Dear Reader, my name is Hisham and I am an Accounting and Economics Graduate from the University of Southampton. Back early summer when I finished my dissertation and all my assignments, an email popped up from the study abroad team for a scholarship to take an online summer course with a partner university. I knew that during lockdown there wasn’t a massive number of activities I could do with my time so when an opportunity to learn a new subject came up, I was immediately drawn in. Since a lot of the career paths I was looking to do required some interest or knowledge in technology, the course I found from the University of Hong Kong was a no-brainer. The course title was Fintech: AI, Blockchain, and Computational finance, which seemed a perfect course for me seeing that Fintech is the newest disruptor in the industry. This was a two-week virtual course that was open to HKU and external undergraduates and postgraduates. The course was split into two parts. The first was an introduction to different technologies and taught me the application in the world of finance. The second part provided me with hands-on experience in using computational models and spreadsheet programming (VBA) to perform financial product pricing.
One concern I had about starting the summer course was the dramatic shift in time zone difference I would have to adjust to. With the Hong Kong time zone being 8 hours ahead, I was worried that my body clock would not be able to adjust. Although I am not a nyctophile, there was something quite exciting to me about working during the night, and the challenge of adjusting to this new time zone. After a little reading on the internet, I decided my strategy to tackle this problem was to slowly stay up later every day by around 1-2 hours for about two weeks. This allowed my mind and body to get used to the different hours. Also, one of my favourite things about doing this was that it allowed me to catch foreign sports that usually play around the early hours of the morning here. So, I was able to catch the UFC 251 event in the week leading up to the summer course. It was a strange feeling going to bed around the same time my family were waking up, and the light affected the quality of my sleep. One of my close friends who came to watch the UFC fight with me suggested to blackout my windows with tin foil and so I did. The partly blacked out curtains, and lots of melatonin and camomile tea, partly did help but the first week for sure was a bit of a struggle.
I had never really appreciated how much birds sing until I had watched the summer morning’s sunrise every day for a week. It was a weirdly enjoyable sensation and inspired me to try to start waking up earlier than I previously thought was necessary. Because I had a lot of spare time during the dead of night in the final couple of days leading up to the course, I decided to read some articles on Fintech to provide me with some background information on what was currently being talked about by the finance and tech media. My body’s sleep cycle was approaching the 6-7-hour difference and I felt more prepared to take on the challenge at hand.
The first couple of days of the course were interesting but challenging at the same time. I was introduced to the course lecturer and a diverse class of students from different backgrounds. It was interesting to see students from all around the world joining to take part in this class – from the US to Japan. The first day introduced me to the basics of Fintech, the history of advancements in technology, and the importance of new technologies in the financial marketplace today. There was also a refresher for basic Excel spreadsheet techniques, which I was comfortable with since I have used Excel frequently in my degree. During the first few hours of the lecture, I was feeling awake and mentally could deal with the workload given to me. However, around 8 am, the coffee alone wasn’t enough to keep my full attention on what was being taught. Thankfully the first few days were the easiest.
Around the fourth day, I was introduced to the other members of my team for the group presentation. In China, there exists heavy censorship of the internet and social media, which meant that I had to use WeChat as the platform to communicate with the other members of the team. One of the greatest challenges in this exercise was the language barrier of the foreign students I was working with. When trying to collaborate on ideas of what we were going to present, it was sometimes difficult to either understand what my team members were trying to put forward. I also felt because of this a couple of people were afraid to share ideas with the group. To work around this, I had to be very patient and often had to communicate ideas through the group chat instead of through video calls. In the end, I think our presentation was a success and the lecturer had some positive feedback to say about our ideas.
Reflecting on the two weeks, I would say that studying a course taught on the other side of the world was a challenge, but one in which I gained a lot of skills in a short amount of time. From the technical information I learned to the interactions I had with my classmates, I would say I have progressed in my personal development.