The Perks of an Exchange

The road towards a career constitutes a never-ending story and is imbued with making choices. One of these is whether or not to step out of your comfort zone, and take on the challenge to study abroad. After careful consideration, overwhelming amounts of paperwork and endless procedures I decided to go on an exchange, and here I am, studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

By Lise Weerden

Overambitious, rather shy students who only eat rice – sometimes accompanied by cat and dog meat – and fail to perform decent table manners in every respect. Living and studying at CUHK has shed new light on Chinese culture and has negated each and every of these deeply-rooted prejudices. Surrounded by nearly 20,000 students, the university campus offers the perfect venue to intermingle with locals and internationals alike. Exchanging ideas and perspectives is something that occurs both in and out of class.

Almost all courses offered are in English and an average course requires a student to be actively involved. Supposed to finalize eight essays, three quizzes, revision papers, mid-term exams and three group presentations, I am determined not to do what most locals do: sleep my way through the day, either in the library, school bus, or in class. Yet one cannot blame those who do, as a permanent lack of sleep seems to be part of the experience.

Besides the numerous activities organized by the university, two ladies’ nights a week, long dinner-nights, and an invitation for a welcome drink at the Dutch consulate, I also make an attempt to integrate in the local community. Hence weekly hip-hop classes in Cantonese, teachings at a primary school in one of the backward regions of Hong Kong and outings with my local roommate also form part of my schedule.

Ladies’ nights, an invitation to the Dutch consulate and teachings at the primary school also form part of daily life.

Yet however enjoyable an exchange semester might seem, one should expect to encounter some misfortunes every once in a while– having to wander around the 137.3-hectare campus for ages (although definitely not being lost!), taxi drivers who do not speak anything but Cantonese (even ‘left’ and ‘right’ seem to be alien), college hostels that appear to be closed for a week during Chinese New Year, facing plates with unidentifiable food (often including feet, eyes and bones), and running the risk of some unwanted trouble because of the latter. Yet all of these instances belong to the charm of drowning into a new culture and they can easily be resolved by a simple change in mind-set. Being lost might result in the discovery of yet undiscovered areas and a trip to one of the Asian Tigers might solve the problem of being homeless for a week.

As a top university in Asia, CUHK aims to nurture students with both specialized knowledge and wisdom for life.  Some days ago an inspiring mail by a professor was forwarded including the aforementioned quote. In essence, the place where you study and the time it takes you to reach your goals should only be of secondary importance to the passion you experience towards your daily activities. Yet if doing what you love to do does not appear to be either identifiable or within reach, a journey across the world and a change in perspective might be just about what you need.

 “When it comes to developing a career, it is so nice if you love what you do. To achieve this, you should do what you love to do.”  – Quote by Professor Dennis Fan, Fellow of Wu Yee Sun College and Associate Dean of Business Administration of the Chinese University of Hong Kong –

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