My Experience as an Exchange Student at CityU

I came to academia late in life, and it has been an extremely rewarding experience. When my home university (Southern Cross University in northern New South Wales, Australia) gave me the opportunity to go on exchange to Hong Kong, I didn’t hesitate. I had some knowledge of the Chinese way of life, as I taught English for three years in Guangxi province in China prior to commencing my studies. But as a BA undergraduate majoring in English and Cultural Studies, Hong Kong represented an interesting amalgamation of East and West that I eagerly wanted to explore.

What’s so great about Hong Kong?
So, what have I learnt about Hong Kong and the exchange experience? I’ll start with the fundamentals. Hong Kong is one of the cleanest, most organised and safest cities in the world. I never feel anxious here. The MTR operates like clockwork. The streets and amenities are hygienic and functional, and I can walk around freely day or night without any apprehension. Hong Kong is densely populated, but I never feel overwhelmed here. I think this can be put down to the fact that although Hong Kong people live very close together, they are always mindful that consideration and compromise are needed to achieve a harmonious society. Also, achieving balance in life is an important aspect of Chinese culture. I think the people here believe in the motto “work hard, play hard”. Consequently, the number of things you can do in your free time in Hong Kong is only limited by your own imagination. Of course, it’s also very easy to get out of the city if you want – islands, beaches, mountains and villages are all just a short train, bus or ferry ride away.

Transitioning in
As accommodation in Hong Kong can be expensive, I have been fortunate enough to live on campus. I also lived on campus at my home university, so the transition wasn’t too difficult. Of course there are a few marked differences between students here and students back home. I found that the local and mainland students are more reserved than their Australian counterparts. They also tend to like group activities rather than the individualism favoured by most Australians. While I’m very different in terms of age and culture from most of the students living on campus, they always go out of their way to make me feel welcome and included. I’ve made many friends, local, mainland and overseas students alike.

At the Andy Warhol exhibition

Opportunities for social engagement
Living in Humanity Hall 1, I’ve had the opportunity to become a volunteer for the City-Youth Empowerment Project, run by the Department of Applied Social Studies at CityU. There are many different projects available for students to participate in. One organization making a difference in Hong Kong is Food Angel. Manned by dedicated professionals and volunteers, Food Angel aspires to relieve hunger, reduce food waste and enable a greener Hong Kong by converting some of the vast quantities of perfectly good leftover food (which would otherwise go to landfills) into cooked meals. Food Angel achieves this task and provides a lot of elderly citizens with nourishment and enjoyment. H.O.P.E (Homeless Outreach Population Estimation Hong Kong) is another project that puts the spotlight on Hong Kong’s homeless people, who are often hidden behind the city’s facade of wealth and prosperity.

Distributing Food Angel meals at the community centre

The campus
CityU is a great university, much bigger than my home university, but more compact. When I first arrived, I signed up for one of the orientation tours provided by the Global Services Office (GSO). I found the tour really helpful. Not only did I gain a better understanding of the layout of the university, but I met other exchange students as well. GSO also had student mentors, or CityU Buddies, available to answer any questions I had. All the facilities at CityU, the library, lecture theatres, gym, pool or the Creative Media Centre are world-class. There are many food outlets scattered throughout the campus, and a Western style supermarket across the road at Festival Walk, an upmarket shopping mall. The MTR is available there as well. At the back entrance to CityU is a housing estate (Nam Shan Estate) with a wet market. This is an interesting place to shop for food, household items, even a haircut (especially if you’re on a budget). The market also offers opportunities to meet the local people.

Helping in the Study Abroad Fair

I’m only halfway through my year at CityU, so I still have the next semester to look forward to. Participating in an exchange program requires quite a bit of initial and ongoing planning, with the inevitable paperwork that goes with it. The experience, however, is well worth any minor inconvenience. My advice to anyone about to go on exchange would be, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be prepared for days when you’ll feel like a fish out of water. Strangely enough, those are often the days you learn the most about your new environment and, more importantly, yourself.