Mountains and the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong

Millie G., Bachelor of Creative Industries
Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong (Semester 1, 2017)

Host University

Situated between the mountains behind it and bustling Mong Kok in front of it, HKBU was a wonderful place to undertake my studies in HK. There was such energy about the campus, with market and uni club stalls almost every day of the week, and countless activities to get involved with. The assessment style was quite different to what I was used to doing Creative Industries at QUT. They preferred smaller, cumulative presentations and tutorial involvement to one or two larger pieces of work, and almost all of the presentations and essays were on topics of our own choosing. I was slightly disappointed to find that the units were pretty different to what was described on the syllabus, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.

Host Country

I am so incredibly happy with my choice of HK as my exchange destination!!! For such a small place, it’s incredible the variety of things there are to do – from beaches to museums to night clubs to mountain hiking to temples to shopping to amusement parks, there’s something for everyone. Even just walking around and soaking up the atmosphere of the vastly different districts was something I never got tired of. The city never sleeps with malls staying open till 11 and supermarkets and restaurants till the early hours of the morning. I think this is a big reason why I’ve never felt safer out at night before. I could walk back to my apartment at 2am from another district and there’d still be people minding their own business out at bars and restaurants – there were never any strange people wandering the street. Certainly made a change from Brisbane haha.

Being there in the first half of the year was great as I got to experience the more traditional side of HK culture, being right at the front for the Chinese New Year celebrations and Buddha’s Birthday. While people didn’t speak as much English as I expected (particularly in the more traditional Mong Kok district that I stayed in), the locals are incredibly helpful despite the cultural divide. While supermarket and restaurant/bar prices were comparable to Australia, the cost of things like public transport and market stall goods was significantly cheaper – it was less than one Australian dollar to get the subway to university each day! That was another thing that made HK so enjoyable – their public transport system was so amazing. You could get to literally anywhere using the trains and buses, with services coming every couple of minutes. Living off campus, this made exploring and getting around so easy.

Highlights

Man, literally the whole trip was one big high for me. The city, particularly at night, is so aesthetically beautiful. I honestly had the best time just calling the place my home. But if I had to name a few I’d have to say:

  • My exchange group: The guys and girls I met from all around the world who’d come to HKBU were so incredible. We had so many absolutely wild times together – boat parties, hikes, horse races – you name it, we probably did it
  • Disneyland: It’s true what they say – it’s the most magical place on Earth. While there aren’t a lot of thrill rides there, it has such a beautifully nostalgic atmosphere and we easily filled the entire day

The Unexpected

How clean the city was! You’d always see workers sweeping the street and eating on the trains was strictly forbidden. I can’t recall a time I really saw trash in the street. I was also totally surprised at how there wasn’t much of an adjustment period in terms of when I first got there. I began enjoying myself pretty much as soon as I was left to my own devices haha. Similarly, I was surprised that I didn’t find myself counting down the days till I went home the longer I was there. Everyone I talked to on exchange with me felt the same.

Tips & Advice

  1. As soon as you’re accepted by your host university, start doing the housekeeping stuff involved with that university – I missed out on staying on campus as I waited till I’d finished my semester at QUT to start applying
  2. If you’re giving the opportunity/have the funds, I’d actually totally recommend staying off campus. You feel so much more immersed in your country’s lifestyle/culture, there aren’t any restrictions placed upon your stay, and if you’re like me and relish you’re alone time, this will make your time abroad a lot more comfortable. However you have to be a lot more proactive with meeting people and joining in activities
  3. Always keep the QUT exchange office in the loop with what stage you’re at before, during, and after your exchange
  4. Always check your QUT emails while overseas
  5. Keep a record of how much you’re spending on what in the first few weeks and then base your budget on this moving forward
  6. Befriend local students – they know all the places that aren’t in your travel guide
  7. Take any opportunity presented to you!

Be adventurous in Hong Kong!

Julian L., Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)
City University of Hong Kong (CityU), England (Semester 1, 2018)

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.

I do actually have other clothes, but my QUT instant-dry shirt was perfect for hiking.

New Sights, New Smells – Hong Kong

“Learn a little Cantonese and the locals will bend their backs to help you out”

Arriving in Hong Kong on my first day was both exciting and daunting at the same time – I had only been overseas less than a handful of times, let alone traveling by myself on this occasion. However, upon stepping foot on the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, the crowds, the dazzling LED lights and the new smells were comforting – I knew then that my time in Hong Kong was only going to get better.

If you plan to come to Hong Kong, you may notice (as I did) that Hong Kong locals hold different conceptions of “personal space”. I first noticed this when I boarded the Hong Kong MTR (a feature of Hong Kong which you will become very familiar with and learn to appreciate very much) from the Hong Kong airport to my hotel. Locals were comfortable with standing or sitting close together on trains, buses or public transport in general.

