When I first came to University, studying abroad is not something I had seriously considered due to financial and anxiety-related concerns. If I’d been told in September last year that not long after exams I’d be jetting off to the other side of the world; clumsily fumbling with chopsticks, experiencing a Junk Boat party and swimming in warm seas, I would never have believed it. However I can safely say that the time I spent in Hong Kong during a 5 week course in June and July helped make this summer without question the best I’ve ever had.
The University of Southampton has academic links to a wide range of universities spread across the globe that allow you to study as an exchange student, and I chose the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) due to its excellent reputation for teaching and research and my desire to travel to a continent I had never previously visited. As someone unsure of spending a whole semester or year abroad, a summer school was the perfect opportunity for me to get a taste of overseas education and to boost my cross-cultural skills (which look great on CVs), and both Southampton and CUHK provided support through every step of the process. I chose to study Chinese Culture and Society, which provided a fascinating insight in to a culture I had previously had very little exposure to and knowledge of. The lectures spanned not only historical events but also the politics of art and architecture, as well as considering the impact of the forces of communism and in more recent times capitalism on China and its people.
The campus was stunningly beautiful and fully equipped with top of the range PC’s, gyms, and even a swimming pool and full-size athletics track. CUHK arranged many extra-curricular activities that greatly enhanced my time in Hong Kong, from experiencing the thrill of the roller-coasters at Ocean Park to city and island tours which explored the unique hybrid of both Eastern and Western history that forms the heritage of the country (or Special Administrative Region, more accurately). As someone of questionable culinary talent, learning to make Chinese Dumplings (far superior in every aspect to the boring British lumps found in casseroles) was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Whether opting to do one course, as I did, or two, there is always time to explore the country you’re staying in outside of university-led activities. Hong Kong possess a plethora of beautiful beaches and cultural exhibits spread across the islands, with the Museum of History providing an in-depth and captivating exploration of the region’s heritage and the aptly named Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery providing valuable insight in to the nation’s legacy of Buddhism. The nightlife found in Lan Kwai Fong is also not to be missed. A staggering amount of bars and clubs dotted around a square of streets bustling with revellers from all over the globe, as well as regular festivals and live music performances make LFK, as it’s known to many, a definite highlight. The cooked food markets are a quintessential experience for local cuisine; I’d particularly recommend Tung Po Market in North Point for the lively atmosphere provided by owner Robby’s eclectic dancing and the mix of locals and tourists coming together to enjoy beer in a bowl and some incredible food.
Whilst saving up to have some spending money during the time abroad is a must, my financial concerns where significantly eased by the grant provided by the University of Southampton for overseas study, which covered my flights and activities fees. I was also informed of the relevant facilities at the exchange university should I experience anxiety or other difficulties. The prospect of travelling across the globe to live within and learn about a culture that was new to me was both incredibly exciting and slightly daunting, but the universities both at home and abroad were fantastic in providing reassurance.
I could not recommend studying abroad enough, whether for the summer if you’d rather spend term time at home or for a full semester or year. My time at CUHK made me certain I want to study overseas again and proved to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.