Academics, Student ID, and yeah, the OCTOPUS!

The people who have been following up on my weekly blogs must be aware how I have mostly covered general but very important travel tips in the past two weeks. Therefore, today, I am going to shift my focus on some important academic and legal formalities that play a huge role in helping you to sustain on a day-to-day basis. And remember, some of these tips might be specific to Hong Kong or UST, but it mostly applies to any country you travel for long-term academic or professional stays.

Firstly, whenever you are traveling to a new country or an academic institution for a long-term program, it’s obvious that you’re going to be part of that academic and professional community. That kind of automatically implies that it’s very important to have a student ID, which can give you an access to the basic amenities including room air-conditioners, athletic buildings, libraries, labs, classes, and most importantly the DISCOUNTS at the stores on-campus! Going back to my previous blog, I talked about how I attended a bunch of events with my friends during the first weekend. The first one of those events was the “pre-registration session” which talked about the basic immigration, work, travel, and campus policies along with the process and place to obtain a student ID. As the designated student ID office was still going to be open after the session, the first thing I did after the session was go there, get my documents verified, and collect my ID. That turned out to be really helpful because after obtaining my ID, I was able to explore the entire campus, including the places which required student ID for access.

After the student ID, the OCTOPUS card is another important thing that one would need to survive in Hong Kong. I would rather say, the OCTOPUS card is like oxygen in Hong Kong. I’m quite sure most of you might still be wondering what exactly an OCTOPUS card is, except the people who have already visited Hong Kong in the past. Formally, OCTOPUS card is a reusable contactless stored value smart card which is used for making almost all kind of online and offline payments in Hong Kong. And by the word ‘all’ I mean ‘everything’ including the canteens, restaurants, buses, MTR, and vending machines. You can definitely find an option to pay via cash or card in some of these places, but you’ll definitely need an OCTOPUS card for services like buses and MTR unless you are fine paying with coins all the time. Next, there are a few things to keep in mind before one can obtain an OCTOPUS card. The first one being that there are different variants of the card. The university will give you a stamped form which you can fill and submit at any of the MTR station to obtain a student-version of the OCTOPUS card. The benefits of the student card include an almost 50% discount while travelling using the MTR. But, anyone applying for a student OCTOPUS will not get it immediately after submitting an application. There’s usually a one-month processing time and you can choose to purchase a temporary (refundable) OCTOPUS card which will give you the same benefits as a student card until your real student card is processed and ready to use. I know it’s extremely confusing simply reading and thinking about this process. But believe me, it’s not that hard. It’ll all be clear and sorted once you reach here. Therefore, I wouldn’t worry much about the different variants of the card and stuff, but it’s important to remember that the OCTOPUS card is like a lifeline in Hong Kong.

I would rather say, the OCTOPUS card is like oxygen in Hong Kong.

And finally, having talked about the two most important cards for on-campus and off-campus survival, I would like to quickly touch upon the importance of your room key-card. Yes, unlike most other universities, HKUST, doesn’t use ID card for room access. Therefore, for anyone travelling to UST, it’s highly recommended to have a different card holder for your student ID, room access key-card, the OCTOPUS card, and one credit cards. Such a specific card-holder also helps if it’s inconvenient to carry your cash-loaded wallet all the time in your pocket.

Room Key Card

Having talked about the basic cards and the hacks for managing them, I would like to describe some basic academic and registration policies at UST. As all colleges tend to follow different policies, it’s important to understand this part in detail. Firstly, as an exchange student, you are required to attend the Academic Orientation Session that’s scheduled on the next day after your arrival. That session will guide you about the university-wide policies like course registration, waitlisting, and add-drop period. Most likely, there’ll also be a college-specific academic orientation session which will help you to familiarize with the registration interface, waitlisting policies for your college, and some specifics about the courses. The universities, at least the HKUST (School of Engineering), was very good at communicating about the academic policies, registration deadlines, and course approval processes through sending multiple email communications. Because of which, I didn’t miss any deadline and was able to get in all my preferred classes. But, even if you are not able to get in any of the classes and you desperately need to maintain your academic progression, it’s always a good idea to attend the class and talk with the professor in-person. They’ll definitely consider your situation and will try their best to accommodate your request. And lastly, if you find some professor or class really interesting and are willing to attend the lectures even though you are not officially eligible to take it for credits, it’s again a good idea to talk with the professor and they’ll happily allow you to audit those classes. For example, being a sophomore, I am not officially approved to take advanced classes like ‘Machine Learning’ and ‘Analysis of Algorithms’, but as I have been studying those topics on my own, I talked to the professors and they allowed me to audit those classes.

And I think that’s it for now. I have mostly covered all the basic stuff you need to know during the first two weeks, which is like a “transition period” on-campus. Because thereafter, you gradually get used to the process and start merging in the community like other full-time students. But for the “transition process” to happen smoothly it’s important to remember these basic rules – Being Self Aware, Talking With People (Socialize), and Prioritizing Thinking Over Panicking.

Believe me, everything does eventually fall in place!

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