Author: Louisa Crookshanks
For me, Hong Kong was the perfect place to study abroad. It surpassed all my expectations: socially, culturally and academically. I made friends with people from all over the world, developed my knowledge on challenging legal issues and managed to tick off some bucket list destinations.
Hong Kong’s Culture
I would describe Hong Kong as a fusion between the east and west. It has a distinctive culture for you to explore: from the bustling, cosmopolitan, business district with skyscrapers and malls full of designer brands; to the quieter neighbourhood areas, with beautiful ancient temples and street stalls serving the best dumplings you will ever eat. This unique blend makes it much easier to immerse yourself in a new culture and adapt to life as an exchange student. Most people speak English and the transport system is easy to navigate. Once you scratch below the surface there is so much more to explore beyond the city. My favourite thing about Hong Kong was that I lived in the centre of this urban jungle but could easily hop on a bus and within 30 minutes would be at the beach or hiking a mountain. There are a number of hikes and trails for nature lovers and plenty of cultural activities in and out of the city to keep you busy. There was always something going on at night as well: the Wednesday night horse races are a big hit, Lan Kwai Fong is the place to be, especially for ladies who get free entry and drinks, international events are run regularly and there are even festivals on the surrounding islands at the weekend- a highlight of my year was Shi Fu Miz festival. Be sure to check it out if you go to HK!
Eating was my favourite activity in Hong Kong and the food is probably the thing I miss the most. You can get Michelin star dim sum for around £3 a dish and pick up a pineapple or BBQ pork bun from the bakery for as little as 50p. There were a number of cheap restaurants around my building and on campus, eating local food is a tasty way to save money. There are also a number of western restaurants if you fancy a flavour of home, but be prepared to pay extra.
I chose to study at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) as it was the university which was on Hong Kong Island, only 10 minutes from central. There are a number of other universities in the city, all with something unique to offer and large exchange communities. It could not have been easier for me to make friends. There were so many people, from all around the world, sharing the same experiences. My accommodation was just a 7 minute walk from campus, it was basic and I had to share a room; but it was great value for the location and was how I made most of my friends. It is strongly advised that you secure accommodation through your university before going to Hong Kong- wake up in the middle of the night to get a spot if you have to. Arriving without anything secured and attempting to find private accommodation is extremely expensive and a stress you do not need after such a long journey. In terms of studying, the choice of courses at HKU was pretty good. There were a number of private and public law classes to choose from, taught from both a local and international perspective. The best courses I did were legal clinics where I was involved in practical work assisting asylum seekers with their refugee applications and helping teach foreign domestic workers their legal rights. The local students in your classes will work tirelessly hard to keep that GPA high and most other international students’ grades don’t count, so it can be difficult to try and find a balance between the two. But, in the end I actually found the take-home style of exams easier and the classes less demanding.
Living in Hong Kong and Travelling
It is important to note that Hong Kong is more expensive than Glasgow. Groceries in particular are ridiculously priced (£5 for cheese!!) and drinks in a nice bar will break the bank (£10 a cocktail!!). But, without an oven you will often find it better to eat street food and there are plenty of happy hour deals to quench your thirst for less. Travel around Hong Kong is cheap if you get the student octopus card and it is possible to get cheap flights to lots of other countries across Asia. You are given a reading week per semester where most students go exploring. I managed to see Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and China during my year- but be prepared to work the extra costs of travelling into your budget.
Now, when you mention Hong Kong most people immediately ask about the protests. I was lucky enough that they started a couple of weeks after I left so they did not affect my year. However, I am still in contact with friends living there and apparently the situation is steady with only a little disruption, mainly at the weekends. It definitely should not discourage you from applying, HK is not a dangerous place, if anything it just means the flights will be cheaper!