On August 22, 2019, after a few months of preparation, I was finally ready to start the greatest adventure of my life. I was going to live in Hong Kong for five months! I never actually visited a country outside of Europe and therefore I was nervous but also excited to get on the plane to Asia. At 17.00 hours, the plane took off from Schiphol Airport and the adventure finally began. text by: Hugo de Vries
The Journey to Sham Shui Po
Me and my fellow exchange students arrived at Hong Kong Airport after an eleven hour flight. After picking up the suitcases, we needed to buy a sim card and an octopus card (kind of the Dutch OV-card) in order to find our way to the accommodation. After we received the cards, we boarded the Airport Express in the direction of Sham Shui Po. This is the area of Hong Kong where I lived for five months. I was quite curious whether I would like this place because it was not the campus residence of the university where most exchange students were living. However, I ended up in the perfect place called ‘Apple Dorm’ which is a flat with approximately 100 small rooms of three square metres. You probably think this is impossible but despite the size I miss my Hong Kong room a lot. The best part of Apple Dorm was the rooftop. Every day around 16.00 hours, all exchange students were meeting up there to talk about the day together with some nice beers and card games.
The first day, I explored the Sham Shui Po neighbourhood that apparently contained plenty of street markets where they sold the funniest stuff. For example, stores that only sell remote controls. The fake iPhone shops are also impossible to miss on every corner of the street. I finished the day in Dragon Centre, which is a huge shopping mall opposite to Apple Dorm. I stopped together with some people from Apple Dorm on the 8th floor to get some dinner. The food court consisted of many super small Asian restaurants where you could buy your favorite Asian dish for less than € 4,00. It turned out that this was going to be our regular dining spot, because cooking is not as common in Hong Kong as in the Netherlands. Now that I am back home, I already miss my favourite chicken and pork dishes and I definitely recommend going to this place if you visit Hong Kong. You can have the real Hong Kong food experience here.
Culture of Hong Kong & The Protests
I always wanted to go to Asia because my father travels often to Asian countries. He told me many stories about his trips that made me interested. Hong Kong was perfectly in the middle of East-Asia which allowed me to travel to many Asian countries whenever I had the opportunity.
In the beginning it was strange to be on my own in Hong Kong. However, after the first few days at the rooftop, everybody knew each other. We drank beers and played games together like we were friends for years. In the beginning, this helped me to feel a bit more at home, because sometimes it feels like you are the only European walking between all the Hongkongers.
However, the culture shock was not as big as I expected. This was probably because the protests were not as violent as I saw on the Dutch news. It was of course true what you saw on the news. But it looked like every place in Hong Kong was attacked which was definitely not the case. The protests took place at really specific spots in Hong Kong and you always got a warning from friends on WhatsApp. Therefore, you were always up-to-date with the latest facts which helped me to avoid the protests.
What really surprised me about the culture was that the Hongkongers were very friendly and patient. Especially the students and people my age. I played many games in the bar together with them because they were always curious what games I played in The Netherlands. Hence, we made the deal: if I teach you a game, you have to teach us a Hong Kong game. This always resulted in the best bar nights at ‘Bar Pacific’, which was one of our favorite pubs. Sometimes a little bit too many beers, but it was all worth it! As I mentioned, Hongkongers are very patient. For example, they wait patiently in the queue for the metro and bus, which is definitely not the case in The Netherlands.
City University of Hong Kong
I followed two EOR-courses, two Philosophy courses and one free elective which was required in order to transfer 30 ECTS to my Bachelor program. Hong Kong is one of the places where it is possible to follow econometrics courses. Many partner universities of Tilburg University do not offer these courses. However, you should not let this stop you from going on exchange because it is really worth it. It will be the best time of your life, even if you do not obtain all your credits. The first week of the semester consisted of introduction activities. I participated in the campus tour in order to get familiar with the buildings. After the tour, I had lunch together with some exchange students and local students who explained everything about the dining etiquette. Moreover, we learned about typical dim sum dishes such as dumplings, vegetables, spring rolls and more. Then I finally started the first study week. This was different compared to The Netherlands. It was mandatory to go to the lectures in order to pass your attendance grade. Furthermore, the lectures were very interactive and students had to participate because this was necessary for your participation grade. The level of education was relatively low compared to Tilburg University. This gave me and many students the opportunity to explore Hong Kong and nearby countries even more.
