Out of five years at university – three back home in the UK, one in Hong Kong, and one in Beijing, my year on exchange at the University of Hong Kong from 2012 to 2013 was undoubtedly the most memorable. At that time, the new colleges on Lung Wah Street had just been built and I was amongst the inaugural batch of residents. (Some of you may remember the ‘teething issues’ with the colleges in September 2012!) I wasn’t too bothered about this – the fantastic view from the rooms over Victoria Harbour definitely made up for it.
However you look at it, the quality of teaching at HKU is excellent, and being on exchange presents an opportunity to take classes that your home university doesn’t offer, or something that HKU has a specialist department in. I was there to study East Asian and Chinese politics, and also took up Mandarin. Many international students only began studying Chinese language when we arrived at HKU, so progress was very slow at times. Three years on though, I recommend exchange students to persist in learning Mandarin or Cantonese, as it gets much easier. I ended up spending a year studying Mandarin at Peking University, and found that my studies at HKU were a great base – make the most of the teachers and living in a city with so many Chinese speakers.
Especially for a European student like myself, one of the main advantages of being in Hong Kong is the accessibility of places that are normally a ten-hour flight away, and Hong Hong’s mix of western and eastern holidays gives you more than enough time to make the most of these. I travelled a lot in East Asia (including North Korea with three fellow British exchange students!). It’s perhaps easy to overlook traveling in Mainland, with so many cheap flights to other destinations, yet it’s relatively inexpensive, has vast and spectacular scenery, and presents a good chance to use your Mandarin.
It wouldn’t be much of an article on Hong Kong without mentioning the food. If you haven’t yet discovered it (which seems unlikely), then get out and try it! I only spent a year in Hong Kong, but feel that the local cuisine is perhaps Hong Kong’s greatest cultural asset. You can ask a local friend to take you to some of the famous old cha chaan teng in Kennedy Town and Sai Wan for egg tarts, Chiuchow-style noodles, or yuanyang.
At some point, life in HKU can be intense, especially if you are trying to travel at the same time and you’re one of those exchange students whose grades DO transfer back to your home university and go towards your degree classification. I found the incessant bustle of Hong Kong, a double-edged sword. It’s tiring at points, especially if you come from a quiet or rural area in your home country. However, the only way to deal with this is to get involved in as much as you can and seize the fantastic opportunity you have, studying at HKU and living in one of the world’s great cities.
Ben Miller was on exchange at HKU from the University of Exeter in 2012-13. He is currently working in London.