Traveling abroad, especially for a semester-long exchange program, is definitely an exciting experience, but it may turn out to be disastrous if you fail to get involved with the local community. In the era of internet, you can always live, study, travel, and explore everything by yourself, but at times, having people around you can make those events much more interesting. Also, the local or permanent students on the campus can sometime give you some information which you wouldn’t normally find on the internet. And at times, it’s vice-versa, meaning, the locals tend to learn about a lot of interesting places and things from the international students. I’ll give appropriate examples for everything, but it’s always am amazing feeling to be a part of this ‘information exchange loop’.
When I arrived in Hong Kong and UST, I was always excited to meet with the international students, but I also wanted to make sure that I have enough local friends. It’s not always important, but I’ll explain why. The first and foremost reason being a smooth academic transition. Spending a semester and taking classes in a different country and university isn’t always easy. Especially when it comes to the policies regarding grading, exams, and assignments. For example, while all the professors at Drexel use Blackboard to upload the course content, all the professors at UST don’t use Canvas (very similar to Blackboard) for uploading the content. Instead, some of them use the course websites on UST domain for such purposes. If I hand’t got this information from a local student in my class, I had almost missed my first assignment because I didn’t see any information about it on Canvas.
Additionally, different classes and professors have different policies for grading quizzes, exams, and assignments. It’s not always a good idea to follow the conventions from your home university while finishing the assignments because you might unnecessarily end up losing points. Hence, it becomes important to have local friends from different classes who you can study with. Also, because they are already familiar with the professors through previous classes, they can give you a fair idea about the difficulty of exams and strictness of grading. That might take a lot of stress off you because believe me, classes and assignments at UST are quite difficult. It might not be a good idea to do it all by yourself. Also, unlike most of the classes at Drexel, the classes at UST are mostly curved, and the professors don’t follow the absolute grading scale. Yet, it’s hard to pass the classes because a lot of students here are extremely motivated and passionate to maintain their GPA. Hence, it’s not a good idea to take the classes lightly in the beginning and struggle towards the end.
Apart from the academics, the connections with the local community and students can also help you to get information about some beautiful places and things to do on and around campus. Especially amid the political tension in Hong Kong, it’s important to find some interesting things to do on-campus because you cannot go out every weekend. In my very first week, when I was walking back to the residence hall with one of the local students, he showed me an amazing beach (with barbeque pits) on campus. Since then, that place has always been my escape spot when I am extremely tired after work or classes. Simply sitting there, experiencing the light breeze, and listening to the crashing waves complimented by soft music immediately transformed my mood. It’s also a great place to hangout with friends as you can always grill and have fun at the barbeque pits. Moreover, as I prefer working out and playing squash at least thrice a week, I had been visiting the athletic center from the first week itself. In the process, I became friends with the local squash players who were playing on the school team. I started playing with them and eventually they invited me to practice with the school team. I bet I would have never discovered such places or found this opportunities via internet.
And lastly, I am an avid hiker. Out of all the options to go out on a weekend, I would prefer a hike. I have been born and brought up in a crowded, urban town with a lot of people. Also, I go to college which is located in fifth largest city (Philadelphia) in the United States. So I am always keen to go on a hike and escape from the fast-paced life in the city. It can simply be walking through the forests on a flat surface, or more dangerous like climbing the mountains and living life on the edge. Regardless, it’s always beautiful to rediscover yourself while walking or climbing, and putting efforts like never before. It’s always amazing to hear yourself breathing heavy without stopping while constantly walking with a hope of finding a mesmerizing view or landmark. It kind of resonates with my ideology about life. Seamlessly walking and working with the hope of finding the things that you have always dreamed of. Yes, it’s important to have people, difficulties, distractions, and breathers as you go. Because that’s what makes your journey memorable. But it’s equally important to not stop, digress, or give up; and continue moving towards your final destination – a view, landmark, goal, or a purpose that you started the journey for.
I agree the above paragraph was a bit off the topic, but I cannot resist when it comes to hiking. However, Hong Kong is a beautiful place for hiking. One can find every type of trail ranging from the dangerous suicide cliff to the more pleasant ones like Little Hawaii waterfalls. But, it’s practically not possible to do all of those in a span of four months. Hence, it’s always a great idea to be friends with local students who can help you prioritize and choose the best hikes. Also, because of the uncertain weather conditions in Hong Kong, it’s not always easy to choose the best day for hiking. Therefore, it’s again nice to have a consent from a localite before you go, because a lot of people get stuck on the trails because of inclement weather and thunderstorms.
And I guess that’s it. My main motive for this blog was to emphasize on the importance of getting involved in the local community, through some examples and experiences. Whether it’s academics, food, sports, travel, or hiking, the connections with local students will always help you to sustain and be self-aware. And most importantly, being around people with similar interests will help you to make the most out of a new place without feeling homesick.
Drexel International Health, Safety, & Security has been actively monitoring the protest situation in Hong Kong and providing guidance to students. Partner universities in Hong Kong are also providing information and support as needed.