Looking back on academic differences and moving on to whatever’s next

By Nooa Karlo (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

It’s finally the end. After a long four and half months, I’ll be leaving Hong Kong on Monday morning. It really doesn’t feel as long when looking back on the final day, though. It feels like the exam period that’s lasted for the past four weeks represents a kind of escalation in the perceived speed at which days have been passing. I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this way. Everyone’s busy during exams, and I was especially so because I had so many modules that required final papers instead of exams, and the deadlines for those papers were almost all of them in early May. In addition, I spent four days travelling and visiting a friend in Taiwan in late April, which, while allowing me to take my mind off of studying, also took some energy. The April-May juncture left me quite exhausted, so I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to rest as much as I can. And now I have to leave? It feels very sudden, even though I’ve had everything planned and ready for over a month now. But at the same time I feel like I’m quite ready to move on.

The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan.

I think that after experiencing exams and a whole semester at HKU I’m somewhat qualified to say a few things about what it’s like to study at HKU as an exchange student. For me, the most important difference between the academic systems of the University of Manchester and the University of Hong Kong was the fact that in HKU the normal course load for one semester is five modules (or courses), while in Manchester it’s usually three or four depending on how many credits each module holds. Most HKU modules equal 12 Manchester credits, whereas in Manchester most modules are worth 20 credits, sometimes 10. (Please note that this might be different for you if you study different subjects from me; this is the case for linguistics and anthropology.) Technically this means that one HKU module should require less work than one Manchester 20-credit module, but you have to take more modules, effectively distributing the workload across more modules. However, in practice I found each HKU module to be fairly demanding despite the decreased workload, so the total amount of work required felt like it was at least on the same level as back in Manchester. Part of this could be attributed to the fact that when studying abroad and on an exchange, there are other stressors in your life too that might eat at your energy levels differently than back home. Add to that wanting to spend as much time exploring and experiencing your surroundings as possible, and you might find the academic part of your exchange period becomes the most taxing.

A quiet campus on the last day before summer.

Yet there are also ways to make the ’studying’ part of studying abroad interesting and fun. An important way to affect your academic experience is choosing modules that reflect your interests and that you might not find back at your home institution. Of course it’s always a good idea to focus on your interests, but more so when you’re spending a limited amount of time in a foreign country. The module selection is fairly flexible as a result of there being a total of five modules for each semester. You also have room to pick something unrelated to your degree subject, as long as at least 50% of your credits come from the faculty you are enrolled in (and your academic exchange adviser is willing to approve your choices). For example, I picked a module about video game studies, and found it to be one of the most interesting ones I did. So take chances! Scheduling is also especially important on exchange, because you’ll probably have many things to do, and properly balancing work and play is key to being able to enjoy both. Note also that many modules in HKU base your grade on coursework and a final paper rather than a final exam. You can usually see which modules are like this when doing module selection, so a pro tip would be to pick modules that don’t have final exams if you want to leave early or spend time travelling in May. But remember that often the final paper deadlines fall on the same week, so make sure you don’t choose options that might ultimately culminate in a mental breakdown.

Thank you, Hong Kong!

With this I think it’s time I say goodbye to Hong Kong. It’s been a good semester, and I’ve enjoyed studying here. But now it’s time for summer, and I’ll be travelling in South Korea and Japan for three weeks, which I hope will help me forget about schoolwork altogether for a bit. Thank you HKU and all the people I’ve met here! I’m sorry I haven’t been able to talk about all my experiences in this blog, but I hope you all trust me when I say that I will remember the times I’ve shared with you all for a long time to come.

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