Teaching & Learning

The Less-Travelled Road On Exchange

Hong Kong students going on exchange typically
prefer to go West in search of new horizons. But in
today’s more globalised world, when many students already have travelled abroad, some are using their
exchanges to depart from the beaten path.

Israel Hau Ka Wai and Israel HauJennifer Li Hang both elected to go to places that others from the Faculty of Arts had not – to the University of Johannesburg and Nanjing University, respectively. They both say their experiences were eye-opening but entirely worth the effort of exploring new ground.

israelIsrael, an English major with minors in African Studies and European Studies, previously had travelled to the U.S. and Europe and he wanted something different. In February last year he became the first HKU student to go to the University of Johannesburg in South Africa on exchange.

“I didn’t know much about Africa and that’s why I was interested. We always look for the exotic,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of Africans on television as compared to Americans and Europeans – all you see are animals. And in Hong Kong you don’t really get to meet many black people.”

In Johannesburg that quickly changed. There were few exchange students – Israel was the only Asian – and he and his German roommate befriended African students and spent a lot of time exploring the city, including areas that whites and Asians did not usually venture into. While there were muggings – he had been warned repeatedly about crime in South Africa – he adapted by not bringing too much money with him when he went out.

Interestingly, the key learning he took away was that the people there were not so different after all: they went to malls, enjoyed new technology and worried about their studies. “I expected them to be more different than us and I came to understand this was just a stereotype,” Israel said.

Jennifer, who is completing a double major in Language Communications and Media and Cultural Studies, went to Nanjing with a quite different goal: to understand her own identity better. She had been to Guangzhou to visit her grandparents but otherwise did not know much about China. Instead, her travels had included two years in high school in the U.S. and visits to Europe.

“I’m really interested in the relationship between Hong Kong and China and whether you identify yourself as Hong Kong Chinese, or Chinese. I wanted to discover more and see if there was an answer out there,” she said. The chance to improve her Putonghua and cheaper costs were also attractions.

Jennifer took the bold step of staying one year on exchange, rather than one semester, which meant she was able to get to know both other exchange students and local students well. “Each of us had different ideas about identity. I still consider myself to be Hong Kong Chinese but I am more open now about how people from the Mainland do things.

“I went looking for a cultural exchange, not an academic one, and the experiences I gained were totally worth it,” she added.