Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (also known as the University of Stress and Tension) is one of the world’s leading academic institutions, and is widely recognized as one of the top universities in Asia. Their science, engineering, and business programs are incredibly well respected, and anyone admitted to the school should be proud. That being said, there is absolutely no reason that any UW-Madison student should feel unprepared or unwelcome on this campus. Below are five tips I’ve learned during my transition into life at HKUST.
2. Don’t stress about transferring your credits.
I recommend talking with your advisor(s) before you leave for HKUST, and creating a general plan for the types of courses you hope to take while abroad. While course offerings differ from semester to semester, and sometimes you need to make last-minute changes, it is nice to know some general requirements for courses within your major. If, for whatever reason your first advisor doesn’t seem willing or able to help, don’t be afraid to reach out to other advisors within the department. Remember, everyone at UW-Madison wants you to succeed, and it is generally recognized that the courses offered at HKUST are roughly equivalent to UW-Madison courses. However, if you are really worried, take a look at list of previously approved course transfers on the IAP website.
3. Remember: English is the official language, not the first language.
HKUST is a wonderfully diverse campus with students and faculty from around the world. Everyone has different backgrounds, perspectives, and strengths, and I think that adds a lot to the campus community. And, while English is the official classroom language, it is pretty much everyone’s second (or third or fourth) language. All of the professors are proficient in English, however, the can get flustered in front of a classroom of 70 students. Be patient, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Outside of class, it seems like most conversations are conducted in a variety of languages, including, but not limited to, English. Emails, event advertisements, meetings in the dorms, and casual conversations will always be in Chinese (usually Cantonese), but often include English translations. I try to remember that this is all a part of the Hong Kong experience, and don’t allow it to affect my mood. No one is intentionally excluding me, they are simply more comfortable speaking in Chinese.
4. Get over the awkwardness and talk to people.
Yes, it is weird to get up and introduce yourself to a stranger. I get it. There are a few tricks to making this less awkward (open with a question, ask for a suggestion, comment on the weather, etc) but by and large I find the entire process of making new friends uncomfortable, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be best friends with everyone, but having one or two friends in each class makes my life much easier and less stressful. Of course, HKUST has some unique challenges: the dorm room doors are too heavy to block open, it is difficult to break join a Cantonese conversation, and there isn’t really a good coffee shop hangout on campus, however none of these are insurmountable. I find that a smile, a bit of humor, and an honest desire to hear about other peoples’ lives works wonders. Also, if you are looking to make local friends, you aren’t going to find them at Lan Kwai Fong, go explore some other neighborhoods!
5. Schedule time for yourself.
Being an exchange student is stressful. Adjusting to a new culture (along with taking challenging courses, keeping up with all of the administrative requirements, applying for internships and jobs, and trying to develop a social life!) is difficult. I try to keep all of the craziness in balance by taking time to relax, reflect, and renew my energy. For me, this could be an half-hour work out mid-day to psych myself up for my 5 PM class, a fresh cup of fair trade coffee from my french press in the morning, sitting down to write a journal entry (or blog post!), or taking a book out to the beach for some reading. I also limit my time spent on social media or skyping with friends back home. I find that if I am constantly checking Facebook or calling home more than once or twice a week, I become homesick and stress myself out more.
That’s it for now! I’m still learning as I go along, but I’m having a wonderful time. People have been wonderful and welcoming, I’m excited about a number of my classes, and Hong Kong is a fascinating place to be living right now.