Where has the year gone?!

By Alex Ure (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)

“Hong Kong is a city of paradoxes, where bamboo coexists with concrete, and temples are neighbours with Gucci” – Hong Kong Coconuts.

I read an article about a foreign photographer, Kyra Campbell who really captures the true essence of Hong Kong. The article has already initiated my reminiscence of Hong Kong, and I haven’t even left yet! I really will miss the diversity of this culture. Superimposing the ‘old’ and ‘new’ juxtaposed features of Hong Kong together in one photo is really representative of life here. Below is one of my favourite photographs of hers, merging skyscrapers with dried fish – a Hong Kong favourite.

https://www.facebook.com/kyra.campbell.photography/photos/pb.355840581247937.-2207520000.1428839958./430982560400405/?type=3&theater
Kyra Campbell

https://www.facebook.com/kyra.campbell.photography/photos/pb.355840581247937.-2207520000.1428839958./430982560400405/?type=3&theater

With the semester rapidly drawing to a close, I am becoming increasing saddened that I have a mere few weeks left in HK. This has been such a life-changing experience and I already know that it has moulded me as a person in many ways; I feel I am far more self-motivated and sufficient. I am ensuring that I cram as much as I can into the next few weeks to complete my Hong Kong bucket list alongside working toward my final exams and deadlines.

Since I last posted I took a weekend trip to Taiwan, which was just beautiful and was a well-needed study break! A strange mix of Chinese, Japanese and Aboriginal cultures make up Taiwan based upon its rocky history. There was so much to pack in here, we definitely needed more time to see Taiwan in all its glory, but whilst there we went to hot springs, temples, mountains, night markets and tea plantations to name a few. I really want to head back to Taiwan at some point!

Taiwanna go back!
Taiwanna go back!
Elephant Mountain
Elephant Mountain
Juifen
Juifen

Last week I had the pleasure of having my mum and little brother visit me for a week, and have loved being able to show them a little snippet of what my life has been like for the past eight months. Like me, this was their first time in Asia, so they were really dazzled by what Hong Kong has to offer. Hikes, temples, islands, introducing them to my friends and Asian cuisines were some things we got up to. I’m so glad they were able to visit me, and it really has completed my Asian adventure! I now have a busy week of exams and deadlines to get through before the final exam period and before I am able to travel a little around Asia before returning back to reality in the UK. Hong Kong, it really has been a blast!

Lion Rock Hike with the family
Lion Rock Hike with the family
Cheung Chau Island
Cheung Chau Island
Yesterday's Boat Party
Yesterday’s Boat Party

Chinese New Year – Gong Hey Fat Choy!

By Alexandra Ure (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)

I cannot believe that February is drawing to a close, now the Chinese New Year festivities are over and mid-terms are around the corner, I need to get my head down (I’m writing this post first though, as it’s much more fun!).

Spending Chinese New Year in Hong Kong has been amazing; many exchange students took the week off as an opportunity to travel. I was intending to travel to Borneo, but had so many issues with booking flights that I couldn’t go. This has been somewhat a blessing in disguise as I’ve been able to experience the CNY festivities in Hong Kong, meet a bunch of new people and had some spare time to catch up on school work and apply for internships (I’m desperate to prolong my time here!).

The festivities for Chinese New Year last well over a week. In the lead up to New Year, locals head to flower markets which are teeming with beautiful flowers; namely orchids, blossom trees, lilies and this tree with odd looking oranges on it. Other merchandise is also sold here; in amongst the busy crowd, toy sheep are shoved in your face by sellers, “Missy Missy, sheep also comes in pink!”, and there are other beautiful traditional gifts. I bought a lovely hand-made wind chime from the loveliest elderly ladies.

Orchids on Orchids
Orchids on orchids
Orange, Lemon, Peach, Apricot?
Orange, lemon, peach, apricot
You want a pink one, Missy?

The main Chinese New Year celebrations take place during the first three days of the lunar New Year. On the first day there was a fabulous parade in the evening with Chinese dragons, big floats, the biggest sheep you’ve ever seen and dancers from around the world. The second day consisted of a huge spectacular fireworks show, and on the third day there was a full day of horse racing at the famous Sha Tin racecourse.

