I realized that even though I have written quite a bit about hongkong, I haven’t actually written much about HKUST – my partner exchange university. HKUST, located in Clear Water Bay (Sai Kung), is ranked 1st in the QS Asian University Rankings in 2011 and 2012. It is also a very beautiful campus, located among the mountains and blessed with a sea view. I must admit that the sea view was the reason why I chose UST over the other HK universities. In Singapore, our sea is pretty packed with cargo ships so it is practically impossible to see a large pool of water without any large vessels on it. This picture is actually taken from LG1 – one of the two main dining areas in the university. I also really like the location of the unviersity. Being far away from the city center, it is always relaxing to return to the university after a long day in the very busy Mongkok/ Central/ Causeway Bay. Not only that, the Sai Kung area generally has better skies and a better quality of air as compared to the city center.
I did 6 courses in HKUST and the classes varied greatly in terms of both standard and speed. I attended Biomolecular Chemistry, Bioanalytical Techniques (or Intermediate Analytical Chemistry, I’m not sure what’s the confirmed name of this course), Intermediate Inorganic Chemistry, Multivariable Calculus, Computational Thinking for Everyone in the Internet Age and Practical Cantonese. Among them, Biomolecular Chemistry was the class with the slowest pace, Intermediate Inorganic Chemistry went the fastest (the professor spoke so fast that sometimes it was impossible to write down everything that he said) and Practical Cantonese was the most enjoyable. All of the classes except the cantonese course were conducted in lecture-style which really implies that the attendance was not compulsory. The examinations were mostly a test of memory work with a good mix of multiple choice , true/ false and short answer questions. I was not so used to it initially when I saw questions that asked me for the year in which a certain theory was proposed or who proposed that theory. NUS professors just wouldnt ask these questions. But after a while, I became grateful for these questions because what this really means for an exchange student is that it is possible to study the content just a day before the examinations.
The school culture in HKUST is interesting – the students are busy with a huge range of club and hall activities. In the atrium, the center of the very small university complex, we see elaborated decorations, mostly handmade, which are put up by the students and these decorations change every week. Sometimes they wouldnt even last a week. On the eve of Halloween, some floors of the student halls were transformed into haunted houses. There were people lining up into the halls to enter those haunted houses. I visited the haunted houses in my hall with Sylvia, Jingying, Weijun and Jennifer. Not only were the decorations of the standard you find in theme parks, the ghosts were realistic and scary as well. And right after the event, all the decorations were removed. It’s quite nice to see them putting in so much effort into something that only lasted for a night. In Singapore, the decorations have to be up for at least two days in order to motivate people to put them up. To me at least, the students don’t seem to be too serious about a university education. They do study and work hard but it just doesn’t feel like any of my classmates would pursue further studies in Chemistry. University just seems to be a mandatory phase that they have to get through. Cheating is also something very common. In response to students copying answers for assignments, one of my professors simply said, ‘Well, you learn something as you copy, right?’
There is a joke that HKUST stands for Hong Kong University of Stress and Tension and Hong Kong University of Sorrow and Tears. This is because HKUST has the highest suicide rate in Hongkong – 3 students committed suicide in 2012 itself. The students argue that the high stress level, intense competition and the huge amount of assignments and homework were the reasons why those students took their lives. Whatever the reason is, I hope that the university and the student body can come up with something to support depressed and overly-stressed students.
HKUST is a small campus so this makes it a very nice university to do the exchange semester. There are only two main dining areas and one study area (the 5 storey high library) so it’s highly likely to bump into people while walking from a place to another. The semi-circle building with the blue glass in the picture is the library, it is a very compact campus.
Doing exchange in a huge university like NUS would be a completely different experience I think. I would miss the atrium – the place where people gather before we start a very fun day in hongkong together.