Samantha Schiffman (Philosophy BA)
From January to June 2015 I lived in Hong Kong and studied at HKU. I had no idea what to expect as I embarked upon my journey, but the experiences and adventures I had while studying abroad made it the most exciting time of my life.
Everyone has heard the clichés: “it was the best time of my life”, “the best decision I’ve ever made”, “I learnt so much about myself”, “I grew as a person”. The reality is that all of these clichés are true when it comes to living and studying abroad.
I am very independent and love to try new things, but travelling to the other side of the world and being so far away from my family and home comforts was daunting even for me. However, it is so easy to make friends (particularly with those in exactly the same position) and you adapt so quickly and easily to your new life and settle into your home-away-from-home in no time at all.
As a philosophy student, Hong Kong was fascinating both inside and outside the classroom. Things are taught in a very different way over there and I had opportunities to learn about areas of Philosophy that I would never otherwise have been able to, most notably Buddhist Philosophy.
Buddhism is a huge part of the way of life in Hong Kong (and many other parts of Asia), and learning about it at uni helped me to have a much greater understanding of the culture I was living in.
The workload at HKU was much more intense than here in Manchester. Over there I had to study five modules compared to Manchester’s three, and while each module may have been slightly easier than they are here, the sheer volume of work meant that by the end of the semester I was slightly overwhelmed.
I had no exams to sit, but instead had to write two essays for each module, all due within the same two weeks as each other at the start of May. This made my last month at the University one of the most stressful times I have ever had. But don’t let this put you off; the things I learnt and the experiences I had more than made up for it.
A difference in cultures can be observed between any two places (it was even quite noticeable for me even when I first moved to Manchester from London); but the culture shock that you experience between the UK and Hong Kong is vast. Hong Kong really is a city that never sleeps.
It has one of the highest population densities in the world (and the largest number of skyscrapers) and, with a predominantly Chinese background, many of the attitudes and habits of the local people are quite different to our own.
However, at the other end of the spectrum is the incredible British legacy that is still so prominent in Hong Kong, even 18 years after its handover to China. Events such as the Happy Valley horse races and the Hong Kong Sevens really cement into it that piece of Britishness that makes the Hong Kong identity so different from anywhere else in the world.
While the Hong Kong history is relatively short, the influence of the British, the Chinese and their own ‘je ne sais quoi’ means that Hong Kong is unmistakably Hong Kongese. It is this distinct identity that makes Hong Kong so special and such an interesting and worthwhile place to have spent my semester abroad.
Travel and time off
One thing that I believe makes Hong Kong stand out against other places to study abroad is the freedom to travel. With time off for Chinese New Year, other public holidays and a Reading Week, there is ample opportunity both during and at the end of the semester.
The whole of South East Asia is on your doorstep and the really fantastic thing is that this makes flights to these places cheaper than those to mainland Europe from the UK. The incredible friends that I made were of the exact same mindset to me, so I was never at a loss for people to travel with.
You’ll find that this is generally the same wherever you study abroad, because it is this wanderlust that inspires us to study abroad in the first place. While there was so much to explore in Hong Kong itself, the ability to travel really was the icing on the cake that made my semester abroad so unforgettable.