By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
One of the highlights of going on exchange is getting to travel in your spare time, whether that be in your host country, or visiting neighbouring countries or cities. Due to Covid restrictions still being in place in Hong Kong, we are not able to travel abroad without hotel quarantining on our return- which is not an option on our student budget and schedule! Although this was disappointing to most of us exchanges who wished to travel to surrounding countries, we quickly realised the extent of travel options within Hong Kong itself- and most of them can be done in a much more sustainable way than if we had travelled elsewhere by plane. Hong Kong boasts excellent public transport facilities and here are the ways I have used them to visit the must-see sites of Hong Kong so far, there is no need for a car or even a taxi!
For my first full day in Hong Kong, it was the orientation and registration day at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), so I was thrown straight into travelling on the MTR! Luckily, the Metro to the University could not be easier- lasting about 20 minutes to the HKU stop, which is right on campus. Travel on all public transport uses the Octopus card, (Hong Kong’s answer to London’s Oyster card), so is a necessity before using the MTR. This is easy enough to purchase from the customer service desk, and top-up at all MTR stops. Not only is the Octopus card used for transport, but can be used for purchases in the supermarket, buying food in the canteen and even in shops.
The day itself consisted of registering for the student card; general introductions and advice for life in Hong Kong; the societies fair; a talk from the British Consulate; and a Social Sciences orientation. Disappointingly, the societies fair had a lack of sports societies, which I hope to join in the following weeks. However, they said there will be a lot more societies dotted around for the first few weeks of Uni. Considering all the students at HKU, it was to my surprise that I managed to bump into some of the other exchange students from Manchester during the day!
The first exploration of Kowloon around the Airbnb, was a 30-minute expedition to find an impressively reviewed (2,663 in total) dim-sum restaurant. A 30-minute walk in the humidity of Hong Kong could be described as a little uncomfortable, turned more so by torrential rain a few minutes before the destination. The many, many, many restaurants passed on the walk made it even more essential the dim-sum was worth it: it definitely was! This fact was confirmed by the queue outside of the restaurant, despite the downpour continuing outside… Another highlight was getting the tram to the harbour, just a couple of stops from the Airbnb. The views of Hong Kong island were incredible, with an extremely panoramic view of the impressive skyscrapers. Yet another highlight was exploring the surprisingly massive Kowloon Park, which was about 15 minutes’ walk from the Airbnb. Facilities included: 2 outdoor gyms, an aviary, 2 swimming pools, a statue walk, open areas with people practicing Kung Fu and of course a McDonalds… The amount of space provided for this urban park was good to see, but surprising considering the massive issues with a lack of housing space in Hong Kong.
For the first week of classes at HKU, it has been an amazing experience mixing with other exchange international students and local students. The classes themselves are a lot smaller, with my busiest class having just 30 students; a nice contrast to some of the classes at UoM. This has meant classes have been a very different experience to Manchester so far. The highest number of international and exchange students is in my Mandarin class, as you might expect. This was clearly apparent to my new Finnish friend: leading with the introduction of “Hello, fellow Westerner.”
I was particularly nervous on the night before my flight, thinking about every possible scenario for my journey.
Could flights be cancelled? Would Hong Kong airport be closed? Would Hong Kong be plagued by endless protesting? Would I lose all my things at baggage claim? Would I enjoy my time in Hong Kong? Would I want to return to the UK straight away?
