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”→
By Keir Burbidge, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
I don’t think I expected studying here in Hong Kong to be so different to being in the UK. The first major difference is that I’m doing 5 units here which take up 15 hours a week here compared to 3 units and 9 hours back home… and if anybody tells you that the courses are easier here then they are either lying or on a pass/fail year! Continue reading “Academic differences in Hong Kong”→
By Olivia Hunnybun (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong).
It seems that all exchange students interpret reading week as a chance for travel and I have been no different. I have had the best time exploring a bit of Malaysia and Indonesia; I have found out a bit more about a few places I knew nothing about and built on friendships in the process. Here are some of the things we got up to…
Ate amazing food in Kuala Lumpur!
I think we are all on a post-trip detox after eating so many delicious curries and street food. The fish was especially impressive and so cheap!
Visited the International Mosque
We did a lot of sightseeing including the International Mosque which was huge! Very impressive but much less showy to what I had expected.
Snorkling off the Gili Islands, Bali
I was so surprised at the fish we were able to see without going too deep, no idea what they were called but very colourful I even saw my first turtle which was a metre long! Most of our group went scuba diving as well and they said it was awesome. I decided to save that for another time and hired bikes to cycle around the island with.
Horse ride along the beach at sunset
I managed to drag the guys along horse-riding which turned out to be hilarious (although some of them disagree!). The guides were beyond relaxed as we didn’t get helmets and weren’t told anything about the horses but it was definitely fun that way!
Climb a Volcano in Ubud, Bali
We woke up at 2am to go on an organized climb up Mount Batur, stopping first for breakfast at a local coffee plantation. We were able to try a range of coffees including Kopi Luwak which is made from beans eaten and excreted by a small mammal called the Paradoxurus; an interesting flavor! I wasn’t exactly wearing the right shoes for the hike but it the amazing view of the sunrise made it all worthwhile. At the top we saw a man propose to his girlfriend which was lovely, could have been an awkward descent if she had said no.
Overall we had an unforgettable reading week and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go to such beautiful places. Now I can’t wait to plan the next trip!
By Olivia Hunnybun (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong).
So in a months time, the classes will be ending and revision period will begin. I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by, especially the second semester. Doing everything I can to secure an internship and extend my stay a bit longer but it’s not looking too hopeful! I guess now is a good time to reflect on some differences between Manchester and Hong Kong.
It’s difficult to make a real comparison because exchange students on certain degree programmes such as myself are able to enjoy a PASS/FAIL year. This means there is less pressure on producing your best work allowing for extra time for other activities.
The university has been really flexible and allowed me to study some mandarin last semester. A group of us decided to embark on a weekend trip to Shanghai where I decided to give put my language skills to the test with a man selling food in the street. Felt pretty proud of myself after successful introductions but after that I found myself doing a lot of nodding and smiling, and ended up with some completely random food. Can’t exactly claim fluency but it has at least given me a fresh appreciation for the Chinese students studying in English.
In my opinion the most striking difference at Hong Kong University is the focus on group work. In almost every one of my modules I have been part of a team presentation or report. Back in Manchester there is a stronger emphasis on individual essays which allows for a more flexible schedule but also has limitations. I have come to realize that in the professional working environment such project development and communication skills are going to be the most practical.
A contrast to Manchester that I have certainly noticed, but been less involved in, is the traditional hall culture. If you come to Hong Kong and stay in a Halls of Residence be warned! Unlike Manchester where students basically party every day, during the first week here students partake in a series of competitive activities. It’s hard to describe exactly but there are a lot of team games and challenges that are compulsory and last throughout the night! I think most of the students are glad when that initial week is over but at least the Halls have some traditions.
After a week in Hong Kong simple things like finding my way around or buying food have become easier. It seems that when you are in a place completely new and do not speak the language everything takes much longer than usual. I have just about managed to get myself organised with regards to student ID, a local SIM card/phone, class enrolment, local bank account, residential papers, octopus card and I’m sure there’s more!
Having an octopus card is actually extremely useful and I wish I had bought one straight away. You can then use them to pay on public transport such as the trams or items at some shops. The university facilities are also linked up and the card can be used for printing services.
In between sorting out all the Uni stuff I have been meeting new people and checking out the local culture. Eating out is unbelievably cheap here but the menus can be pretty overwhelming! We’ve found some good places locally which aren’t exactly glamorous but have delicious food. I keep wondering about how hard it would be to eat here as a vegetarian though as meat or fish features everywhere. I tried fish-head congee at one place and I don’t think I’ll be having it again! To be fair even the waiter was pretty sceptical as he brought me over what was basically fish bones floating in salty porridge.
Green tea is everywhere I look and I can’t say I understand the craze! Everything from green tea-flavoured sweets to toothpaste… even Starbucks sell it as a muffin or a Frappuccino which has made me realise just how English the strawberries and cream version is in the UK.
With such comparatively small living spaces here, very few people have pets. Walking around Kowloon however, we did come across a very chilled out cat that didn’t seem quite with it!
Looking forward to stumbling across more random things 🙂
Leaving England behind was not difficult for me, mainly because the whole thing did not feel real. For now excitement, curiosity and novelty surpass any feelings of anxiety or isolation from people I care about… So hey I may as well enjoy it while it lasts!
Saying goodbye to my parents at the airport!
If I were to do this trip with hindsight I would do 3 main things differently;
1. Leave more time for possible delays
My accommodation (at Wah Ming Centre) check-in closed at 5, so after 2 delayed flights it was already too late. To make things worse Tom’s bag got lost in transit so we hung around to fill out forms then extended the journey time by taking the train to Hong Kong station. I was practically falling asleep standing but I was amazed by all the skyscrapers. It is worth arriving in the morning if you want to check-in that day! Luckily I was able to pick up my keys from Tom’s accommodation and, after being particularly underwhelmed by my flat, tried to get some sleep.
2. Eat and drink plenty
My first day was spent chasing paperwork and trying my best to remember the names of people I was meeting. It is extremely hot here and there are steep hills everywhere you go (basically the direct opposite of Manchester!), so it is easy to get dehydrated. I was with a group of new people planning to get food together, but by the time we had got lost on campus several times and made it to a restaurant it was 7PM. I realised I hadn’t eaten all day and felt really sick so I headed back to Wah Ming Centre. It is a pretty horrible feeling trying to find your way home not knowing whether you are going to faint or throw up on the side of the road. Actually it was the latter. After lying down in the cool for an hour I felt almost back to normal which I guess proves the importance of looking after your body in a foreign place.
3. Pack appropriately
Just the thought of wearing any of the denim jeans I brought makes me sweat. I don’t think I anticipated just how humid it is here! The university dress code is also much more formal than in the UK; therefore smart clothes for certain events and frequent high table dinners are needed. Stupidly I only have flip flops, trainers or pumps, which is not ideal when everybody has such small feet here. No shops nearby have any shoes (save for sandals) that go up to UKSIZE 6 – Big shame I’ll need to go shopping at Causeway Bay!
What I have realised is you don’t know what you don’t know and therefore lots of things seem to go wrong at first. However it hasn’t damped my experience as the discovery of this vibrant and busy place has made for an awesome beginning.