A Semester in Hong Kong
Hi! My name is Grace. I’m a junior studying civil engineering and this past fall I studied abroad in Hong Kong at the University of Hong Kong. It was one of the most exciting places I’ve ever experienced!
Some differences that I noticed in particular were classes, cuisine, culture. Three C’s! My classes at HKU were BIG. As a Course One student I never realized how accustomed I had become to having 5 classmates and knowing my professors by their first names (shout out to Franz and Admir)! Next up, THE FOOD oh my goodness. The dumplings, noodles, and dim sum were delicious. That being said by the end of my semester I actually craved crunchy vegetables. I know right?! Who craves veggies?
At the start of the semester, as a loud and proud American, it seemed impossible for me to blend into the seemingly reserved and more homogenous Chinese culture, but by the end of the semester I felt at home in Hong Kong.
HKU is different from MIT in terms of the culture surrounding the schools. MIT prides itself on encouraging people to push ideas to their wildest ends through collaboration, whereas Chinese culture is much more reserved. HKU fosters like-mindedness and competitiveness as a pathway to achievement. The status quo at HKU was very much to work hard and conform, while being competitive.
In China, it is considered rude to speak out of turn, and presumptuous to speak your own ideas, rather than follow the professor’s examples. I learned that the hard way by correcting a professor in a 100-person classroom. I got a great deal of awkward stares! I was surprised, but a few of my friends told me that if I have a question next time I should just ask them. I found this directly the opposite of what I had been taught in the west about asking questions. This is just one example of collectivism in the east, which is vastly different from the individualist thinking that permeates western culture.
HKU also runs classes differently. In my experience, they emphasize one way to get a single numerical answer, whereas at MIT professors encourage multiple ways of getting to the correct answer. HKU was far more numerically and physically oriented, while MIT is much more concerned with the understanding a problem conceptually. While this doesn’t allow much wiggle room for new ideas, there was much more agreement at HKU then at MIT on how to proceed with a problem! One thing I really missed was all the TAs at MIT. There were almost never enough at HKU since the school has so many more undergrads then MIT. Another result of that is the resources are more spread out, so the students do not get nearly as hands-on as we do at MIT. As in many cases in China, HKU was hyper efficient in order to handle all of the people!
All in all, my experience was life changing. My perspective was altered and broadened on so many levels it’s difficult to put into words. I have such a sea of amazing experiences and memories to draw from that I could spend a whole week just reminiscing about all of the amazing people I met and all of the exciting things I saw. I will definitely be back to Hong Kong and I encourage everyone reading this to travel as much as possible!