Hong Kong


Lauren Kincaid-Filbey is a fourth year UCSC film and digital media student who studied abroad at The University of Hong Kong in Spring 2013. She chose Hong Kong because it was affordable, fairly Western (therefore, a little less scary for a first time traveler), and had great cinema studies courses! Hong Kong University is one of the most prestigious schools in Asia, and the program boasts a wide array of classes for every major. Lauren’s blog features Hong Kong festivals, daily life in the dorms, and her travels through Southeast Asia.

One of Lauren’s most helpful posts for prospective study abroad students is her 8 Things to Know About HKU, featured below. If you’d like to see more, visit her blog!

8 Things to Know About HKU

My journey through Hong Kong is almost to a close and I feel as if I’ve really gotten to know the area.  It’s incredibly safe, pretty affordable (if you don’t shop at Cartier/like eating noodles) and it’s easy to navigate for English speakers and Canto speakers alike. I am so happy I chose this destination because it’s wasn’t too intimidating for me as a first time traveler, yet it put me into situations where I had to try new things and be slightly uncomfortable, which made me grow up a little bit. Until you have to ask other people in line at the grocery store why the lady at the cash register is yelling at you, you’re not a real HK education abroad student. It’s safe to say that anything can happen in a place where you don’t speak the language, and being okay with that is probably one of the best lessons I’ve learned in Hong Kong. Ditch the fear and anxiety! Take control of your situation, even if it’s awkward and you have to use hand gestures!

For any folks who are thinking about studying abroad, I realize I’ve barely talked about the university that I’ve come to know and love! This is especially dumb of me, because the whole reason I created this blog was to show other undergraduates who were interested in education abroad in Hong Kong exactly what was going on, and essentially it became a bit more like a travel diary. No matter! I had to put those photos somewhere…

So! Hong Kong University! What’s up with that? Well, not to brag, buuut HKU is the top university in Asia and apparently, the 16th best university in the world. The students here are incredibly friendly, the classes are engaging and the teachers really love to see their pupils succeed. I thought the campus was beautiful (especially Centennial Campus, which was just built recently and the modern architecture is unlike anything I’ve ever seen!) and though it’s fairly difficult to find your way around at first, people are always willing to help out!

Here are a few fun facts that I wish I had known before studying abroad at HKU.

1. Starbucks has student discounts.

Seriously, try their creamy tea lattes…

So maybe it’s silly to start this list here, but when really thinking about it, this was the main source of my joy/money issues. Hong Kong University has two on-campus Starbucks locations. And both of them give you a discount. For example, my favorite, the matcha green tea latte is 28 HKD normally. With the student discount, it’s 19.5 HKD. If you bring your own tumbler, it’s 16 HKD. That is 2 US dollars for a Starbucks drink. Do not tell me that’s not incredible. They also have a special deal where you can add a muffin to your drink order for an extra 10 HKD (1.50 USD)! For me, this was awesome.

2. Choosing your faculty is important.

Main Building

When you are accepted to HKU, you have to start apply to a faculty and then to a major within that faculty. As a film student back in UCSC, I applied to the Arts Faculty. However, it’s important to note that there is no film program at HKU. “What?” you ask, “No film program? That makes no sense!” Ah, but there are film courses within other majors, and for my film degree, I only need two upper division film electives to transfer. So, I looked through all the faculties and majors, chose one that had numerous film courses (Comparative Literature), and applied to that. Since you have to get approved for courses here, and three of the five have to be in your faculty, it’s important to choose a faculty that has a lot of courses you are interested in/transfer back home. This sounds complicated, but they make it easy for you. Just remember, choose a faculty with classes you want to take! It’s important!

3. They offer great Mandarin and Cantonese classes for foreigners here.

Centennial Campus
Everyone speaks Cantonese in Hong Kong, but most people also speak some Mandarin and some English. So if you speak any of these languages, you’ll be fine around town. However, taking a Cantonese class was one of the most rewarding parts of being in Hong Kong. I was able to converse with locals (kind of) and we had awesome field trips to HK style cafes, dim sum restaurants and one day my teacher brought in egg tarts! During the lecture! For everyone! It was so great! If you can get into one of Chow Bun Ching’s classes, you’re set. She’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and she literally wrote the book on Hong Kong Cantonese. Some of my friends chose to take Mandarin because they can continue their studies at their home uni, but honestly, I felt more excited about using these skills now rather than continuing them later. Either way, take a language!

4. It’s helpful to ask other students about the classes they’re taking.

In front of Run Run Shaw Building

When I arrived at HKU, I was planning to take a documentary film appreciation course and a film/television production course, both of which were considered Journalism courses rather than Comparative Literature courses. Even though I applied for these classes way in advance, because they were outside my faculty, I wasn’t approved for either one. As a result, I had to scramble a bit to find some classes that worked in my schedule. When I spoke to other arts students, they all told me about interesting classes they were taking and I tried a few out. At the end of each one, I would go up to the professor, tell them I was really interested in the material and that I was an exchange student from California. Surprisingly, this got me into a couple of classes that I might have not been able to take otherwise!

5. The first two weeks of school are called the add/drop period for a reason.

Main Building Second Floor

At HKU, you have to be approved for courses. It’s not first come, first served, so there’s always a chance you won’t be accepted into your top choices. You find out within the first two weeks whether or  not you got in, and until you know, you’re not locked into any courses. I repeat. You are not locked into any courses. You can take anything you like, try it all out, see what fits you! I understand this is pretty uncomfortable for UC kids, since crashing and switching around your schedule once the quarter has started always feels a bit weird, but at HKU It’s always better to take a few random courses you may or may not be super serious about.  You don’t want to be stuck with too few approved classes at the very last minute!

6. The second semester is chock full of vacation time.

Main Building

Don’t spend all your money at the racetrack! The best part of studying abroad for me was definitely taking trips to Southeast Asia with my friends and the second semester at HKU gives you plenty of opportunities to do so. From a day off to a week off, we had time during Chinese New Year, Reading Week, Easter Break, Ching Ming Festival and Labor Day to do anything and everything. It’s pretty much the best thing an exchange student could ask for.

7. Finals week is a whole month long.

Chi Wah Learning Commons

Don’t start hyperventilating quite yet! Yes, finals week takes forever, but it gives you extra time to study and (if you have money after all those vacations) travel! As an arts student, I didn’t even have any final exams, just final papers, and as a result my semester ended as early as May 13th! One of my friends went back to his home country on May 4th! Your semester can be as long or as short as you want/your finals will allow.

8. HKU has an awesome location.

In front of Bijas Vegetarian Restaurant

Right in the heart of Hong Kong Island, you can really go anywhere in Hong Kong from HKU in less than an hour and a half. There are a couple of other universities here (CUHK, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong Polytechnic), but I would say that HKU is far more geographically convenient. And it’s also, you know, amazing and wonderful.

Study abroad in Hong Kong. Seriously. Just do it.
Those are a few of my best tips/things to know if you’re interested in studying abroad at HKU. I hope you consider this destination because it really has been an amazing experience for me and I would recommend it to any potential exchange student, especially if you want to live in a city, love business, finance or kung fu movies, or if you are interested in Asian culture. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me at lkkincai@ucsc.edu. I’ll tell you everything and anything I know!

Thanks for reading!

If you’re interested in having your travel blog featured on UCSCAbroad, send an email to programsabroad@ucsc.edu with “Travel Blog” in the subject line. We’d love to get a chance to see what you’ve been up to!