By Yeo Shun Yi, Alumna, SMU School of Economics
Going for an exchange was one of my dreams before entering university, and I was very glad to learn that SMU offers many opportunities for us to travel abroad. And when it came to choosing my university exchange programme, I knew I wanted one that perfectly matched SMU’s academic calendar to avoid clashing with my internships during summer break. Eventually I chose the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) as its programme fitted my schedule perfectly.
I was filled with excitement to explore new places, learn new culture and make new friends before embarking on this overseas exchange trip to Hong Kong. I was also mentally prepared for some study stress from the heavy and demanding academic rigour in CUHK, given it is a top-ranking university in Hong Kong. On the contrary, instead of a tense environment, I was surprised to discover that the school had a very homely and friendly culture where students were always willing to help each other out. The school also prepared an entire week of orientation programmes, as well as a buddy system to welcome all international students.
The courses I took in CUHK were interesting and exciting. I enjoyed ‘Contemporary Consumer Culture’, where I got to watch different genres of movies in the lectures. Thereafter, the professor would explain the different characteristics present in that genre. However, not all courses were as chill and fun. ‘Emerging Financial Markets’ was particularly demanding. In this course, students were made to write and submit a report on a given case study every week. That said, I felt that I learnt the most from this demanding course! At the end of the semester, the professor even rewarded everyone by treating us to dinner at a fancy restaurant at Victoria Harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui.
With coursemates from the ‘Emerging Financial Markets’ course at a dinner treat at Victoria Harbour
The campus at CUHK is also the largest in Hong Kong. At the start, it was hard to find my way to the various lecture and tutorial venues. Fortunately, the school provides one of the most efficient shuttle bus services that never failed to reach on time. I also chose to stay in the on-campus hostel, International House (I-house). As it was not compulsory to commit to the communal dinner, I could still explore the different local delicacies outside campus. The only disadvantage of staying at the I-house is the hostel’s location on top of a hill – imagine climbing up and down the hill to get to your classes every day! However, the amazing sea view from my room more than made up for the commute.
I also participated in numerous activities organised by the different colleges in school. Some of the most memorable ones were zongzi (rice dumplings) making, crafting a traditional pouch containing Chinese herbs that repel mosquitoes, and carving my Chinese name on a traditional stamp.
Making traditional pouches containing Chinese herbs with local Hong Kong students
A unique experience outside of school was a visit to the horse races. As CUHK is in Sha Tin, the school is just one stop away from the Sha Tin Racecourse located at Fo Tan MTR station. Horse racing is a unique event that allows you to feel the excitement in the air before the commencement of each race. I was surprised to see so many people at the racecourse at 11am even though the race only started at 1pm. When it did start, the place was filled with many cheers and shouts among the spectators for the horses that they supported. The excitement level in the racecourse is akin to that of a football match in Europe, and is a truly eye-opening experience to pick up while on exchange.
Going to a horse racing event with friends from SMU, NUS and NTU
As the world’s fourth most densely populated city with an incredibly competitive society, the lifestyle in Hong Kong was fast paced and hectic. Hence, it took me a while to get used to the frantic servers in restaurants, but I bore in mind that it was not personal. However, these experiences facilitated my reflection on cultural differences and made me realise how I had taken for granted the service I received back in Singapore.
My overseas exchange was an integral part of my university experience. This global exposure opportunity also pushed me to learn and grow both professionally and personally. Particularly, my stay in the I-house enabled me to make new friends from diverse countries such as the US, Canada, New Zealand, Taiwan, China and Korea. I’ve kept in touch with them and grown my international network of friends! Through these friendships and cultural connections, I learnt to appreciate those who are different from us. This has helped me to better hone my cultural sensitivity and awareness – a useful skill for creating a more inclusive work environment in the future. For those considering an exchange, it’s one of the best programmes where you can define your own adventure!
Yeo Shun Yi went on a semester exchange at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2019. She has since graduated from SMU with a Bachelor of Science (Economics).
Given that the Covid-19 situation still prevails globally and will continue to have a significant impact on our daily lives and how the University operates for some time, SMU has shifted its suite of global exposure programmes to virtual formats where possible. The University looks forward to resuming all programmes physically when the situation improves, and when it is safe for our students to travel again.
[All images courtesy of Yeo Shun Yi.]