Hi everyone! I’m Zoe. I am a postgraduate student at the University of Southampton and I have just returned from my first overseas study experience. The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) August International Summer School Programme is truly an eye-opening experience; a perfect blend of intensive Chinese language studies and opportunities to explore the unique city of Hong Kong. Although so much happened during my three week adventure, the idea behind this blog post is to give a brief insight into what life as a student in Hong Kong can be like, including the best places to eat in ‘local’ Hong Kong, how to get ahead in language studies and most importantly how to survive T10 typhoons!
Studying at CUHK
CUHK offers two different International Summer School sessions, one in July and one in August. The focus of the August programme is the study of Mandarin Chinese; from complete beginners to advanced learners, there will be a course which suits your needs. I completed the Level 2 (Upper Beginners) course, aimed at students who aren’t totally new to learning Mandarin, but still need some help covering the basics. Classes run from Monday to Friday, with one session in the morning from 9:30 – 12:00 and in the afternoon from 2:30 – 4:00, meaning you spend a lot of time in the classroom but it is absolutely worth it! You will find that your language skills improve rapidly as many classes are taught in a traditional Chinese format of ‘immersion-based’ learning, meaning that many classes are taught in Mandarin Chinese in order to get students used to hearing and responding in the language they want to learn. Any problems? Just ask your Lao Shi (teacher) and they are always happy to help and go over any questions in English if you are still unsure. The amount of English spoken in the classroom will also largely depend on your language level; my classes were around 60% Mandarin taught with 40% English, but my friends in the advanced classes were encouraged to use Mandarin only. Although the style of teaching and workload was not entirely what I expected, it was absolutely worth all the hard work. I feel in just three weeks my Mandarin proficiency has improved in leaps and bounds!
Life at CUHK
Be prepared for a very international feel at CUHK! Many different students come here to explore Hong Kong and practice their Chinese; British, Japanese, Korean, Italian, French and Dutch just to name a few! Everyone is very welcoming and most students will live in the same hostel (think halls!) at Lee Woo Sing. It’s a little different to the UK system; bathrooms, kitchens and social spaces are all shared across your floor, meaning there are about thirty people sharing four sinks but on the whole you won’t find too many problems with the arrangement. Bedrooms are also shared but don’t worry too much! With a whole city to explore, the only time you spend at the hostel is when you need to sleep, study, shower and eat anyway!
Top Tip: Eat a big lunch to feed that brain between classes – Cha Chun Hall offers the best charsiu (BBQ) pork rice and the prices are very reasonable for the amount of food you get. Bonus! It’s only a short walk away from Yasumoto International Building, which is where most ISS classes take place.
During my stay at CUHK, I experienced not one but two typhoons. Typhoon Hato was the first T10 to take place in almost a decade and classes were cancelled in response to the storm. It seems scary, but take the weather on board like a local. Hong Kongers really don’t seem to be bothered by a spot of bad weather – by the end of the day, restaurants were back open and the MTR lines were running!
Life in Hong Kong
I will be honest. I fell in love with Hong Kong pretty much as soon as I stepped off the plane. It’s an amazing city; a strange mix of Britain, China and something unique which makes it so unlike any other place in the world. Despite spending most of your time on campus in CUHK, you do get long evenings and weekends off to spend exploring all that Hong Kong has to offer.
CUHK Organised Trips
On Saturdays, ISS students are invited to attend trips organised by the CUHK team to Macau, Lantau Island or Shenzhen in Mainland China. I attended both the Macau trip and the excursion to Lantau Island and I can highly recommend both! Although it can be a bit of a hassle travelling around in large groups of over thirty students (felt a bit like being back in primary school!), its very handy having the student guides on hand who know a little bit about the area and are well practiced at getting big groups of people from A to B with lots of tourist spots in between.
On Sundays and after classes during the week, providing you’ve caught up with all of your work for classes, your time is essentially your own. Hong Kong is extremely well connected by all kinds of public transport, with the Mass Transit Rail (MTR) being by far the easiest way to make your way around the city. From CUHK, you can be at Tsim Tsai Tsui or Causeway Bay in around an hour. If you wanted to explore something a little closer to home, Shatin is home to one of Hong Kong’s biggest shopping malls with plenty of options for cheap, tasty local foods. Dim Dim Sum is a personal favourite for quick and easy Chinese snacks.
I spent my Sundays hanging out with new friends at a few different tourist spots; the 10,000 Buddha Walk which is only a few stops away from campus, Repulse Bay and Ocean Park. The 10,000 Buddha Walk is one of many local temples around Hong Kong which is open to the public and it offered great views of Shatin from the top of the hills. Ocean Park is Hong Kong’s original theme park and is often packed with tourists at the weekends. It has a mix of both animal attractions – you can see giants pandas! – and large rollercoasters. If you’re a bit scared of heights like me, there are plenty of shows and aquariums to keep you occupied while you wait for your more adventurous friends to finish up on the rides.
Repulse Bay is one of many of Hong Kong’s famous beaches. It’s a bit of a trip from CUHK (three MTR trains and a bus ride away) but it’s worth it for those beautiful views.
What did I think?
As a postgraduate student, I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to complete a period of student at an international university because I wrongly assumed that was something reserved for undergraduate students. My advice as a postgraduate is to absolutely take a look at all the opportunities available out there! I would recommend a trip to CUHK to anyone looking to learn a little more about Chinese language and culture; the programme offers a great mix of cultural excursions with demanding but rewarding classes. Hong Kong itself is a fantastic city and you’ll find plenty there to keep you occupied. I loved it so much, I’m already planning my next trip!