emails from societies you’ve 1. never even signed up for, 2. never even heard of 3. not even interested in. The number of unread emails in my inbox at the moment stands currently at 2,011, it’s a daily chore to filter out the important from the useless, but I digress. Back to societies! So here at HKU, societies have booths spread about campus all year long, which you visit if you want to sign up for a certain activity or are simply interested in joining. Being part of a society here seems to take up more time and effort than in the UK where you only have to man a stall during freshers week. Something I was amazed by was the SWAG. Walking around the booths during orientation week, I was impressed with all the society merchandise being given away for free. Folders and notepads emblazoned with the society logo were given to those who signed up or merely expressed an interest. HKU must have a bigger budget to fund societies, because speaking from personal experience that stuff ain’t cheap. In fact, it can be pretty expensive to even print out A5 sized leaflets to give out to members. However, the society selection here is small compared to Nottingham’s 200+. Being part of a society here is also kinda a big deal. Everything from the merchandise and leaflets were so professionally done, it’s certainly more impressive than the shoddy Microsoft word/Photoshop attempts I’ve seen in Nottingham. Another thing to note, choosing to be part of a society means commitment. Apart from the Rambling society, I haven’t come across one where you can choose to drop in and out each week. Even then, most events have a quota, which means it can be hard to get a place, despite the claims of a random draw, hmmmmmmmm.
I’ve ranted about the differences between study here and back at home, but now a full semester’s done there’s more to add! I can’t speak for any other faculty, but for social sciences (and languages) it seems there’s less of a barrier between students and teachers. Of course, they are still given the respect they deserve, but in my experience, teachers here are so much more friendly and interested in connecting with students. I’m even friends with some of them on Facebook! (Insert nerd joke here). Especially with my language based modules, the teachers at HKU are so enthusiastic about sharing and educating us about Hong Kong culture, from telling us amusing anecdotes about their family, to suggesting and taking us out to places to eat, they are much more active in engaging with their students. Regarding other modules, there are times I wish we were provided with more information, i.e. how to prepare for exam essays, grade boundaries, etc. I also really want to rant for eternity about my TERRIBLE psychology module, but I’ll limit myself to one negative and a positive for fair balance. Starting with the bad, the final exam contained series of questions that did not test our knowledge of cognitive psychology at all. Instead we had to recall the feedback given to us from the judges of a video competition segment of the module, whuuuu. Although it can be quite hard to devise challenging questions for MCQs, I do expect questions to be at least related to the actual content taught. One shining beacon of the module was the lecture on real world applications of cognitive psychology. This was taught by guest lecturer, William Tayson, who was wonderfully enthusiastic and gave compelling insight into cognitive psychology’s role in building artificial intelligence and restoring bodily functions such as sight or movement. My favourite lecture by far, it showcased how exciting psychology can be and definitely inspired me to think more about future advances in psychology, rather than just analysing and evaluating current theories.
One thing I will miss for sure is making plans for dinner that somehow become late night wanders around the city. With such a huge population living in Hong Kong, there are always enough people around at whatever hour to make you feel safe. To add to this, the transportation options here even beat Nottingham’s £1 bus fares and my beloved 24/7 Indigo bus. I’m slowly starting to wean myself off the MTR since buses are more convenient for me, living in the middle of nowhere town. Minibuses are the best because of how fast they are. Even better when there’s a button you can press to signal that you want to get off, otherwise it’s a tense countdown waiting until you are absolutely sure you’re the only person getting off at that stop, in which case you have to shout to the driver, m goi, jau lok! I’m a huge fan of big cities and Hong Kong doesn’t disappoint. Whether there’s a gallery opening to check out, some event going on in Causeway Bay or even walking around new areas, it’s a lifetime away from the quietness of Nottingham or Leeds. I can already picture being at home this time next year, crying at the lack of nightlife in the city, (drunk students and sweaty night clubs don’t count).
I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends again, excited to distribute the gifts I’ve bought, but secretly I’m already counting the days until I’m back in Hong Kong. This past week has been fun and bittersweet, spending time with friends (some here for only one semester, boo) and trying to pack in as much as possible. I was sceptical of people saying university was the best time of their lives; even more of those proclaiming studying abroad was the best decision they’ve ever made. But despite my pessimistic, unbelieving soul, it somehow turned out to be true! Although it is daunting starting out alone in a new place, you come to meet the greatest people and have such memorable experiences, it is unquestionably the best decision I’ve made yet. There, I said it. I have become of one those, a walking cliché. Oh dear.