So I’ve been asked to write some things about life here, and advice for future inbound exchange students. I’m studying at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), and my grades here count towards my overall grade, so a lot of what I put here may only be relevant to people in a similar situation. I don’t want to be all doom and gloom, but if you are graded too, you should be very afraid, and consider studying over the summer. It’s really hard here!
First off, for you nature lovers, the campus is beautiful. Like, incredibly beautiful. I wake up every morning and look out my window and still can’t believe I’m living here. HKUST is quite a way out from the city, it takes about an hour to get to the city centre, we’re very much in the countryside here, and an interesting countryside it is. Hong Kong is basically be carved into a jungle. Sure, it’s built up, lots of skyscrapers etc, but you only need to go just a little off road and you’ll find yourself in something that’s more wilderness than any part of the UK. There are loads of beaches and the weather is warm nearly the whole year round. The humidity can be a bit much when you arrive in September, but it’s very comfortable by late September. There are lots of amazing hikes to go on, I recommend Trio beach and Lions rock. And you can travel from here seriously cheap if you just search flight tickets to “anywhere” and sort by price. Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, you can get flight tickets to for around £80 return. China also costs a similar price unfortunately since you need to buy a visa, which is £50. In particular, I recommend Koh Tao and Chiang Mai (in Thailand), Ho Long bay (in Vietnam) and Guilin (in China).
Hong Kong city is massive. I’m not really big on cities, I’m happy as long as I’ve got one good club, and shopping doesn’t interest me. If you are so inclined though, there is a lot of shopping to be done here, people are always raving about The Ladies Market so that maybe something to check out. At Mong Kok electronics market you can apparently get iPhones for as little as £100, but you’re also at risk of getting sold a knock off. Also, Tailored suits here are much cheaper than UK. Think £200, rather than 2K, if that interests you.
Those of you who like to go out a lot, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is some of the nights out are amazing, rooftop clubs and stuff like that. Go on the International Student’s Network (ISN), they host all the best nights. The bad news is that it costs an absolute fortune here. One drink in a club will set you back £10, often more. What I do is buy drinks from 7/11, but it’s a nuisance. The other problem is the music is pretty much limited to pop/bad dubstep/mainstream rap. You’ll have to learn to deal with it if you don’t like those.
Accommodation or private renting
HKUST is in a very expensive area of the city. If you can find private renting nearby that doesn’t break your budget, go for it, but you’ll be lucky to manage. The halls here are one of my biggest complaints, quite frankly they’re awful. Expect to see cockroaches and ants from time to time. You don’t get provided with any cooking facilities. The rooms are small and you share with another person. They don’t let you have visitors past 11. And unless you’re one of the lucky few in hall 7, 8 or 9, you have to share a bathroom that has 2 showers and 3 toilets with about 40 other people. It’s pretty grim. I think the best approach though is to bear in mind that you’ll be living in Hong Kong, and the less time you spend in your room the better! Just don’t get your hopes up in this regard. On the plus side, they’re super cheap. The exchange fee (approximately £2000) covers hall costs for the whole year, bills ect.
The food is good. If they make it difficult to cook, at least the canteens are cheap and have loads of choice. Expect a big meal for £3 with a drink. Western food is typically really bad here, so you better get used to rice and noodles! Cooking is, sadly, practically an impossibility. I bought a stove with the intention of cooking, but found that all the ingredients I’m used to using are ridiculously expensive.
The academic side
So this might not apply to you, if you aren’t graded then ignore me here. But if this year goes towards your final grade, you’re in for a shock. The students here study like 60 hours a week, and you are directly competing with them due to the normal distribution grading scheme. You have midterm exams in addition to finals, and the finals come before the Christmas holiday, not after, so you need to keep on top of it. In particular the maths courses here are ruthless, I’m studying physics so I thought I’d be able to deal with an analysis course, but hell no. Unless you are very confident in yourself, and willing to study all the time, I would recommend against doing more than 12 credits. This year has ruined my GPA despite me working harder than I ever have before in my life. I would strongly recommend you read over your notes before you come here, make sure you have the prerequisite knowledge for any course you’re taking fresh in your mind because they won’t slow down. Also, apply for your modules early, they can fill up fast.
There is a course review, and past paper websites here: https://ust.space and http://petergao.net/ustpastpaper/index.php
For help choosing modules, it lets you know what previous students thought of the courses (sadly not all courses have reviews). You will need a login to see most of it.
Overall, this has been an amazing experience, even if the workload has been nightmare inducing at times. You are in for a life changing experience, so good luck!
Written by Jack Maggs, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology