When I lived in Britain, studying for my undergraduate degree in London, I found that I had a lot of help. I had help from my family, my classmates, my friends, flatmates and even professors. I graduated and when asking for references for jobs my lecturers gladly obliged. My university provided housing, careers advice, counselling, student associations and endless clubs and opportunities. Due to this positive experience, I was excited and encouraged to take a Master’s degree after a few years in Hong Kong. I was keen to get back in the classroom and learn something new. I aced the interview, passed the entrance exam and saved up for the tuition fee.
My first day of university in Hong Kong, nobody talked to me. No one even looked at me. As expected I was the only westerner to take the class. However, English being a national language of Hong Kong, surely this was not going to hold me back. Alas, I was ignored. The head of the department was quite rude when I asked what I thought a pertinent question; “What job opportunities will this course create?”
I felt dismayed after putting so much effort into applying and began to lose momentum. I worked full time to pay the tuition and was tired as I arrived in the evening for my class. My days were fourteen hours. My weekends were dedicated to reading and catching up on assignments and weekly homework. I had to compete with full time students who had their tuition paid for by their parents. I was a part time student, to complete my course in two years. It was frustrating to think that many of my classmates assumed I was a rich westerner taking the course for fun. I kept trying to prove myself as hardworking and smart, but eventually gave up as no one cared.
In England, when you are in class, checking your phone is a big no no. I have a buddy who is a lecturer and she has thrown Hong Kong students out of her class for texting and answering their phones. In my classes in Hong Kong, people would check their phones, call and laugh whilst I was giving my presentations. Some people would take photos of me. I was even recorded once. If I confronted them they played dumb. Once I got so upset during my presentation when people were talking I lost my flow and ended up calling them out.
I was lucky enough to meet another international student from Japan. We often had dinner together before our classes. We talked about the culture of Japan and our research interests, families and lives. She was also working to pay for the tuition fee, however was full time, so left after a year. We still keep in contact, and she really kept me motivated and positive through that first difficult year.
My second year, I had less classes and had become more used to the demanding schedule that I eased in a bit easier. Some of the students from my first year were also continuing part time and were a little friendlier now their chatty counterparts had disappeared. Sadly, I lost someone very close to me a month before my final exams and Christmas. I made the difficult decision to stay and finish up my exams and return home for Christmas. Sometimes I regret this decision, but according to my more rational self and my family, it was the right decision at the time. I passed my exams regardless of the great emotional stress. I tried to call the university’s counselling service, but they told me they only allowed local full time students to make an appointment. I was shocked at the tone of voice and rudeness, but no extremely surprised.
Despite some of the negative points about my time in a Hong Kong university, there were lots of positive things that happened. Firstly, I achieved my dream of studying abroad. Secondly I learnt to study like a boss, Hong Kong style. I didn’t particularly have any advantage being a native speaker of English. The assessment style was very different to the UK system, where you get points for creativity.
Alas, Hong Kong A grades are for textbook answers only. Hong Kong universities also use a curve form of assessment, meaning that it is difficult to know the exact mark scheme, as this depends on how well your classmates perform. Studying in Hong Kong as an international student is not for the faint of heart. Prepare for prejudice, judgement and sometimes rudeness. I am grateful for the opportunity, but it was not an easy task. I am proud of what I achieved, but certainly had a more holistic and fulfilling form of education in the UK. Don’t expect to win anyone over, and if you do, it will purely be by coincidence.
If you studied in Hong Kong and agreed/ disagreed with what I said, leave me a comment down below. I would love to hear about your experience.
Thanks for reading!