Hi! I’m Julian, a 4th year mechanical engineering student, and I have spent my last year in Hong Kong! I flew into Hong Kong in July 2017, and began a month of intensive Cantonese training under the New Colombo Plan Scholarship. This was an amazing first opportunity to really immerse myself in Hong Kong’s unique culture and learn to do life the local way. I lived with a friend in the district called Jordan (佐敦) for my first month – an older area of Hong Kong that has amazing food and wet markets, and rarely sees tourists stopping by.
In August 2017, I finished up my Cantonese training and started my first semester at the City University of Hong Kong, more colloquially known as CityU or 城大, “seng daai.” Located in Kowloon Tong, despite its name, it’s actually quite far from the Hong Kong city centre, and is close to Hong Kong’s New Territories. It couldn’t have been in a better location though – it was a short walk from the start of the famous Lion’s Rock hike, had easy direct access to the hundreds of mountains for countless amazing weekend hikes, but also had direct access down the train line to Hong Kong Island, where the real hustle-bustle and action happens.
I chose CityU because of its similarity to QUT. CityU also had humble beginnings as a technical college and has a similar age to QUT, and because of these reasons, it was rooted in learning by practice and industry exposure. Unlike most exchange students, learning the subject content meant a great deal to me, as it was a huge opportunity to learn about sustainability and environmental management – a study area that QUT lacks and CityU specialises in. Study at CityU was exactly what I expected and wanted – many of my lecturers were full-time sustainability and environmental consultants, and taught university courses and did research all part-time. This was amazing because it really gave me huge insight into an exciting industry in Hong Kong. Students worked much harder at CityU in my degree than engineering students at QUT, and this is a strong reflection of Hong Kong’s stringent university admissions process.
Living at CityU was an interesting experience. Students are very often paired to share room with either another student from their home university, or from Australia, and therefore both semesters I sadly had Australian roommates, as much as I wanted to have a local student roommate. Student residence is also the cheapest accommodation in Hong Kong, at around AU$1000 for the entire semester, while the cheapest place off-campus you can find is normally around AU$1000-$2000 per month! For this reason, getting into student residence in Hong Kong universities is extremely competitive, and I encourage any students applying to universities in Hong Kong to do their residence application within the first half hour the application opens.
Many exchange students find it extremely difficult to make local friends, and on-campus, there are 4 clear distinctions in social groups: local Hong Kong students, Mainland Chinese students, international full-time students (mostly from other parts of Asia), and exchange students. I spent my first semester in the exchange student bubble, hiking every mountain in Hong Kong and ticking off every possible touristy activity there is. In my second semester, however,I wanted a different experience, and really pushed myself to make friends with my local classmates and this was the best decision I ever made. I was introduced to a side of Hong Kong and a perspective that was in stark contrast to my first semester impression.
Beyond my two semesters at CityU, I am now spending my weekdays still in Hong Kong, but now working full-time at an engineering consultancy, and spending my weekends hiking with friends and eating Hong Kong’s wonderful food.
My biggest piece of advice with going on exchange to Hong Kong is to be adventurous and dare yourself to be uncomfortable. There’s so so much more to exchange than alcohol and partying – dare yourself to gnaw on those chicken feet, dare yourself to haggle for your 10 bok choys in Cantonese and dare yourself to meet those people you never thought you could meet.