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Stuck in the middle…

In the middle of the city where “east meets west” and the skyscrapers meet the picturesque coastline, my exchange is well underway in Hong Kong. As you might be aware, this also happens to be the city where Chinese police are currently “meeting” regularly with local Hong Kong protestors. It’s a potentially pivotal (and slightly tense) time for the region, but it’s week 5 of the semester and my new daily life is exciting, enjoyable and largely unaffected.

This new life is based in Kowloon, in PolyU’s student accommodation. I’m one of around 300 other exchange students from around with world, with a disproportionally large number coming from Europe. I’ve found new friends also from the United States, South America, Asia and of course other Australians. Although some of the PolyU buildings are quite old, the university has a large and well-equipped campus. As a civil engineering student, I find the teaching style here to be very similar to UTS. I’m studying direct equivalents and I have a few other exchange students in these subjects (we stick together).

I have lectures, labs and tutorials and the teachers have a good level of English. It’s especially interesting for me to learn about civil engineering and the local construction industry in the highly developed city of Hong Kong, with local case-studies and different standards to Australia. I’ve also taken a crash course in Cantonese – as a language of 9 different tones, it was just as confusing as it sounds. Luckily, I managed to condense my timetable to between Monday and Thursday nights, freeing up long weekends for travelling and other activities for my whole semester.

A launchpad for exploring Asia, Hong Kong has flights to Vietnam, Philippines and Thailand going for under $200 return. These places are great for stretching your hard-saved travel money, allowing you to cover a lot more cocktails on the beach. I’ve recently visited a friend in Singapore and before semester I stopped for a few weeks of surfing and diving in Bali and eating and drinking in Thailand.

Hong Kong may sound expensive… and it definitely can be. But, the university accommodation is super cheap compared to anywhere else – at around $70 (Aussie) per week. You can find a full meal at the student canteen for $5 and a half-decent coffee at the campus cafe for $4. So your budget all depends on how you work it… if you try central Hong Kong, expect to pay a lot for rent and meals and $8 for a coffee – yes, $8 for a small cappuccino.

Being my second exchange, my big nights out are much less frequent. But if you’re up for it, Hong Kong is a vibrant city of rooftop bars, clubs, live music, free-flow drinks and all-you-can-eat restaurants and even raves on the beach. Lots of the exchange students are out all weekend… and week. As a bit of an alternative, I’ve been getting up early for hikes with new friends and have joined a CrossFit gym – also a great way to meet a community of the expats and professionals of the city.

A lesser-known fact about the Hong Kong region is that national parks and green-areas make up 70% of the land. Personally, I find this strange contrast to be an absolute godsend – I’ve been camping on the beach (pictured), surfing, sailing, waterfall jumping (also pictured) or hiking every weekend that I’ve been in Hong Kong.

Ultimately, I feel that Hong Kong provides something for everybody. It’s a cosmopolitan city of many different foods, landscapes, temples, markets, shopping areas, people, attractions and activities. Exchange here has been an amazing experience so far and I’ll leave you with one of the easier Cantonese phrases that I’ve managed to remember – bāi bái!

Thomas Fisher
Bachelor of Civil Engineering
Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Hong Kong

Australian Government New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient.

For more information about the UTS Global Exchange program please visit: www.global-exchange.uts.edu.au

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