Anxiety to Excitement: A Life Changing Experience in Hong Kong

From anxiety, discovery, to excitement, John Xu shares his emotionally enlightening journey of studying abroad on the Student Exchange Program to Hong Kong Science and Technology, Hong Kong.

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Studying abroad for a semester in Hong Kong was not only the best decision I’ve made in college, it was the best decision I’ve made in LIFE. I remember when I first decided I was going to commit to a semester abroad, I almost wasn’t able to because I signed up too late. Every week that led up to leaving the country I’d get more anxious, just because of the fact that I’d never spent an extended amount of time out of the country. I knew I was pushing my comfort zone and that it would help broaden my horizons on a global scale and give me more diverse career opportunities, but it was still nerve wrecking anticipating the process I was going to put myself through.

However, as soon as I stepped off the plane in Hong Kong and hopped into a taxi to my university, I realized I had made a great decision. From the moment you arrive, you begin to realize the difference in culture and environment of the country you’re studying abroad in compared to back home. Those difference were exciting for me; from the food to the city life, to the university environment, everything I did was exciting because it felt so fresh and unique. It seemed like every other day I was experiencing a “once in a lifetime” moment that I had to document and cherish to the fullest extent. I was able to extend these moments by traveling to 7 other countries in Southeast Asia during my semester, allowing me to experience the differences in all of the Asian cultures. By the end of the semester, I had made friends with so many people all around the world who had also chosen to study abroad and gained not only the perspectives of people in Hong Kong but everywhere around the world. I truly feel like I built something special with the group of people I became friends with there and that we would always stay in touch.
 

Coming back home, I realized how much I had changed and grown as a person. I now feel confident in myself to tackle problems ahead of me and create unique solutions to tasks at hand (I backpacked across 9 cities in Thailand and Myanmar for 17 days straight!!). Before leaving for Hong Kong I couldn’t have even dreamed of doing such a thing. Returning from abroad I feel a deeper appreciation for the comforts of life that America provides and I’m thankful for things that I had always took for granted in my daily life. Biggest of all, I’m happy that I now have a global attitude for my career after college, my goal is to be able to make a difference in the people and places, not just around me but in the world. I’m already planning out my next trip abroad, and I can’t wait for you to get started on your journey too. Don’t pass up the opportunity to make the best decision of your life!

HKUST Takeaways

Diving deeper into the university community, David Drummond shares his insight to his Student Exchange Program location, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Learn about the university, classes, community, and how he has managed to assimilate.

My time at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has given me a fuller impression of Hong Kongers and the international community, a rich curriculum taught by very experienced professors, and opportunities to learn and interact outside my normal studies.

Campus itself is on Kowloon and to the east a bit on the coast of Port Shelter. In good weather, there is no better place to be studying in Hong Kong. Next to the water the dorms and academic facilities climb up a steep hill and provide beautiful views of blue water, islands, and plenty of sails. The downside to this location is also the weather. During my time here in the spring, most days are cloudy, grey, and foggy/misty if not rainy. I hear the humidity is something awful in the summer. However, waking up to a sunny day on a Friday feels amazing and motivates you to get outside and take advantage of it.

I have had different impressions of the local students here. By taking introductory business courses, like MGMT and MARK, I am in class with first and second year students. The biggest difference was that a lot of them come late to class, which surprised me and didn’t seem like it fit with my preconceptions about Asian studiousness. They also have a tendency to talk to each other in Cantonese while the professor is talking. I think I would attribute this mostly to their inexperience rather than culture, because the older students I know don’t behave as much like this. Still, it is definitely something to expect when taking these kinds of courses. Also, the cultural differences are clear in terms of participation. Local students are less open to participate in class, even more so than Mainland students! It’s common for professors to make an effort to not continue calling just on exchange students.

Because HKUST is a little further from the city, exchange students often form groups to go explore the parks on a hike or go out for dinner or to an event. For us, it has been super helpful to have a Facebook group just for our exchange students to post what they are doing and to find others who want to tag along. The university makes it easy to connect with other exchange students by giving us a book of names, emails, and a picture of each that we can reference. Extremely helpful when you forget someone! As someone who does not generally invite themselves into other groups I had to figure out how I was going to meet and hang out with new people once I got here. I’ve had plenty of opportunities through the Facebook group to meet other exchange students from Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America, and most of my best memories are with these groups. For me, it was easier to set myself on something I wanted to do and invite other people along, but in my experience this group of multinationals loves getting to know one another and building friendships. This network is especially helpful for travel!