All of which were so great – the atmosphere at each of these events was just unbeatable. Chinese New Year is the biggest and most celebrated festival in Hong Kong, and there are still other New Year traditions I wish to partake in before they’re over. I particularly want to visit a ‘Wishing Tree’ in the New Territories, which is an age-old tradition here in Hong Kong. Locals write their wishes down and tie them to traditional fruits then throw them onto the lucky tree in hope that they come true. The faith and religious nature of Asia is so lovely; if wishes come true I believe they return to where they made the wish to give thanks to the gods for granting it.

New Year Parade
New Year parade
Just a little sheep
Just a little sheep
Gong Hey Fat Choy!
Gong Hey Fat Choy!

It is year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram this year – the Chinese don’t seem to be quite sure which animal it is. “Gong Hey Fat Choy!” is how you wish people a Happy Lunar New Year in Cantonese, but it translates as wishing you happiness and good fortune.

Bring on Semester Two

By Alexandra Ure (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)

I cannot believe that I am now halfway through my study abroad experience in Hong Kong, which is constantly shaping up to be the best year of my life. Semester two commenced a few days ago so I’ve been settling back into the Asian lifestyle after spending the past few weeks back in the UK over the Christmas period.

I am excited to be back in Hong Kong to continue to explore and immerse myself in this vibrant, colourful city and to complete my bucket list. Although it has been somewhat bittersweet returning as the majority of exchange students were only here for a semester, so it is odd not having the same friends surrounding you but is also exciting to meet a whole new bunch of exchanges!

Spending Christmas back in the UK was lovely as, for me, I wouldn’t have been able to hack the full year here without seeing my family and friends and having a good old roast! However, many of my friends who are also on a year exchange did not go back home and took the time to continue travelling; some changed flights to do so whilst others still returned home, so it really does depend on how you feel as the semester progresses. I would make sure that you book flights either with British Airways as they always charge a £100 fee to change flights, or STA where you can buy a flexi-ticket for around £80 I believe; I booked through Travel Trolley and it would have cost me over double to reschedule. I would have also loved to travel but my bank balance would not have thanked me, so I have been awaiting my next loan instalment, true student style.

During semester one I travelled to the Philippines and Japan which was truly amazing. I will never get tired of Asian cultures – I find every aspect so refreshing and interesting. Studying abroad has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for travel which I have not been able to experience before and can’t wait to continue experiencing. Regular national holidays and professors’ accommodating natures allows you to easily hop on a short plane journey to fulfil your travelling needs!  With Chinese New Year being just over a month away and having a whole week off university, I hope to take my itchy feet to China (and maybe put my Mandarin into practice).
Below are a few photos of my travels to the Philippines and Japan, including a video of Japan.

Reflecting upon my first semester at PolyU in Hong Kong, for the second chapter of my Asian adventure I hope to continue to promote Manchester and the study abroad scheme, meet more people from around the world and continue to enjoy studying at this renowned fashion University.

Puerto Galera, Philippines
Puerto Galera, Philippines
Parasailing, Philippines
Parasailing, Philippines
Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan
Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan
Robot Show, Shinjuku, Japan
Robot Show, Shinjuku, Japan
Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Academic Differences – UK to HK

By Alexandra Ure (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)

