Thomas - University of Hong Kong

B Biotechnology
Semester 2, 2018
I learned from and laughed and danced with people from all over the world, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Academic experience

At HKU, I studied analytical chemistry, biological laboratory techniques, an introduction to environmental science, and two 'common core' courses: "Feeding the World" and "Food and Ethics". Common core courses are meant to teach students critical thinking and about the world. The last three courses linked really well, and it was fascinating to learn about the production and distribution of food (particularly in China) with an environmental background whilst learning about moral issues to do with food. Enrollment can be a bit hectic, it's first in, best dressed, and quotas on classes can be quite low. I would highly recommend doing the sign-on process with your hallmates, or with whoever you can if you're not in a hall. Or on your own if you're not in HK when it needs to get done, I guess.

Personal experience

I feel like I've learned lots about people after going on exchange. I can understand why so many international students group up with other international students at UQ (exchange students tended to huddle up by chance. We spoke differently to locals). I understand what it's like to set foot in a country and have no idea what you're doing or how you're even going to get to your accommodation. I am so greatful to my boys on Twelfthlane who gave me sheets to sleep on the night I arrived, and I remember how they shared hotpot with me. I got welcomed like family by so many different social circles. Now, I only want to do the same to those around me.

Accommodation

I lived in university accommodation in a hall. My hall was Lee Shau Kee, it was AWESOME. It has a reputation of being the 'friendly' hall of Jockey II (St John's reputation is high achievement and no sleep. Suen Chi Sun's is the 'pretty' hall, etc.). University accommodation is so so much cheaper than off-campus accommodation, so I would highly recommend anyone to apply as soon as they can for a hall. Jockey III halls have more international students, and so are a good mix. Lee Shau Kee was awesome and I participated in a bunch of my floor's activities (we ate food together, watched each other's softball games, and they taught me some Canto). If you're unfortunate enough not to get accommodation, there's a bunch of people in the same boat as you who will stay in the On Hing building.

Costs

Accommodation will either cost an absolute fortune or not much at all, depending on how lucky you get. I paid about 7700 HKD for my accommodation for the semester, but I know some folks who paid that per month off-campus. Transport is cheap as chips. Food is kind of expensive if you buy a meal, especially western foods. If you're budget-conscious, it's best to head to the markets which sell produce and meat and eggs. Cooking yourself will save you a fortune. On-campus food is pretty cheap (about 3 AUD), but kind of notoriously bad among locals.

Challenge

I'm very extroverted, and fighting loneliness was probably the biggest challenge. It's really easy to get overwhelmed, to not talk to locals, to be acquaintances but not friends with so many exchange students. I attended activities and learned some Cantonese from my hallmates. I hosted a dinner every other week at my hall for exchange students. I attended an awesome church on Sundays (shoutout to Watermark). I put myself out there, and so got to become good friends with so many people. Now my struggle is I miss my friends who are spread all across the world.

Professional Development

Studying in Hong Kong gave me a totally new perspective on so many issues we face as Australians and as citizens of a planet Earth. Environmental issues became so apparent to me. An attitude of "money will solve this problem" is unproductive, and I want to use chemical biotechnology as a tool to reform plastic recycling and production processes. This is a passion and attitude I wouldn't have adopted had I not gone on exchange.

Highlight

The people and the food. I travelled to Taiwan and twice to the mainland and to Macau and all around Hong Kong, but the landmarks are quickly forgotten. Instead, I will always remember the experiences I shared with people and the food I ate with them. I heard people's stories from all over - from a British friend with a mum from Hong Kong who was almost discovering her heritage as her exchange went on, to a young Chinese woman working at a hostel with the biggest sense of wanderlust.

Top tips

Plan in advance. I was lucky enough to have planned my courses so that I could do all on-list electives whilst on exchange. It meant I didn't need to do any compulsory courses, which made sign-on a much more relaxing process.