The Exchange Semester: Hong Kong
We love hearing about what our students get up to over the year. And so when we caught up with Ella and heard about her recent exchange semester, we just had to feature her on our Bright Futures Blog. And, rumour has it that Ella will also be upgrading to standing as the President of her committee at Bright Futures Strathclyde – this gets better by the minute! So, for anyone who is considering going abroad for part of their university career, Ella’s exchange in Hong Kong should be able to give you some pointers about the highs and the lows, and surviving away from home in a very different culture. Let’s get to it…
Name: Ella McKay
University: University of Strathclyde
Course: International Business
Year of Graduation: 2019
Where did you go for your exchange semester, and for how long?
As a part of our curriculum in International Business, it is mandatory that we participate in an exchange period for one term. As a finance major, I chose to travel to Hong Kong for my five-month exchange.
What did your experience consist of?
While in Hong Kong, I studied at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. We were completely immersed in the local student experience; staying in campus halls, studying with local students and of course enjoying Hong Kong life.
What are some particular highlights of your time away?
The Hong Kong culture itself was a highlight. Although based in the very heart of Asia, many overlook the unique culture of Hong Kong when compared with neighbouring countries. I myself was unsure what to expect. However, when wandering through protected forests hidden amongst the city’s concrete jungle and participating in popular traditions such as weekly horse races– it was very easy to consider each day in Hong Kong as a highlight.
What were some of the challenges you faced with taking part in an exchange semester?
Inevitably, the language barrier proved a daunting challenge when first relocating to Asia, particularly when faced with Hong Kong’s extensive underground system! Thankfully, we developed a refined skill in exaggerated hand gestures and received ‘Survival Cantonese’ classes, which proved of great benefit when wandering into unfamiliar territories.
Certain challenges are less expected, such as culture shocks and the occasional spell of home sickness. Luckily, most universities that offer exchange placements will host significant volumes of students, meaning that there is always a community available ready to recreate home comforts!
What advice would you give to someone who was considering also doing an exchange semester?
When considering participating in an exchange semester, it is extremely helpful to research the available subjects and correlating regions to determine their suitability to your course and aspirations! If deciding that you do wish to pursue an exchange, I would highly recommend pushing yourself out of comfort zones through choosing a location that both challenges and excites you. An exchange is the perfect chance to independently (and cheaply) discover the world and the professional opportunities available. Be sure to make the most of it!
What was the main thing you learned from your experience?
I have been very lucky in the lessons which this experience has provided, the most important being to seize the day. It may sound cheesy, however, while abroad every moment awake was a chance to discover a new island, make a new memory or a new acquaintance. The desire to explore culturally and professionally was reawakened while abroad, a desire which I was shocked to discover had gradually grown dormant during my studies in the UK. When living in the same place, it is easy to take for granted the wonder of daily activities and the local community – however my time in Hong Kong instilled that it is not location which makes an experience incredible, it’s the mindset to push oneself to make the most of every day.
Do you have any top tips for taking on Hong Kong?
Push yourself to explore unfamiliar experiences, Hong Kong has an abundance of waterfalls, hikes and temples hidden across the city that make for a perfect team outing. The city is truly what you make it, dive right in to the local ways of snake soup and night markets – I guarantee it’ll make for an excellent story!
Thank you, Ella!