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Student Exchange Programme

Visiting Scholars Student Exchange Programme SSPE - BSU Summer Exchange Programme

When life turned a new leaf, we may find ourselves lost in a mist at times. We seem losing sight; yet, engaging actively in university affairs helped me gain my compass back. One of my highlights in my university life was going on exchange in Australia last semester.

My purpose of life is not subtly encouraged to do the least amount to satisfy requirements. I am an adventurer. I think every moment of my life is irreplaceable and believe I should live my life to the fullness. Picking Australia as my exchange destination is mainly because of my wish to re-visit it again after the high school graduation trip. Its amazing mixed culture from the colonial British rule before and aboriginal people in the country, together with the fascinating natural landscape and thrilling activities attract me a lot also.

Macquarie University, Sydney was my destination of the exchange programme from February to June 2014. It ranks number 9 among all universities in Australia, which is a relatively new (just 50 years since establishment) but research-based and famous university in its territory and among Asian countries. When I first arrived at Sydney, I felt loved to be surrounded by Australian accent. You would expect appealing pancake breakfast and glamorous tea set in front of you upon arrival. But it actually took long hours to get to Macquarie but it was all worth it after feeling how relaxing the place was. Unlike UNSW and USYD, Macquarie is located on the northwest of Sydney that belongs to a suburb with much more woodland and well-developed cycling tracks. The lifestyle is pretty laid back and the pace of living is rather slow than central business districts. This soothed me a lot after non-stop schoolwork for some time in Hong Kong. In there, I felt like time was always unlimited and the only thing that matters was to grab the opportunities and do it.

Going on exchange has been on my check-list in my university studies since 2011, the major difficulty to realize it is to step out from Hong Kong, but to embrace a brand new culture and to emerge myself into it for half a year by myself only. I had to live with somebody else I have met before. In the past, you did not need to live independently without any aid from your parents. You could go for your family for help for whatever reasons, but when you study aboard, you would learn to handle stuff on your own. You would not hesitate to call and ask when you have questions. Instead, you may seek natives’ help quite often because of their familiarity to the places. You open yourselves up to more opportunities to challenge yourself and resolve problems step by step. Attending a wide variety of courses in Australian style was another difficulty I encountered when I started studying in Macquarie. The education system in Australia encourages and focuses more on self-study and extra readings on the topics, whilst teachers only act as the facilitators alongside. Students were required to be more active during lessons, more self-disciplined and to do more lesson preparation and evaluation by having weekly in-class quiz, debates, discussions and presentations on specific issues with peers. I was even told to read more than twenty research articles regarding the teaching contents and make reflection on my teaching according to empirical evidences and real practices. All these allow students to have more explorations from external materials and boosts critical thinking rather than focusing too much on academics. Facing such sudden changes on learning style, even I did expect before arrival, all these took time for me to adapt to it.

In Australia, there are three significant cultures that are firmly imprinted in my mind. I have learnt to start off a conversation with any strangers on street after saying “how are you today?”. The best way to make you feel comfortable with anyone in Australia is to talk about the weather first and then your recent activities. After mentioning these things, they will be very willing to chat with you about other stuff which is a fun experience. You would know their families, hobbies…... Or else, when you are holding a map, as long as you are willing to ask and seek help, Australians are usually friendly and helpful to point you the direction and guide you there. Another important issue every Australian follows tightly is punctuality. Whenever you have gatherings, meetings or school, you have to be on time, or the fellows will hate you. I witnessed professors shutting doors to ban the new comers till the class break that is not the usual practice in Hong Kong. Jumping lines is a taboo in Australia that gave me a big shock. No one dares to jump lines no matter in the supermarkets, fast food restaurant or at platforms waiting for the train and all people are queuing up patiently whenever they are. This is really a good practice that everyone is in order and you would really feel good when you are around that you do not need to care about any misbehaviour.