This was interesting as it was a quick introduction to the cultural differences between Hong Kong and Australia. As such, if you do find yourself in the Hong Kong MTR or on a bus and a local sits or stands next to you despite there being an abundance of space or seats available – this is not meant to intrude but rather to save space.

Scenes such as this are not uncommon in Hong Kong – Photo Credit Arnold M

Hong Kong locals are friendly, warm and will do what they can to accommodate your needs. You will often find this when you order food at a restaurant or food stall. Despite the inherent language barriers, locals will find ways to communicate and help you with your order. If you wish, you may reciprocate their kindness by thanking the person who served you in Cantonese – this is very much appreciated. There are an abundance of resources available in YouTube or Google to help you with basic Cantonese.

For those of you who are excited to try the cuisine in Hong Kong, do not fret, I will address the very interesting topic of cuisine in another blog post given its vast and varied nature.

I am currently undertaking my single exchange semester in City University of Hong Kong (CityU). CityU is located in Kowloon Tong and is very accessible by the MTR as the university is connected to the MTR station via a small tunnel. CityU offers a diverse range of courses which range from studies in European and Asian languages to Principles of Nuclear Engineering.

Although the CityU campus is not large, it contains many interesting features of which I highly recommend that you take advantage of to help you make the most of your exchange semester – from swimming pools, restaurants and large canteens, rooftop gardens to barbecue facilities (rest assured I will taking advantage of the latter).

CityU has some very interesting areas where you can relax and escape the heat.

To close, if you do find yourself entertaining the idea of studying abroad for one or two semesters – do not hesitate any longer and visit the STAE office in level 1 of A block in QUT GP campus.

I will be covering more things about Hong Kong, so watch this space再見 (joigin)

Christjan C.

Bachelor of Justice / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)

This student’s exchange is supported by funding from the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan.

Fashion in Hong Kong

Nhu, C. Bachelor of Design (Fashion)

Hong Kong Polythechnic University (Semester 2, 2016)

I studied fashion design at The Hong Kong Polythechnic University in second semester of my second year. The Institute of Textiles and Clothing in PolyU is significantly different to QUT fashion studios as they have a larger number in students, more facilities however the teaching was not as intimate. The institute offered eye-opening subjects such as knitting, colouration, intimate apparel, shoe design, denim design and so on. The teaching staff were also very experienced and supportive especially the pattern maker, knitting technician, colouration and finishing professor that taught me.

During my semester abroad, I made myself at home at the PolyU student accommodation. I paid approximately $1 600 for the whole semester which was significantly cheaper than living outside of the student dorms. It was one of the best decisions I made over in HK as I built strong friendships with my roommate, other exchange students and the workers within the building. It was also near the university, only taking 10 minutes by foot.  Within the student accommodation it provided functional, studying and leisure facilities including a communal gym, swimming pool, snooker pool room, game room, table tennis, dance room, kitchen, laundry room, study rooms and printers.

The cost of living was not as bad as I was expecting. I roughly spent $8000-9000 during the whole 4months (including flights, flights booked in HK, accommodation). Hong Kong is full of culture, mixing both Western and Eastern qualities. I didn’t experience much of a culture shock as my ethnical background is Chinese and Vietnamese.  Hong Kong was my home, the hustle and bustle of the night life and the sensational scenery as you escape the city will forever keep me wanting more. I met and became close friends with many of the locals and exchange students who’ve broadened my perspective on life and design.

My advice for students who are still undecided whether to go or not, I say go!! It’s true when past exchange students say it’s one of the most memorable and best experience. For the future exchange students, my advice is to learn as much as you can and take advantage of your host university’s curriculum but also don’t forget to make time for exploring your host country, be part of their culture, make both local and exchange friends, visit nearby countries and take up every opportunity!

Its what you make it

Nicola, B.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Semester 2, 2016)

The biggest shock when arriving at PolyU was that very little was online.  All the students prefer face-to-face contact and therefore no lectures are recorded, all questions are asked in class or you meet up with your lecturer/tutor, all assignments are still printed out and handed in and they are only just starting to build up blackboard. The students were all very motivated, spent so much extra time in the library and all group work was discussed in person. I really enjoyed my time on campus at PolyU.  They had so many events and different activities always happening on campus.  They may not have as many clubs but they put so much energy into the clubs and the different stalls they had set up were just amazing!  Many of my classes were quite interactive with one having 40 students going on a field trip to a company that organises a simulation where you can experience what it is like living in aged care.  This was a lot of fun and certainly an experience.

The halls accommodation was a bit of an adjustment having to life in such small quarters as well as with a roommate.  It was super close to the university, to public transport and to plenty of restaurants which made it worthwhile.  Most nights at about 7pm there would be a message from an international student organising to go for dinner that night so there was always an opportunity to be social.

