Sam’s Postcard from Hong Kong
Sam Leeder is completing his Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Philosophy and spent Semester 1 of 2020 studying at the University of Hong Kong with the support of the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan Grant.
Why did you choose this host institution and destination?
I was keen to go somewhere that had interesting subjects and the University of Hong Kong had some really good philosophy and gender studies subjects. I had originally thought about going to England and then I saw Hong Kong on the list of exchange options and thought it sounded like a cool experience and a different culture to Australia, whereas England would have been quite similar to Australia.
The most interesting subject I did was called “Decolonising Gender”, it looked at gender and colonialism in Asia and discussed the ways colonialism has shaped gender and looked at the different gender practises in colonial and colonised countries.
What is your favourite memory from your overseas experience?
One night, we had a big catch up with all the exchange students at the University of Hong Kong and I was determined to stay up late enough to go a well-known dim sum restaurant that opens at 3am. I kept checking my watch and then finally at 3am we got a taxi across Hong Kong and sat and ate dim sum. There was no menu, there was just a heap of steamers that you would open and try and figure out what it was.
There were O-week activities at the University, I signed up to as many as I could and other exchange students had also done that. Together we experienced a traditional Hong Kong breakfast, we made dumplings and we went on a hike so it was well facilitated to meet people and because we were all there in the same situation, we got to know each other really well.
What was your biggest culture shock moment?
I think the biggest culture shock moment was seeing shark fins in Chinese traditional medicine shops. For someone who has grown up and learnt about the oceans and about sharks and understanding how important sharks are to the oceans, seeing that that is what was done in Hong Kong was really confronting.
In regards to people being environmentally aware, there seemed to be a lot more variation than there might be in Australia. For many people in Hong Kong, this just wasn’t something they had the privilege of being able to think about in the way that we do in Australia.
What is one thing any student visiting your destination must see or do?
There is a hiking trail called the Dragon’s Back and there is a turn you can take at the end that takes you to a place called Big Wave Bay. The hike is really easy comparative to some of the other ones we did, but it is a pretty spectacular view. You get to walk along a small ridge and get a great view of the cliffs and ocean. The hike ends at quite a decent beach, it was pretty empty and we got to paddle in the water it was just a really nice day and not a super difficult walk.
There are also all of these jungle mountain areas that are preserved in the city. You can walk five minutes from one of the central train stations and be in a jungle. You are up a mountain and in the jungle, and you can see the skyscrapers that are 200 metres away from you as you are dodging fallen trees and hanging vines. The city is really intense where it is but it’s also not everywhere, so lots of opportunity to get peace and quiet when you need it.
Share one piece of advice you wish you knew before going on exchange.
Try to learn your friends’ languages. I had a fair few German friends and I saw them speaking a lot of German to each other as a bit of a challenge but I should have seen it as an opportunity to put in some more effort and engage with them in German. That was something I didn’t quite “see” at the time, because there was so much else going on, but if I had of been aware of it, I could have gotten Duolingo and had a go at learning some basic German and that would have been a really cool thing to have done.
What’s one key lesson you have learnt from the experience?
I learnt how to be by myself, which was quite a big thing. With the pandemic setting in, a lot of the people I knew left and there was a spot where I didn’t have a face to face interaction with anyone for a whole week. I got comfortable with that but I also learnt how to reach out a bit more to my network back home.
I learnt that it’s okay to be by myself and walk around and experience everything in the city without having to have other people there. I think it would have been a very different experience and would have affected me very differently if there was always someone else around.