Emily - University of Hong Kong

B Advanced Humanities
Semester 2, 2018

Academic experience

While on my exchange, I studied the Dark Side of European History, African Literature, A History of Madness, 20th Century China, and Beginners' Mandarin. Despite my concerns about handling three subjects, I found the workload easy to manage, and my lecturers highly approachable. The only problem I ran into was the start of the semester, with my study plan. I would recommend putting as many courses on your study plan as possible, since the universities generally offer course placements to full-time domestic students (and understandably so).

Personal experience

I made many new friends through my exchange, from all over the world. I found that the exchange network was extensive and easily accessible. I also become significantly closer to a friend from Brisbane who coincidentally ended up being one of my roommates. But more so than the international network, meeting the locals was a wonderful experience too. This can actually be difficult through the university, but HKU offered a host family program, which was a wonderful opportunity to engage with local families and culture. Through these connections, I learnt a lot about myself, and my own culture, as well as what I want for my future. For example, I know now that I would love to continue studying Chinese.

Accommodation

My accommodation was rather unusual - I lived in a flat with five roommates run by the University exchange centre. For students living independently like we were, I would recommend getting comfortable with your roommates early in the semester. We had six people sharing one bathroom and one stovetop, but managed to make things worth by recognising small details, such as who among us likes to cook, and who prefers eating out, how often we each do laundry, and so forth. We had a group chat so that we could forward each other updates, university timetables, and, most often, in case someone forgot their keys. As for students living in halls or colleges, I know a little from talking to other students, and since our building was attached to one of the local student's halls. I found that it was very noisy - there were chants and marches late at night throughout the semester, so I would recommend being prepared for this. I also have to recognise the 'hazing' culture. In my experience, the colleges rarely get foreign students to participate, so don't feel pressure to - you shouldn't do anything you're not comfortable with!

Costs

I received a scholarship for $9,500, and ended up spending around $12,000 for the whole six months. My accommodation was unusually cheap, and I did budget most of my meals. The biggest expense for me was travel and tourism. I traveled a lot more than I had anticiated, and, although I did so on a tight budget, there were still lots of hidden expenses in insurance schemes, and hostel deposits, and tourist planning. I would recommend setting aside a significant amount for travel within your budget.

Challenge

The biggest challenge for me was the study plan situation. I had to create a new study plan before the UQ census date, since five out of seven of my planned courses were unavailable to me. The problem was that, since the UQ semester started so much earlier than the HKU one, the census date arrived before I could have all of my classes approved. I overcame this obstacle by consulting with staff at HKU, and at UQ via email. In the end, approval for my study plan did end up missing the census date, but the courses that I ended up taking made up for those that I missed.

Professional Development

I would say that I learnt a lot about independence and organisation through my exchange. I had never had to organise every aspect of my life before, from the small things, like laundry day, to the bigger plans, like travel planning. I managed to coordinate myself and the people around me with an efficiency that I didn't know I had. Many of the challenges that I faced required prompt and clear communication. This ranged from negotiating social schedules with my peers, to engaging with insurers after travel plans fell through, to navigating the dynamics of an intercultural classroom. I found myself challenged and inspired through these experiences, and learnt much about myself, and my own professional and personal abilities.

Highlight

The highlight for me was the community engagement and networking. I met so many amazing people from so many amazing places. For example, during the mid-semester break I had plans to travel to Taiwan with my roommate, but she had to cancel at the last minute. I ended up going by myself with a complete stranger - a friend of a friend. Despite this, I had a wonderful time, and learnt a lot about her culture, my culture, and the culture that we were visiting. What's more, we engaged with some incredible people in our hostel, and had a wonderful time with them as well. Despite being in a completely foreign environment with completely foreign people, I was never nervous or  uncomfortable. This experience stretched across my entire exchange.

Top tips

My main piece of advice would be to make the most of the experience - you are only in this place and with these people for a limited amount of time. The best way to do this, then, is to say yes to EVERYTHING. For a start, the university hosts a number of exchange mixers and events throughout the semester - this is the best place to build your network. From there, if someone you've met offers to have coffee, or go sightseeing, it's as simple as saying yes. It's also easy to offer yourself - just a simple Facebook message. The study is important, but what's more important is engaging with your surroundings while you can.