  • SUBJECT CHOICES
    Despite choosing and finalising subjects before arriving in Hong Kong by utilising the online subject choice information for PolyU, which was both informative and useful, I still ended up changing a few modules in the Add/Drop period. Unlike Manchester, you can choose any subjects from an inbound exchange list and change your subjects in the Add/Drop period, which is the first two weeks of the semester. I attended my scheduled classes and additional subjects that I thought I might be interested in, in case I did not like or find the modules I had already chosen to be suitable. I would recommend doing so because I rearranged as I ended up changing some modules because they turned out to be quite different to what I was expecting, so I selected more appropriate classes. I also rearranged my timetable so that I had Friday as my day off so I have the freedom to take weekend trips away. At PolyU I take five subjects as opposed to three in Manchester. Five subjects is the recommended credit weighting for PolyU, which means a more packed weekly schedule than Manchester.
  • RESOURCES
    PolyU use Blackboard like Manchester, so you can access lecture slides and view grades and so on. PolyU connect is a separate website, similar to MyManchester, which is home to other resources like library information, exam timetables etc. Unlike Manchester, some lecturers print out handouts of the lecture slides for students.
  • PROFESSORS
    Before arriving, I was advised to address lecturers by their formal name i.e. Dr. or Professor, however all of my lecturers prefer to be addressed by their first name. I suggest to address the lecturers by how they introduce themselves.
  • ASSESSMENT WEIGHTING
    Assessment weighting varies with subject choices: most are 100% coursework based or 50% exam, 50% coursework for Fashion subjects. The Textiles co-ordinator here advised the exchange students to take 100% coursework modules so we can make the most of travelling whilst here once the semester ends, however I have two modules that have end of semester exams which finish early on in the exam period so I still have time to travel, so don’t let the fact that a module has an exam weighting deter you from choosing it.
    In addition to this, most exchange students are graded on a Pass/Fail basis, but for Materials students our year abroad is graded and counts towards our final grade.
  • WORKLOAD
    Due to the fact that I take five modules here, I find that I have a larger workload compared to at Manchester. Although there are many more assignments, they are smaller projects, with less weighting towards your final grade compared to Manchesters’ usual few but weighty essays and end of semester exam in the Materials department. Most of my group presentations, reports and midterms count for only 10-20% of my final grade. Therefore, to keep on top of my work I quite often utilise my time in between classes to keep on top of assignments.
  • ASSESSMENTS
    Unlike what I am used to in the Textiles department at Manchester, there are midterm exams and a big focus on group assignments here. For each assignment you need to submit a hard copy and a CD copy, I have not yet handed in assignments through Blackboard so assume this is not utilised at PolyU. The majority of my assessments so far at PolyU have been group presentations and reports which I am not used to as I find there is a heightened focus on individual work at Manchester. It is not difficult to communicate and work with the local students at all, I find the group work enjoyable and worthwhile, however, often groups are large and are sometimes impossible to co-ordinate.
  • EXTENDED LEARNING
    Similarly to Manchester, there are field trip opportunities and careers talks that you can attend to which you sign up for online or in person. Factory visits to China are also usually organised here, however, the University have been denied this year as the factories haven’t the time which is disappointing, but there are many other great resources here in Hong Kong to learn from first hand.
    I have chosen to study Mandarin as one of my modules whilst here which I would really recommend as I’m thoroughly enjoying it and it is acknowledged on your academic transcript when you graduate.
  • GRADING
    You can find PolyU’s grading system on their Inbound Exchange FAQ page here, but they only grade in terms of A, B, C etc. and on an unfamiliar scale of 0 to 4.5.  I am not entirely sure how to translate these marks into percentages, however one of my local friends has told me that 80% or above is roughly a B to A grade, so this would equate to a first or high 2:1 at Manchester. It is difficult to say specifically how the grades translate to the UK, especially as for each assignment results are usually curved/changed in comparison to the standard of work produced. A C grade is a pass here, which I think is roughly 60%, so overall the percentages you should expect to get are roughly 20% higher than what you would receive in Manchester.

Settling into life in HK

By Alexandra Ure (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)

So Hong Kong has been my new home for two weeks already, I have no idea where the time’s gone!

It feels like so long since my departure from the UK and I’m surprised at how easily I’ve settled in and how welcoming the country is as a whole. There is perfect marriage of East-meets-West here which I think has made the transition of moving here so easy! I really cannot stress enough how amazing and intriguing I am finding Hong Kong is, I absolutely love it and can’t wait to really start immersing myself in the culture. The locals are super friendly and really go out of their way to help you with directions and generally show you how things are done over here; I thought there would be more of a language barrier but there really isn’t!

Upon my arrival in HK late at night, I took a taxi to halls which I was slightly worried about as the taxi driver didn’t speak much English, but luckily I had screen-shotted the address in Cantonese on my phone. PolyU has a buddy scheme where exchange students are paired with a local student to help them with settling in and getting to know Hong Kong, so many exchange students’ buddies met them at the airport to help them navigate to the university halls, which is so helpful. My buddy was travelling around Europe when I arrived but I have met him since and he has been such a help and opened my eyes to many aspects of Hong Kong that I would not have otherwise discovered.

