Before You Go East: A Student’s Study Abroad Experience in Hong Kong

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A common dilemma that students face in their time at King’s is the decision to study abroad. King’s Global Mobility and Study Abroad programme pride itself on offering students an experience of ‘diversity and different lifestyles’ to enhance a student’s ‘intercultural communication skills’, independence, and adaptability. Indeed, King’s provides an amazing variety of universities from all corners of the world for students who choose to partake in the Study Abroad programme, and a popular destination for many students is none other than East Asia.

Yet a common trend amongst applicants is the uncertainty of what university life in East Asia pertains. With the intent of providing future study-abroad students with an expectation of what studying abroad in East Asia is like, what follows is an interview of an undergraduate History and International Relations student’s experience studying abroad in the University of Hong Kong during the second half of the 2018/9 academic year.

Q: Why did you choose to partake in the Study Abroad programme and why Hong Kong in particular?

Student: I decided to study abroad because I realised that despite the number of international students around me, I had never spent any major period abroad in my life, and therefore decided to change that. Hong Kong was my first choice due to it being the only non-western university provided by my Department, and I wished to explore a radically different tone of the environment.

Q: What were your expectations of studying abroad in Hong Kong? Has your experience lived up to it?

Student: My expectations were somewhat undecided, I wanted a different experience to what I had previously lived, although I expected Hong Kong to be a bit more familiar than that, being the famous city where ‘East meets West’.

On face value, Hong Kong is accessible to anyone. However, as someone who does not speak Cantonese or mandarin and is not of Asian descent, it was difficult to try and get to grips with the culture. But this is equally true for anywhere else. While this was jarring and sometimes felt hurtful when I could not be accepted by some locals, I think during my time at Hong Kong I managed to equally befriend exchange students and more local students, which was ultimately made my experience a lot more positive experience.

I personally feel many students expected an experience of partying and travelling and having an amazing time (which I also had a lot of fun with). But my memories of Hong Kong won’t be of the places I have been, it will be of the people I had fun with.

Q: One major reason as to why many people choose to Study Abroad in East Asian countries is to experience new cultures – how has the difference in culture impacted your study abroad experience?

Student: The differences in culture was interesting. For example, the food is more varied and just better in Hong Kong (as well as cheaper), the transport is better, and the rent for my dorm room was far cheaper than in London.

Looking back on my experiences with Hong Kong, I have a feeling that I was somewhat typecasting as the truculent westerner, although admittedly through my own actions I often fell quite easily into that territory, by not understanding local customs as well as I should have.

Q: How does the educational environment in Hong Kong compare to London?

Student: The educational environment here is certainly different and far more intense than King’s. The sheer volume of work, as well as extracurricular activities one is expected to do, are quite stressful.

Thankfully as an exchange student, you are liberated from many of these tasks especially if one is merely a ‘pass-fail’ student. However, for myself (who cannot help but make sure that the work is to a standard before passing it in) it has been quite stressful.

But the variety of subjects is certainly very different from what I am used to here in London. For my course (History and Politics), the topics touched most parts of the world. Furthermore, it is far easier to learn different things such as the Chinese language.

Q: Were there any difficulties in adjusting to the culture or environment in Hong Kong?

Student: I’ve always described Hong Kong as a sort of Chinese London. It’s like walking into a version of your house, but that’s been decorated and furnished by someone else with a completely different style. The pace is similar, and you could almost mistake the subway (MTR) for home. It does have a certain ‘cluster’ and ‘claustrophobia’ that London does not have. There’s a bit of everything everywhere, with no real sense of one district being anything in particular.

Hong Kong is a hell of a blend of East and West as well, because of it’s obvious past, leading to a very interesting and yet amazing environment. One could walk down the streets of Hong Kong island and find skyscrapers on one side of the road and British colonial architecture on the other side. One can also easily eat a classic New York burger one night, and then 5 seconds down the very same street can enjoy some classic Taiwanese bubble tea down the street. Hong Kong’s cultural vibrancy is incomparable.

Q: What are the major benefits/disadvantages that come with studying abroad in Hong Kong?

Student: Benefits are just learning a ton about different cultures, and really having some of the best times of your life. But most importantly – THE FOOD! It is the best food you will ever have. Like seriously, somehow the pizza here is even better than in Rome, this makes no sense but I love it.

The disadvantages of studying in Hong Kong is, however, the long period of time it takes to adjust if one wants to try and fit in with the local culture, or at least for me.

Q: If you could give yourself advice a year ago prior to making the decision to study abroad in Hong Kong, what would you tell yourself?

Student: Do what you want to do (in the end, experiencing different cultures and getting out of your comfort zone is the essence of Study Abroad), research, and be prepared for it to be very different and to try to fit in. But also be aware that the people you meet there will leave a hell of a lasting impression, and the experiences you have will stay with you forever. So you should go. Oh and by the way just ignore your country collapsing whilst you’re in Hong Kong because you can’t do anything.

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