Hi everyone! My name is Jessie and am UK exchange student from Southampton who is currently studying LLB Law & International Legal Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It is my privilege to be able to join this Blog site for the first time and to share my experiences with you of what it is actually like to study at CUHK.
If you are the one who is currently applying to study at CUHK for the next academic year and are in some way, pretty curious or confused about things such as i) what do I need to prepare if I wish to study at HK? ii) what would be the weather like in HK? iii) Do I need to learn some Cantonese etc. iv) how do I open a bank account and where? You are in the right place. This post would primarily focus on the topic of ‘essential things you need to know if you wanna ‘survive’ in HK. I decided to write a post regarding this topic after I had quite an interesting and memorable experience in settling myself down in HK 🙂
- What is an Octopus card. Do I really need it?
- Almost everyone living in Hong Kong carry an Octopus card with them. An Octopus Card is basically a ‘payment card.’ Whenever you go, an Octopus card makes the payment process so much easier and faster. Unlike a typical Bank Card which would normally require you to enter a Pin number if you wish to make a payment (unless yours are contactless), an Octopus card does not require you to do so.
- All you got to do is just to put your OP card on an automatic ‘payment machine’ (which every store in Hong Kong all has) and then that machine would automatically deduct the values from your card.
- However, you do need to go to the MTR Station (Hong Kong train station) every so often to put values into your OP card. You can do so by giving cash to the staffs at the ticket office OR put money into your OP card yourself by using a ‘self-check machine’ at the MTR.
- As to how much you should put in your OP card, it really depends on your budget and your personal situation. Most of the exchange students do not have a Hong Kong local Bank account, so they tend to put a lots of money in it and leave the rest of the cash home. But be aware, if you lose your OP Card and someone picks it up, there might be a risk that they could spend all the money in your OP card. I have a local Bank account (I will explain this in more detail below), so I normally just put 200 HK dollars a week.
- I would recommend you to get an OP as soon as possible when you arrived HK. Most of the restaurants in Hong Kong (especially those on the street) only accept cash and OP Card. And it would be no good if you find yourself in the situation of where there are so much different colours of notes and coins in your wallet but you can’t quite recognise each of their value and do not know how to spent them. I had once found myself in that kind of situation last year and it was not a good experience.
- How to apply an OP: You normally apply for a temporary OP Card first for your use at the first two months in Hong Kong. Your induction pack will contain a OP card form for you to fill it in. Once you have filled it in, give it to a staff at your local MTR. You have to pay an application fee around 150 HK dollars, though part of the fees (50 HK dollars) are refundable once you obtained your permanent OP Card. If you lose the application form, go to the MTR and take one at the ticket office desk. It takes a while for you to obtain the permanent OP card (normally 2 months), so just use the temporary one first.
2. When do you need to pay the hostel fee
- You pay your hostel fee at the end of each of your semester if you will be studying at CUHK.
- CUHK do not charge your hostel fee monthly. I lived at CW Chu College, one of the Colleges in CUHK, the hostel fee is about 7000 HK Dollars each semester. I studied for two semesters.
- You do not need to pay for a deposit, unlike in Southampton. So, do not panic about the deposit- CUHK staffs will not chuck you out! Relax.
- But of course if you have made any delays in paying your hostel fee, then an extra fee will be charged from you. So do make sure you pay your hostel fee on time. Notifications on when to pay your hostel fee would normally send to you by your exchange college via emails around Nov.
- There are many ways you can pay for your hostel fee. 1) If you do not have a HK Bank account, you have to withdraw cash from the cash machine and pay at the uni’s Bank which is called Hang Seng Bank (with a debit note). If you have a HK Bank account and a HK debit card, then you could just pay at an ATM in the uni’s bank with you debit card. You have to follow certain instructions when you pay your hostel fee, your hostel will inform you about this in their emails.
3. The uni bus
- In Southampton university, you have to pay your bus fare for each journey, unless you live in one of the uni’s halls which means that you would be given a uni-link bus card (Blue card) and then you show your card to the driver each time you travel on a soton’s bus. Fair.
- In CUHK, you do not need to pay the bus fare, so long you are a student of CUHK. So, just get on a bus and smile to the driver and sit down somewhere. Cool, is it not?
- The Bus service at CUHK is very organised and efficient. It has its own timetables, though the routes some of the bus may be travelling to may seem to be very confusing sometimes, so make sure you get onto the right bus each time you travel. I have attached a screenshot of the CUHK Bus timetable, I hope you find it useful.
- Since most of the drivers all speak Cantonese, it definitely is a good idea to write down your place of destination on a flash card in Cantonese and show it to the driver when you are unsure whether the bus you are about to get on will take you to your place of destination.
- If you lost any property while you were on the bus, go to the Lost Property Office at the central campus. There are two offices in fact. They are all next to the Admin Blog Building. The first office is much bigger, on the first floor, it deals with any lost property on campus. The second one is allocated a floor beneath the first office, it specifically deals with lost properties on bus. But please look after your properties carefully! I lost a pair of my sunglasses and I never found it! 🙁
4. If I want to set up a bank account while studying at CUHK, what is the easiest way to do so?
- I am a user of HSBC in UK and I initially wanted to establish an account at the HSBC as well while studying in HK. However, I soon realised that it is not a practical idea. Because to register as an user of HSBC, you have to travel to HSBC’s main Branch, which is located in the Hong Kong Island, almost an hour from the CUHK campus.
- I soon realised that CUHK has a Bank on campus, it is called Hang Seng Bank. It is located inside the Admin Blog Building on central campus, opposite the uni’s central library.
