Reflecting back on my expectations before I started at HKU back in August 2016, it is safe to say I was very naïve. I realise now I hadn’t done a great deal of research on the academic style and how the University system worked in Hong Kong beforehand, which lead to a bit of a shock when it came down to handing in the first piece of work. Although, in my (and every exchange student’s) defence, however much research and homework you do on your host university, it cannot prepare you for how it actually will be. The best way to find out how the University works is to get there and see for yourself.
The first difference I noticed was that in Hong Kong, participation in the modules counts a lot more towards your final mark. One of my modules in first semester had participation as 40% of the final grade. This involved speaking in lectures and tutorials, engaging in debates and a presentation on my final project. Therefore just by turning up and actively participating in your module you can achieve nearly half of your module grade! Although this was an exception as usually participation counts for about 10-20% of your mark in most other modules. Yet knowing that you will achieve some of your module marks makes you more likely to positively engage in seminars and with lecturers. I find in Manchester participation is a less significant factor in your final grade, but it never hurts to speak up and get your point across. I’ve found this year it actually helps to remember what you’ve learnt.
Another difference is the hours and the amount of modules and work given to you. The stereotypical view of East Asia having a strong and plentiful work ethic is actually very true. We have to do 5 modules, whereas Manchester has 3. Each are 6 credits, so to have the same amount of credits as in Manchester you need to do 5, which is 30 credits, which is equivalent to 120 credits in Manchester. However the work load is very different. Each module will give you a presentation, an essay, a quiz and a group project to do. Times this by 5, whilst balancing a social life and trying to get the most out of the best year of your life can be challenging. However it’s doable, and so rewarding once you’ve got to the top of the ‘work mountain’. Don’t get me wrong, University of Manchester don’t skimp on the work load either, but in Manchester you get fewer pieces of work i.e. one essay and one exam per module, however they are weighted more heavily in the final grade. So the pressure is balanced differently. In Manchester the pressure comes from having to do well in one essay, whereas in Hong Kong the pressure is to try and get the deadlines finished as there are so many.
Experiencing a different academic style of teaching and assessment has been so eye-opening, and has made me appreciate the teaching in Manchester a lot more. I have realised how much support and help we are given on a daily basis in Manchester, and it has made me very thankful coming back next year.