Outline: Nova SBE student Cláudia Cordeiro shares her exchange experience on Hong Kong University of Sciences and Technology (HKUST). Welcome to the HKUST exchange report! #Uduni #hkust exchange #Uduni Erasmus Series
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Hi, Cláudia! Thank you so much for giving us your feedback about your exchange program in Hong Kong…we are thrilled to know more about your experience there! Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello! I am a 3rd year Management student at Nova SBE and last semester I had the wonderful opportunity to go on exchange to Hong Kong. Finishing my degree without the experience of studying abroad was completely out of the question for me. Since a young age I have always been interested in travelling and knowing other cultures, but living abroad is extremely different from spending a few weeks discovering other countries.
In fact, I had never been to Asia before. It was a complete new world for me and having the possibility to study and live there fascinated me from the very beginning. And this experience was now within my reach.
So, Asia was a new world for you – but why Hong Kong specifically?
The political nature of Hong Kong makes it a distinctive place. Ruled by Britain until 1997, English is an official language and the western heritage is extremely enrooted in their culture. Being an international hub, with an affordable living cost, where skyscrapers stand next to striking natural sceneries, Hong Kong pretty much has it all – it was just the perfect combination for me.
When did you get to Hong Kong and how long were you there?
I arrived in Hong Kong late August 2015 and left in December. However, my adventure in Asia wasn’t yet complete: I stayed one month and a half travelling in the Southeast region, with my return ticket to Portugal scheduled for February.
HONG KONG, A UNIQUE REALITY
After setling in, what were your first impressions of the city?
Hong Kong is many times described as the place where East meets West and this was perceptible right away. In some places you find traditional Chinese stores, very congested little streets and Buddhist temples, to just few blocks away facing huge malls with European stores, cinemas with Hollywood movies and American fast food chains.
And everything is big. The dimension of the city is spectacular, the tall, packed residence buildings form blocks after blocks, the skyscrapers give you an exclusive sky line and the movement in the streets is just crazy. It’s a city full of life, with many events and things to do, where everyone can find activities for their taste.
Living in such a different culture, I’m sure it must have been something new to you. What were the most positive things you experienced there?
Despite everything seeming big and far away, Hong Kong has one of the best transportation systems worldwide. The subway stations are intelligently built in order to facilitate changing lines and the most you may have to wait for an MTR is … 2 minutes. But Hong Kong also has some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Asia and trekking in the middle of highlands while seeing the overcrowded hub below and the sea in the distance is just incredible. And let’s not forget about the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world!
Well…And the most negative ones?
Finding your place amongst one the most densely populated places in the world may not be easy at first. But after a while you get used to the queues in elevators, having people everywhere or even walking in a “s” shape line in the streets.
The weather in the beginning was also quite harsh, with temperatures up to 30ºC, but feeling like 40, making it almost impossible to breathe. The typhoon season can be quite bad as well, but I have to admit that I was quite curious about it Ahahah
And the statement “English is an official language, so everyone speaks it” – well, not so easy! Only people our age or more qualified workforces do.
ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL LIFE…AND TRAVELLING
How was your academic experience there? What surprised you the most?
The university where I studied, HKUST, is one of the best in Asia and some of the courses I took were the most practical, useful and insightful of my degree. I have to admit that I was not prepared to work in groups of 6-8 people, something that is just normal there. What surprised me the most was the fact that developing group projects with locals was not easygoing as one might imagine – culturally, they don’t like to speak up or show initiative, making it a little more difficult to organize things and get the work done. This only made me more versatile while working with people from other countries, develop my flexibility in terms of contradictory opinions and improve my team working skills.
What about Hong Kong people? Many cultural barriers?
Getting along with Hong Kong people differs from individual to individual. Less receptive people, either in the city or in the university, might not appear very friendly and hearing a “Good Morning” is just something non-existent there. In a culture full of people, the simple acts of holding a door or waiting for you in the elevator, which we consider nothing but politeness here, are just negligible. Also, when exploring less touristic areas, some locals might just show dislike, but most of the times it’s just because they are not used to outsiders and don’t want to interact with you.
On the other hand, some Hong Kong people can get very fascinated with you, they want to know where you are from and even, in many occasions, ask to take pictures with you! People our age tend to be more open-minded and sociable – my buddies were just wonderful and I still talk with them today!
Did you enjoy your social life there? Which kind of activities did you like to do in your spare time?
Hong Kong is very dynamic, with lots of events and new places to discover. During the free weekends it was common to explore the city, either by going hiking or sightseeing more touristic places. The city is undeniably picturesque, so sometimes all it took was a camera and friends in order to have fun!!
Oh, and travelling of course!
You mentioned travelling…can you ellaborate a bit?
Apart from my backpacking trip after the exam season, I also got the chance to travel during the semester. I walked in the Great Wall of China, admired Korea’s autumn colors and relished the gastronomic pleasures of Taiwan – by planning ahead it was possible to do all of this without compromising any classes or work projects.
Two months have passed since the end of this adventure and being back home only makes me realize how incomplete my life was before this unique experience. To be honest, I miss my Home Kong every single day – maybe I should say “saudade” right?
I made memories I could never dream of. I fell in love with people… with food… with places. I got the chance to discover the beauty of many countries, of so many different cultures, most of all, I got the chance to discover myself.
The best stories of my life are now written between the pages of my passport.
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