Queen Mary Law student and Turing Scheme grant recipient Tejal Shah reflects on life as a study abroad exchange student at the University of Hong Kong during these strange and ever-changing times mid-pandemic…
It has been 2 months since I finished a 21-day strict quarantine in Hong Kong.
And let’s just say, I have done everything I could to try to forget what a 21-day quarantine feels like. It just seemed like one very long day. I am always torn between what day I should mark as my Hong Kong anniversary. Do I really want to take into account the 3 weeks I spent locked in a hotel where I couldn’t even open the windows (21st August)? Or do I ignore that and only consider the day I left quarantine (11th September)?
Back story: I actually left my home on the 9th of August (the very day direct flights from the UK to Hong Kong resumed). I thought by spending 3 weeks in Greece I’d avoid the 21 day quarantine. If that had been successful, I would have only had to quarantine for 14 days, which might have been reduced to 7 days. However, one week into being in Greece, it was moved up to a Group A country (which meant I’d have to quarantine for 21 days regardless). I left Greece the same week the rules changed.
Completing the “arrival in Hong Kong to do list” was not easy. In fact, I did not even have an accommodation secured when I arrived. It was only after the first week of quarantine that I got an accommodation offer. Even after completing the 3-week quarantine, I was still not able to move into halls. I had to undergo a 7-day self-monitoring period. But in the meantime, I could attend university lectures and go out and about. Till this day I do not understand the logic. Yet, as an exchange student there will be a lot of things you just do not understand.
Although Hong Kong is considered to be tiny, there is so much to do here. Hong Kong offers everything. I like to consider it as a package. And every day I am discovering something new. The second day I got out from quarantine I did a hike on my own, the Lion Rock, despite it being one of the hottest days in Hong Kong. Even though everyone gave me a warning about Hong Kong being very hot, especially in September, as a Londoner I thought that was the nicest thing that could ever happen to me. Nothing in this world could’ve prepared me for how hot Hong Kong truly was! On top of that in Hong Kong everyone wears a mask, we have to scan the ‘LeaveHomeSafe’ app before entering most venues and we must show our vaccination certificate before entering clubs. If the police have noticed that you have not done these steps, then you will be fined a huge amount. A big difference to what the situation in the UK is like.
In these 2 months, I have seen some of the most beautiful places in Hong Kong and I have had the best experiences. I fell in love with Hong Kong the first day I came out of quarantine. It is vibrant, very fast-pace and it has the most efficient MTR (train) service ever, (at least compared to London). Fun fact: In Hong Kong, they have the ‘octopus card’ this is used to travel around on trains, trams, ferries and it is used in almost all the shops and restaurants. The real fun fact is that London apparently copied this card and named it ‘oyster card’.
Firstly, the University of Hong Kong (HKU/Hoeng1 Gong2 Daai6 Hok6) campus is beautiful. It is the only campus located on the Island and every university in Hong Kong has its’ own MTR station. Another good thing about this campus is that there are a lot of restaurants which have very cheap food. I thought the campus was massive until I went to see the Chinese University of Hong Kong…
I am taking 5 courses this semester which equate to 6 credits each and 30 altogether. Exchange students are offered a lot of module choices, and I only have to do 50% law courses. My most exciting course is Cantonese. And I am grateful to be learning the main language in Hong Kong, it makes life a little easier.
The fanciest thing the university, in particular my accommodation, offers is the High Table dinner. I’ve attended two so far. They are apparently inspired from the British, or rather Oxbridge tradition.
Exploring and Experiences
I’ve done a lot in these 2 months. I saw the Mid-Autumn Festivals. I’ve been to Disneyland which was very magical. I’ve been to Ocean Park, where I saw pandas and sharks. I’ve been kayaking. Seen the horse races, which are a huge part of the Hong Kong tradition. I’ve visited an Island, Peng Chau. I’ve done camping. Taken the ferry multiple times to cross the harbour. I’ve visited and ate at arguably the most dangerous place in Hong Kong, ‘Chungking Mansions’. I went to my first ever Ted Talk (TedxHKU – I won the tickets on an Instagram giveaway), which was one of my biggest highlights in Hong Kong. I’ve been on two boat parties. I’ve visited the beach multiple times in October and November! Something one just cannot do in the UK. I could go on forever.
There is a social district in Central, Hong Kong. It is known as Lan Kwai Fong/’LKF’. There are an endless number of clubs and bars there and it is most lively on Fridays and Saturdays. Fun Fact: it is virtually impossible to get into a club on Halloween. Wednesdays are very fun in Hong Kong too. Especially for females, as we have ‘ladies night’ in Wan Chai. For those interested that means ladies get free drinks. Wan Chai always holds a special place in my heart as that is where I did my self-monitoring period and saw what Hong Kong has to offer for the first time.
Now is one of the best times to be an exchange student in Hong Kong as things are slowly coming back to normal. HKU had stopped face-to-face classes in September 2019! This is the first time they have resumed since the protests and Covid-19 outbreak. Also, there are no tourists here. I consider myself extremely lucky to be here. The Turing Scheme grant was a great help when it came to relieving some of my worries and allowed me to take part in more fun activities. It took great courage for all of us exchange students to do the exchange programme in Hong Kong and that collective enthusiasm has kept us going. There is always someone who wants to do something, no day or night is the same and as exchange students you will be a part of a lot of group chats! If you’re bold enough, you might make your own. And I did exactly that when visiting Chungking Mansions.
A year abroad was exactly what I was missing in my life. It is refreshing, showed me how much more the world has to offer and has made me become far more independent than I could have ever imagined.
I end the first chapter of these blog series having finally recovered from a one-week cold. I have not had a cold in nearly 2 years. Who knew the drop from 30 degrees to 23 degrees in Hong Kong could defeat a Londoner?!…