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The courses I am taking have definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of quality of instruction. While my introductory courses are not the liveliest, the professors have had extensive experience and genuinely care about helping the students learn and understand the material and concepts. The business school is definitely feels like a top world program. Taking a global business course on Deal making in Asia and Emerging Markets has exposed me to some of the school’s top undergraduate and MBA professors in a unique model. Years of experience in forming deals and doing negotiations in Asia and other emerging markets comes together in this course which focuses on case studies and group negotiations. As my professor experienced negotiating in China, the other party will often keep asking the same questions over and over making a frustrating time for a westerner who just wants to get the deal done. However, after enduring the long drawn-out negotiation process my professor was told that he “ate bitterness well” and this was a sign of his trustworthy character. This is the type of information you are lucky to have access to.

HKUST also offers a plethora of involvement opportunities and ways to go beyond your normal studies. I have been taking an International Relations course taught by a professor with over forty years experience studying Chinese politics. This has given me the historical context to live and study in Southeast Asia and the unique application of my studies in a simulation game of an international conflict in the South China Sea. Just last week I went to interview a special correspondent for Reuters, through my professor’s contacts, who follows the current events of the crisis. Since Hong Kong is such a financial and trade hub, I was able to get information about the current state of affairs between countries in Asia directly from someone who actively studies it and was approachable. There are also lots of student organizations covering academics and social networking, however when I first arrived they were promoting them over a couple weeks with ‘chantings’. I still haven’t figured out how this works, but it seems like they just stand in groups of their organization next to all the others and yell chants for hours. I’ve been living in Hall IX, one of the newest, which has its advantages but not a lot going on. Some of the halls have learning communities that organize events and activities that can really get you involved with local students. There is also an international students’ association that plans trips and events around Hong Kong like kayaking, hiking, and cultural discovery. However it is all up to luck since you cannot request your hall placement.

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In my first few weeks here, I planned a lot on going into the city alone to explore and get my bearings. I didn’t yet feel comfortable enough of the other exchange students and wanted a way to feel independent in this new home. I think this gave me the confidence to explore more of Hong Kong. The first bar I went to, I happened to meet the President of the OSU Hong Kong Alumni Association, and I’ve made similar contacts going to watch the super bowl or other events. His advice was that the best way to make connections is to actually, with no pretext, get to know someone, and that’s often hard to do when you’re with a big group of students. Most of my connections were developed through the exchange student group on facebook, but when you’re out in the city and meet some fellow expats it is always a good idea to ask them about how they got to Hong Kong, getting an idea about what opportunities there are outside the U.S. Since then I’ve made great friends here but being far enough away from the city it’s easy to get sheltered here on campus. I found my strength in a new place by making sure I could rely on myself first to have good time and then invite new friends along to enjoy it with.

About the Author: David Drummond, SP 2015, Student Exchange Program- Hong Kong

Hong Kong: One Student, Two Schools

David Drummond shares his highlights in Hong Kong, as he studies there for a semester on the Student Exchange Program. From the mixed culture, accessibility, and the many ways to spend your free time, he points out what makes Hong Kong a special place to live in.

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Hong Kong really is one of the must-see places in Asia. The tourism board touts it as “Asia’s World City” because of how many different cultures can be represented in one city. It is also one of the safest, and I think by far, the most accessible cities in the world. It has to be the easiest of cities in Asia for westerners to integrate into because of how much English is both spoken and seen. Since my arrival, here are the major highlights so far that have helped form my picture of Hong Kong:

