Riccardo Canova – Psychology & Sociology – Level 3
Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
A couple of months ago, I have left Hong Kong, and after a long journey I am now back to Italy, my home country. Leaving Asia after a semester gave me an unexpected feeling of nostalgia and other emotions that I did not experience in years. In only 5 months I have lived some of the greatest experiences in my life and I have met people I will never forget; with some of them I have already planned to meet again this summer and others already visited me in Italy for a few weeks. Before this exchange I was not sure about what to expect from Hong Kong, and that was probably the reason why I was so excited about this experience. I had never been to Asia, and before taking that flight in January, I knew very little about my destination and its culture.
For those willing to experience a completely different reality, learning new skills and adapting to different environments with an open mind, Hong Kong is the perfect choice. It will be up to you to decide the way you want to live this adventure. If you decide to embrace the full experience as I like to think I did, some sort of culture shock is likely to be inevitable. Yet, for me, that feeling of disorientation deriving from an unfamiliar culture was fascinating, and certainly not unpleasant. Therefore, even though I have to say I have experienced some mild culture shock, I would have been disappointed if I did not.
From the first day I have felt welcomed and supported in every aspect. Communication within the university has never been a problem, in fact, almost everyone speaks English. Once arrived in Hong Kong I have met my roommate, Foong, a student from Singapore. Both students and academic staff were very friendly and helpful. Making friends among students was surprisingly easy, and from the beginning we started hanging out in groups. We have spent a lot of time together discovering the city, hiking and exploring Asia.
Travelling in Asia is simple, safe and cheap. My first destination was Cambodia, where, after a pretty adventurous journey, me and two other friends reached a rural village called Chi Phat. Spending a few days in the village allowed us to engage with a community with a completely different type of social organization. Also, two of us decided to complete the adventure by spending one night in the jungle which was a unique experience. Besides Cambodia, I had the chance to travel to Thailand and the Philippines. Needless to say, these were all amazing places with breath-taking nature scenery. The experience with the locals was also incredible as the people we have met during our journeys were all fantastic with us.
It is important to mention that for this kind of journey the proper precautions must be taken. Although travelling Asia is generally very safe, it is important to collect the essential information regarding your destination: Visa requirements, local laws, cultural norms and possible dangerous areas. Besides this basic information, it is also essential to reduce the risk of exposure to illnesses and parasitic infection, especially when travelling in rural places. Although we never had any problem, we certainly had to rely on our adaptability and I am pretty sure we will never forget some close encounters with wild animals, and extra sized insects.
In order to embrace the full Hong Kong experience, besides travelling with other students, I spent the rest of my free time with locals. During my exchange I had the chance to build friendships with amazing people from Hong Kong and mainland China, gaining an incredible perspective of a reality that I did not even know it existed. Making local friends gave me the chance to be involved in numerous activities. For example, I was lucky enough to be invited as guest in a radio show during which I had the chance to meet important local politicians and some royal characters from south Asia. This is just an example, but depending on your preferences, Hong Kong has something for everyone; getting bored of this city it is not an easy task.
The actual academic experience was also great. The Hong Kong Baptist University is huge, and it has everything you need. As a psychology and sociology student I found the modules incredibly useful. Firstly, I have to say it was not as easy as I expected. I did not find difficulties in facing the various topics and assignments; however, the workload was unexpectedly heavy. Including all essays, exams and presentations, I had more than 20 assignments to complete in one semester. However, it was not as hard as it sounds, and different modules have different difficulty: according to the lecturers I was simply unlucky as those selected by me were some the ones with the heaviest workload. Nevertheless, it was not an impossible task, and I must say I do not regret my module choices. Firstly, I want to emphasize the exceptional academic experience gained from the sociology modules which explored fascinating and often controversial topics related to the political situation in Asian societies. Also, the course of neurobiology was very well taught, and it offered me a biological inside of the nervous system which I think is crucial for every psychology student.
Unfortunately, I need to end this post with a sour note. The current unstable political situation in Hong Kong has led to several accidents within the city. This tense situation started three days after I have left Hong Kong and I cannot help but feeling frustrated and worried about the whole situation. Since then, I have been talking everyday with those friends living in Hong Kong. However, because of the extreme complexity of the topic, I will not enter into a in-depth exploration of the issue.
In conclusion, the whole experience was amazing and certainly unique. I could write pages trying to describe the entire period as exchange student in Hong Kong, but I think it is very difficult to describe in few words the wide variety of experiences I have had during those five months. However, if you make the same decision as me, it will probably be one of the most amazing experiences of your life. I am very grateful to QMU and to the academic staff involved, as they all did a great job which allowed me to live this incredible experience.