Hong Kong is a very cheap place, particularly in relation to Australia.  Whilst some things were more expensive than anticipated, travelling around Hong Kong and to other countries close by was very easy and very cheap.  A real shock for me was the amount of people living in Hong Kong.  I knew it was a small country with a large population but I really was not expecting it to be as busy as it was.  Public transport would get so packed and at night  just walking down the sidewalk sometimes would be difficult with all the people around.  In saying that though, it is also a place that has many hiking routes and places to escape.  Many weekends involved exploring a different part and finding those quite places where everything is calm.  I was very lucky that I was put with some truly lovely local students that took me places, made suggestions and gave me any advice I needed.  Before I left for Hong Kong I had a lot of people tell me there was English everywhere and while English was on most signs and most people had broken English, it was not as common as I had anticipated.  This caused some difficulties while I was over there, particularly with some of the local students but for the most part could usually work around the language barrier.

The major highlight of my exchange was simply the friendships I formed while over there.  I certainly miss lots of people but I know have friendships all around the world and there is a certain special feeling in that.  While it was amazing to see the country and experience so many new adventures, it would not have been the same without new friends around me experiencing it too.  I suggest to anyone that is going on an exchange to just say yes to everything and just really make the most of everything that the experience is.  As the popular saying goes “it is what you make it” and I truly felt my exchange experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity with so many lasting memories.

Victoria Bridge, PolyU & Disneyland Hong Kong

An action-packed semester in Hong Kong

Jaime L, Bachelor of Business

City University of Hong Kong (Semester 1, 2016)

New Colombo Plan mobility grant recipient

I completed one semester of exchange at City University Hong Kong. Going on exchange has opened up so many doors for me. My time abroad in Hong Kong has been invaluable to building both my career opportunities and my global mindset. Personally, my whole exchange was a highlight. I have built so many great memories and experiences in the past 5 months that I will never forget.

Highlights

Hong Kong is an absolutely incredible country. It is so condensed yet there is something for everyone. Living in Hong Kong I discovered there is so much more to the country than just high rises and condensed city. Catching a ferry or even bus just out of the city you’ll find so many hikes offering incredible views of the nature in Hong Kong. One of the many things I loved about Hong Kong was the public transport. You can get a student oyster card and ride the MTR for next to nothing, and it’s so easy and fast to use! But we found that even just catching an MTR somewhere and exploring the streets of Hong Kong was enough, there was something to see everywhere!

Finances

I had budgeted $10,000 for the whole trip. I went over budget in my time in Hong Kong, spending around $14,000. However the reason for this was spontaneous trips that I went on to Thailand, Macau and China. I had not planned on overseas travel but when the opportunity arose I jumped on it blowing budget but not regretting it at all. Also, I loved exchange so much I extended my trip at the end, also causing me to go over budget. Getting student accommodation is one of the best things for the budget as it is so cheap. Eating in Hong Kong is generally pretty cheap, unless you eat at Western style restaurants: then it can be quite expensive. CityU has a number of canteens where you can pick up a decent (not great) meal for around $5 AUD. As I mentioned before public transport is not expensive nor is the shopping there if you barter hard enough.

Accommodation

I was lucky enough to be given a shared room at student accommodation. This was great! They had a bus come and pick you up from the airport to take you to residence; they had tours to IKEA so students could get all their bedding and such and also a large number of Welcome Parties and Galas. The room and facilities itself was nice, definitely comfortable although small. I was lucky in that I got a really nice roommate which definitely helped. The accommodation is right next to the uni which is a massive bonus! It was also nice to be living basically with all of my friends I had made there.

Challenges

Overall Hong Kong was easy to live in and feel at home. I had no issues with safety at all which was huge in making me feel at home quite early on. Luckily I had a travel card so when I was running out of money I could easily just transfer across. The main challenge I faced was to do with my subjects. Once I got to Hong Kong Cityu told me that I had to change a subject to meet their requirements, and this was about a week after I arrived. Being in my second last semester of my degree I didn’t have much room to move subject wise and it turned out the subject I had chosen would not work with QUT, however I found this out too late and could not change. This has now resulted in me having to complete 5 subjects this semester.

Tips

  • Take your own bedding! Chances are you’ll be arriving late in the evening and just wanting to get some sleep: they do not provide you with bedding so spare an uncomfortable night on a thin unprotected mattress and take some sheets at least!
  • Take some extra passport photos, these will come in handy for your octopus card and any visas you may apply for (for example China).
  • Go to Tequila Jacks in Tsim Sha Tsui, they have a great happy hour including $2AUD tacos!
  • When bartering in the markets do not be afraid to walk away if they are not going down to the price you want, they will chase you lowering their price.
  • Be open and friendly, just smile and say hello, you have no idea where it will take you!

 

The benefits of exchange are endless. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone and everyone who is even the slightest bit interested. There will be times where it does seem tough and you don’t have your family or friends from home, but the memories and friends you make there are invaluable. You build a new support network of people who are in the same boat as you. I think it’s incredible to be able to live in another country for nearly 6 months. Hong Kong has changed my life and opened up so many more doors for me. I wish I could do it all over again!