  1. Highly accessible. Hong Kong’s transport system is extremely easy to get to know and get used to. The MTR (subway) service stretches across most of both Hong Kong island in the south and Kowloon in the north. It is easy and cheap, especially with a student discount, to travel anywhere in the city. If you cannot get somewhere by MTR you can find a double-decker or minibus to take you closer. All of these options usually cost less than 10 HKD (about 1.3 USD) and take the Octopus card, the most effective tool of mass transit EVER! You can put cash on this card just about anywhere through 7-11’s or McDonald’s or at any station and can even use it to buy food at many restaurants. If you’re in a hurry you can take a cab, which only takes cash, but still are fairly cheap compared to big cities in the U.S. and you only have to worry about them understanding you (Often speak no English). For such a big city, over 7 million, it hardly feels very crowded.
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  2. Take advantage of good weather. In Hong Kong it rains a lot or the fog rolls in and you can’t see much. I’ve been told that the summer can get very hot and humid. But when you get, every other week or so, a stretch of sunny days there’s so much that you can do! From beautiful views over the city in high rises or the peak, to hiking the many trails and hills of the island and country parks, Hong Kong has much more than a city can offer. Around 70% of the land in Hong Kong is outside the city and much of it is easy to get to by bus. Spectacular views await as you hike on down to the sandy beaches in the southern reaches of Hong Kong Island and spend the afternoon eating Thai food and drinks! I’ve climbed mountains, met monkeys, and traveled to far away fishing villages all within a short trip away from downtown or campus. Campus is only about 45 min away from downtown and less than one to two hours away from the best beaches, hikes, and scenery it has to offer.
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  3. Vibrant nightlife. Like any major city, Hong Kong has its nightlife district. Lang Kwai Fong is where people young and old congregate around a few blocks to enjoy the night, but head on up to SOHO and you find streets lined with unique restaurants with every taste you could be looking for. This is much more for the expats and young professionals where you can find any kind of cuisine of your choice. There’s always a new place to explore. The food scene is incredible. With so little space to work with, there is a huge variety of unique restaurants with food from all around the world. If you love to eat you’ll fall in love with the city. I have yet to get really into any music scene here but I have seen a few jazz clubs about.
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  4. Cultural crossroads. With the English no longer in control, Chinese culture may be becoming more dominant, but there are sizeable western expat communities and Hong Kong will always try to be the place to bridge East and West. British is no longer the upper-class standard, but you can find the influence still. I’m reminded of this when I see signs in English and walk past elegant western-style facades. There are definite pockets of the city which cater more aesthetically and culinarily to expats. However, when you walk through the markets with hanging fish and roasted ducks, see people chatting over a bowl of hotpot outside of a small dai pai dong, or walk through the crowds of Filipino domestic workers relaxing on their day off in Statue Square, you are reminded of the unique Asian cultures here. The little things also stand out, like having your card handed back to you with two hands or occasional subpar customer service (tipping is not very common). It’s harder to feel out of your comfort zone here, but you experience enough of the local and mainland Chinese culture to keep you interested to ask questions.
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  5. Shop till you drop. And you thought consumerism in America was the world standard? There are literally malls EVERYWHERE in Hong Kong, attached to the MTR and major buildings. Markets, with street food, abound. It’s definitely fun to wander through the malls and down the back alley stalls and wonder, who all buys this stuff? It is a city that only exists because the British wanted to sell things, mostly opium, to the Chinese. In Tsim Sha Tsui, the downtown of Kowloon you’ll find a lot of premier shopping and lots of mostly Indian men looking to advertise watches, suits, shirts, coats, bags, etc. I am really curious how many people respond well to being followed and touched by these guys asking if you like nice watches over and over! Shopping is definitely in the culture here. I heard from my roommate that a local girl mentioned that her usual holiday was going to a mall and just spending the day walking around and getting little bites to eat at lots of vendors. She didn’t understand why he would go on vacation and go windsurfing or water skiing!

Hong Kong offers a beautiful and vibrant experience where safety, accessibility, and comfort bring you back, but from where you can travel to a wide swath of nations in Asia with ease. Over my first two months here, I have experienced a beautiful and unique city which bridges East and West. In some ways it is struggling to hold onto its Western identity as China tries to gain influence, but I have gained a great appreciation for how the two cultures can work together in interesting ways. It is the perfect place for anyone wanting to learn about a multicultural Asian city with many of the comforts of home. It really is a the perfect location as a home base to see the diverse nations in the region. Asia is your oyster, and Hong Kong is the pearl.

About the Author: David Drummond, SP 2015, Student Exchange Program- Hong Kong