By Nooa Karlo ((previously) University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
After finishing my studies in the University of Hong Kong, following the last deadline I had for term paper submissions on the 24th of May, I soon left to travel in South Korea and Japan for almost three weeks. Now, I suppose I could talk about that time, because there certainly would be a lot to talk about, evidenced by over 2000 pictures I took while travelling. But looking back at things now that it’s been a few months since I returned home and now that there’s an entire summer between Hong Kong and me reveals that I really do miss staying there. And not just staying there, I miss the food, the buildings, the ocean, the colours, the sounds. (Ok there’s one thing I don’t miss and that’s whatever the weather was very quickly becoming as spring progressed towards summer but I barely avoided that so let’s not count that.) I miss the people I met and the experiences I had, even though it’s sometimes difficult for me to remember it all coherently, because there was just so much going on. Eventually I got used to the new things and they became everyday things, old things. So now that I won’t be going back anymore, at least not as an undergraduate exchange student, now that my room in the JCSVIII is no longer my room, now that I can use my credit card in practically any shop at any time without having to fear the card reader will say ‘connection lost’ at any moment, now that I can’t awkwardly say the only greeting I learnt in Cantonese to the people around me anymore, it just feels strange. Because it feels like I should be going back, but I’m not. I don’t miss Hong Kong in the way that would make my chest feel tight and my face contort to sadness, but I miss it in the way that things just don’t feel right now that I’m not there anymore. Five months was a really short time and I wish I could’ve stayed for longer, but it was just enough to make me feel somewhat at home even on the other side of the world. To those people who helped make me feel that way, I would like to say thanks. I hope I will be able to keep in contact with you in the future too! And to those who were affected by the typhoon a week ago, not only in Hong Kong but especially in Hong Kong, I wish strength to overcome whatever problems it caused you. Having seen the destruction the storm left in its wake has made me worry about the safety of everyone there. Hope you’re all okay. I guess that’s all I wanted to say about my time in Hong Kong on this blog. Goodbye, and thanks for those who’ve read my posts as well!
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.
By Nooa Karlo, (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
There’s a common and stereotypical image of exchange students as these endlessly spirited and energetic creatures that will take every and any chance to find new experiences and opportunities. They’re people who are always smiling, going out, organising and participating in activities, partying, exploring and experiencing. Sometimes this also includes studying hard, sometimes not. In any case, it has been clear to me from the beginning that I did not fit well into this image. Continue reading “Doing everything vs. staying sane”→
One of the things that I love at CUHK is how many field trips we go on. I loved the latest one I went on so much that I’m now writing my final paper on it. The field trip we went on was to visit Operation Dawn, a faith-based drug rehabilitation centre. Operation Dawn is situated on Dawn Island, an incredible remote island.
The journey to the field trip only enhanced my love for Hong Kong, as our lecturer hired out a private boat to take us across to the water to the island. The hour long journey was amazing as it was a really sunny day and we could sunbathe on the top deck.
Before coming to Hong Kong I assumed that the teaching style at CUHK wouldn’t be that different to Manchester, 3 months later and I’ve been proven wrong time and time again. The language barrier is definitely a recurring theme in these differences!
I’ve been in Hong Kong for just over a month now, and it definitely feels like home. I was expecting to experience some degree of culture shock, but it’s been surprisingly easy to settle into life in Hong Kong. Although HK is completely different to Manchester and my home in London, the energetic nature of the city makes it feel familiar.
The last month abroad was somewhat mentally and emotionally challenging for multiple reasons. Firstly, the last month was exam/final paper period and I was rather behind in my studies due to the fact I was often travelling/adventuring on weekends rather than studying. At first it took some time to get back into the routine of daily/extended library visits but don’t fear-it’s a bit like riding a bike…Secondly, everyone’s exams finished at different times therefore all of my companions would leave to return home or continue travelling at separate points throughout the month so I often wasn’t able to have a proper goodbye with many of them. Thirdly, being in a tropical place on the opposite side of the planet from my family for Thanksgiving (since I’m american) and Christmas (which is normally very white where I’m from) was really rough.
Upon our evening arrival to Hanoi, we immediately scouted out a well regarded hub for local fare. The streets were a frenzy of mopeds and open air commerce. Women balanced alluring displays of tropical fruits on large table like contraptions strapped around their hips. Dimly lit streets were lined with seemingly endless copy sneakers of the predominantly nike genre. We had an absolute feast of astoundingly economical dishes from crab to snail to blended tropical fruit beverages in gaudy glasses. On initial review of the couple million we had racked up, I had a brief panic before coming to the realisation that £1 equaled 31,694.36 Vietnamese Dong.