In week twelve of the semester, many universities in Hong Kong decided to end the semester because of the protests. Therefore, I had to finish my exams and papers online. This was not a problem for me because I could finish everything quite easily at home and after that it was time to travel!
A Million Things To Do!
Hong Kong feels like a city but it is much bigger than I thought. Hong Kong is about the same size as the province Utrecht. That is why Hong Kong has so many different interesting spots, which genuinely surprised me. Hong Kong is a combination of skyscrapers and nature. Firstly, we can divide Hong Kong in Kowloon which is the mainland of Hong Kong and we have Hong Kong Island which is the financial district of Hong Kong. Sham Shui Po area is located on the Kowloon side. One of my favorite activities in Hong Kong was hiking. I went to the top of the Lion Rock, Suicide Cliff, Dragon’s Back and Victoria Peak. This was not as easy as I expected and after litres of sweat and with heavy legs, the whole group finally arrived at the top! In the pictures you can definitely see that it was worth it! A fantastic view!
My favourite sports activity was the hike to the cliff jumping spot in Sai Kung. This place was in the east of Hong Kong in Sai Kung National Park. Firstly, my friends and I took the bus to Sai Wan Pavilion. From here, we hiked for 40 minutes to Sai Wan Village. Finally, we climbed the rocks for 20 minutes in order to reach the cliff jumping spot in the Sheung Luk Stream. We enjoyed the water for hours and enjoyed jumping off the eight meter high cliff.
If you are done hiking, you can enjoy horse racing at the Happy Valley Racecourse every Wednesday. Many exchange students and expats go to this occasion to bet small amounts of money on horses and try to win some money. But the occasion is especially nice to socialize with fellow exchange students. Afterwards, I normally went to Wan Chai which is together with Central area the party district.
Traveling in Asia
Besides Hong Kong, there are many more beautiful countries in Asia. I noticed that a lot of people had travel plans during and after the exchange period which was not my plan in the beginning because I thought Hong Kong would be enough. However, after a while I thought that if I wanted to see something of the world this is the best time to do it because I already was close to a lot of beautiful countries. Hence, I booked my first trip with my exchange friends to Seoul, South-Korea, after one month. This was a great experience and again a different culture which is interesting to see. Moreover, I visited Beijing together with four exchange students. This was the most interesting experience because nobody spoke English, not even one word. The Chinese were also surprised with our visit because they asked if we could take a picture together with them. It felt like we were some kind of celebrity and of course we said yes to the pictures and we enjoyed our famous minutes. The most beautiful place in China was definitely the Great Wall of China. This is also one of the ‘seven wonders of the world’. Truly an amazing experience.
After my exchange period I visited Phu Quoc, Vietnam, together with my friends for one week and we enjoyed all the local food and friendly people. I finished my exchange experience with the greatest trip of all, Thailand. I travelled together with my girlfriend from the south of Thailand to the north of Thailand which was great! I really recommend traveling during your exchange if you have the opportunity!
Now that I am back home, I appreciate my exchange even more when I look at all the pictures and stories I wrote in the Polarsteps app. You can use the link below if you like to see more of my trip. I definitely recommend Hong Kong as a(n) (exchange) destination if you ever have the opportunity to visit this place.
Follow me on my trip ‘Hong Kong Exchange’ at https://www.polarsteps.com/HugodeVries/2314244-hong-kong-exchange?s=1c096b74-9b3e-455e-85c4-5f42731042c1