Over the first few days in Hong Kong, I spent time getting to know other students, the university campus and sorting out the bare essentials for setting up my new life here. On the first day, a few local students gave myself and other exchange students a mini tour of campus and took us to Ikea so we could make our rooms a little more homely!

In terms of travel, an Octopus card is used to get around Hong Kong by all means of transport (MTR, trains, trams, buses) and also at supermarkets, to top up your phone bills, print work at uni, you name it! (Take note the rest of the world!) You can pick up an Octopus card from any MTR station and then apply for a student one with half price rates which takes about 2 weeks to process. Phone-wise, I got a SIM from China Mobile which is on a really good plan. I paid 80 HK dollars initially and then my pay as you go plan costs me 30 HK dollars every 10 days (about £2.50) which gives me unlimited calls and texts to Hong Kong numbers and unlimited 3G which is so handy with group messaging and organising events. I have decided not to get a bank account here as my cashcard works well and a previous student told me that she never used the Hong Kong bank account that she opened but if you decide you want to open one there is a bank on campus.

The university could not have been more helpful so far with orientation processes, adding and dropping subjects, setting up events and so on, I doubt you will experience any trouble with academic issues as the university is so informative and the International Affairs Office is so friendly and accessible. I cannot stress enough how much I would encourage students to take the study abroad experience as it is quickly becoming the best decision I have ever made!

My Hong Kong bucket list is also taking shape! I’ve ticked off meeting people from around the world, making an incense wish at a temple and getting my fortune told. Learning Mandarin is also in progress. I’ve attached a few pictures of what I’ve been up to so far, I am surprised at how much exploring I’ve managed to fit in already amongst attending uni, but I can’t wait to continue exploring Hong Kong and experiencing everything it has to offer!

If you have any questions about Hong Kong or PolyU don’t hesitate to contact me on alexandra.ure@student.manchester.ac.uk.

harbour and shipharbour at night

The Harbour Day and Night

harbour groupthe harbour

Harbour at Night

wong tai sinflower market

Wong Tai Sin Temple and Flower Market

harbourthe harbour daytime

The Harbour and Avenue of Stars

repulse bay

St Stephen’s Beach

laantern festivallantern fe

Yesterday’s Mid-Autumn Festival / Lantern Festival

Shek O Beachshek o

 

Shek O Beach

Ni Hao Hong Kong!

By Alexandra Ure (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)

After a jam-packed summer of catching up with family and friends, holidays, interning and celebrating my birthday on Friday, I am finally about to commence my study abroad year in Hong Kong. Tomorrow I embark on a gruelling 20-hour journey to Hong Kong with a stop-over in Doha; this was my cheapest flight option but you can fly direct for around £100 more if you’re not the best flyer!

I am in disbelief that this is actually happening and at how fast time has passed since handing in my very first Worldwide Exchange applications; it feels so surreal that I will be halfway across the world in 48 hours! I am so excited to start this once in a lifetime opportunity and can’t wait to fall in love with Hong Kong!

Pre-departurewise, I have had no trouble with communicating with the host university (although I was worried about my Visa which only arrived two weeks ago!). Amongst other minor pre-departure related necessities, I have bought a travelcard from STA Travel which cost me £12 and is also an international student identity card, which I thought was handy; you can withdraw money for free with it at any Maestro ATM worldwide. Of course you might find it easier to take cash and set up a bank account in the country you’re travelling to, but I thought this would be worth mentioning as for me, it means one less thing to worry about. Now all I have to do is get a phone and sim when I arrive in Hong Kong (I’ve had a nightmare trying to get my phone unlocked because it’s relatively new).

hong kong bucket list

Here is a little bucket list I’ve put together based upon necessary Google searches of Hong Kong tourist attractions and some personal achievements that I want to accomplish whilst I’m over there. I plan on adding to this list, changing it and ticking things off as I continue to post on the blog. Quite a lot of these are travel-based, which I hope to be able to do alongside or after my studies, but of course I will be focusing on my studies as my study abroad year is graded.

I am ready for and eagerly anticipating everything HK has to throw at me; ups, downs, challenges and opportunities and I very much look forward to sharing it all with the readers of Manchester On The Road!

Alex