- So, how do you establish a Bank account with the Hang Seng Bank? There are certain things you need to bring with you:
- Your passport
- Your CUHK student ID
- A proof of your home address ( just bring the welcome letter from CUHK which shows your home address)
- A proof of your hostel address / HK Address ( you need to go the reception area of your hostel and ask a staff to provide this- a stamp should be provided)
- Landing slip
- So, just wait at the counter and tell them you wish to set up an account with them. The staffs will give you a form to fill in.
- Normally it takes about two weeks for you to get your Bank card, you have to collect it yourself at the bank with your ID documents.
- There is also online banking service. You can open an online bank account according to the instructions on the Hang Seng Bank website.
5. Is there a Shop on campus?
- The main supermarket on campus is called Fusion. It is located at the central campus. The shop open everyday, including Sunday (exclude few public holidays) normally from 8am to 7pm.
- The shop sell basic groceries, such as vegetables, fruits, biscuits and other basic utensils, such as spoons, basins and shampoos.
- But the shop does not sell cooking utensils, such as pots, pans, rice cookers. You need to get this somewhere else. Most locals probably would recommend you go to a place called IKEA. The nearest IKEA is in Shatin, only ten mins away from University Station, but the pots there are very pricey. I had once spent three hours wandering around in IKEA trying to find a normal pan I could use to cook my food, but the price for most of the pans range from 700 HK Dollars to 2000 HK Dollars and only a lid could cost you 400 HK Dollars. And eventually I gave up and had to ask my mum to send me a pot from the UK.
- I would instead recommend you to YATA, which is also in Shatin, inside Shatin’s shopping centre ( New Town Plaza) if you wish to buy cooking utensils with reasonable price.
6. Where do I get my textbooks?
- CUHK has its own book stores on campus. It is located in YIA, second floor.
- The store sell most of your textbooks.
7. What is the weather like in Hong Kong? What kind of clothes should I wear?
- Hong Kong’s summer is very hot. The temperature is normally between 30 Celsius degree to 34, sometimes 35 and 36 Celsius degree around July-August.
- Hong Kong’s summer also lasts for a very long period of time. It may extends to late Oct and early Nov.
- There is no need to bring long and cotton boots. Do make sure to bring a lots of dresses and shorts and T-shirts. However, if you will be living in one of those hostels which would not provide heat during the cold months, normally between Feb to March, it is recommended that you should bring or buy thick clothes ie, winter coats and thick blankets because it can gets very cold sometimes without the heat on.
- I would also recommend to buy a straw hat with you during the hot months.
8. What about the mosquitoes?
- This is a big question. To be honest, I have never really met a mosquito in the UK, even during the summer. But when I arrived in HK in Sept, I could not bear all the mosquitoes which were almost everywhere and both of my legs soon became swollen from all the mosquitoes bite after two weeks of staying in HK.
- So, I would definitely recommend to but some mosquito repellents as soon as you have arrived in HK. You can get them from the Fusion, CUHK’s supermarket.
9. Language barrier
- People living in HK prefer to speak Cantonese. If you go to remote areas in HK, such as small villages, it is not surprising that the only language people living there could possibly speak is Cantonese.
- At university, everyone should be able to understand English, but you should not always presume so. Eg, some drivers cannot understand English and not all local students understand English perfectly well. So, it definitely would be useful for you to learn some basic surviving Cantonese.
- If you can speak Mandarin, that is good as well. You may be able to communicate with some of the students or uni staffs, ie, canteen staffs, staffs at the bank etc.
- I found the easiest way to find places is to put the name of the place on a piece of flash card and show the card to someone.
What if I get ill?
- CUHK has its own health centres. Includes dental care. It is located behind Morning side College.
- The health service is free. And any medications prescribed by doctors there are also free. Just collect it at the pharmacy at the health centres.
- If you need a dental service. You would normally pay for that, but the price is generally reasonable. Eg, 25 HK Dollars only for pulling out a teeth, and 50 HK Dollars for washing your teeth. They have a price list online you can refer to. Just go to CUHK ‘s health service.
- If your illness is not emergent, then you can book an appt with the centre. (You have to register with them first at the counter)
- If you feel like you are very ill, you could go on the day as well to see a doctor, but you may need to wait between an hour to two hours to see a doctor.
- If you have encountered an emergency, such as a sudden allergic reaction (I had been allergic to HK Milk Tea!!) or a heart issue, phone the HK Emergency Medical Centre. +852 (6511 8000). The ambulance would normally arrive at five mins. Unlike in the UK, the service would not ask you too much questions while on the phone, they will normally just come and take you to the centre. A price of around £2000 HK Dollars will be charged from you if you are to see a doctor, so make sure you buy your medical insurance from your Home University.
- If you starting to feel better after they have taken you to the emergent centre, you can wait at the reception area for a while. If you really have recovered, you can always leave and go; but if you start to feel sick again, just let the reception know and they would be able to allocate you to a doctor.
- Depends on your course, some professors only provides readings on Blackboard and there is no requirement for you to buy any textbooks, unless you want to.
- Timetables are often very flexible. Your earliest lesson may be 8:30 am or 9:30 am or 10:30 am. Law courses in CUHK sometimes ‘prefers’ evening lessons. This happen when a professor has an emergency and he or she has to change the timetable temporarily. So a morning lesson could be changed to the evening and finishes at 8:30pm.
- CUHK has two semesters. And these two semesters are separate as if two acedemic years. You have exams at the end of each semester and you will be required to select modules a month before the start of each of your semester.
- Some courses are closed book exams, while some are open book exams which means you would be allowed to take notes and books with you but not electronic notes. Some courses could be half-open book exam, ie, you are only allowed to take a A4 sheet with one side of note. 🙂
- Results will be announced online through MyCUHK. You can also order your transcript online. Make sure order it on time.
Thank you for reading this blog post! Good luck on your Exchange !