Travelling during exchange is of course the largest highlight. You may find interesting that when you take the flight for three hours, you are still in the Aussie territory; whilst when you are travelling in Europe, you have already been to other countries. From planning to execution, I have done countless researches to make the plans smooth. When I went on travel, I have learnt a few things that could make my future trips even more wonderful. To enjoy the fullest, tourists should embrace the culture of the locals that you may ask them to teach you the languages there and practice some greetings with them. They will feel much appreciated if you try to know them more. Instead of visiting massive numbers of places, limiting the spots and staying in a place for a longer time to let your surroundings soak in, rather than rushing everywhere. That would make one feel more enjoyable. Furthermore, to create a more unforgettable trip, you may try some “once-a-lifetime” activities. I overcame my fear and completed skydive, scuba diving, sandboarding, white water rafting and even slept in a swag in an outdoor campsite with dingoes and millions of stars. After all, the deepest and final feeling for one person who stayed long outside is to make you know home is where the heart is and where you truly belong to and where you can all the time get support from, despite all the excitements gained along your journeys.

After my exchange, it made me to appreciate my home so much more. After paying visits to some of the best museums of the world, relishing at the antiquity of the cathedrals, and dining on some of the most exotic foods, I came to the realization that all of these things that I experienced while I was abroad were readily available at home as well. One of the tremendous reasons why I encourage people to go on exchange is because when they come back home with a fresh new pair of eyes, they appreciate home so much more. After coming home, the experience and fun stories you share will definitely tell them you have grown a lot and you are ready for more demanding challenges in the forthcoming future.

I couldn’t have been more fortunate to be selected as one of the students who were on the exchange programme at Aston University, Birmingham in the UK last year. Living far away from home has impacted me on my futures in so many ways. First off it will be new lifelong friendships. The people I’m surrounded by at school, my new friends of different nationalities, and my new swimming squad teammates were warming and amazing. Second I love being so far out of my comfort zone as whoever doesn’t do an exchange in a place so far away from home, one is definitely missing out. Living abroad alone and learning how to be independent has made me a person who is now more mature and open-minded, and I will be more eagerly strive on to learn and undertake new challenges in my life than ever before. I really enjoyed the academic year spent in the UK and all the friends I’ve made, all the unforgettable experience when I was travelling as a backpacker in Europe will stay with me for life!

In last semester, I went on an academic exchange in Sweden. Since my host university, Stockholm University, did not offer any sports-related courses, therefore, I had picked some courses in which I am interested, for example, “Gender and Sexuality”, and “Sweden Society and Everyday Life”. Moreover, in order to know more about the culture of Sweden, I had also taken “Swedish Language” for beginners. All of these did broaden my horizons.

Regarding my daily life in Europe, it was so memorable and precious. Life pace was way slower than that in Hong Kong. In my point of view, most of the Europeans could strike a balance between work and rest. Generally, they greatly respected one’s human right and had a highly humane perspective towards how one’s life should be. They did enjoy their life. In Sweden, there is a tradition called fika- in which friends, family and colleagues meet for coffee or tea, often with something sweet on the side. Most Swedes would like to have at least one fika a day as an opportunity to bond and share. It is something that Hong Kong people might not have time to do. After the exchange, having a coffee break with friends is a habit that I tried to maintain everyday. After all, it is not the drinks or food matter, but the quality time with the one you like to talk to instead.

Frankly speaking, living in a foreign country for half year was not that smooth and easy. Cultural shocks, language problems, extreme weather, taking care of oneself, and last but not least, money, were all the hurdles that you have to overcome during on exchange. However, with all the nice people I made friends with in this half year, life was much more easier. At least I didn't feel lonely. Here, I want to point out that “feeling lonely” does not mean “being alone”. Being alone was inevitable during exchange. I did enjoy being alone. It was a great chance for people to know more about oneself. It was a good time for thinking, reflecting, and also planning. For this reason, I did some travel to other European countries by myself, namely Belgium, the UK and Germany.

When it comes to travelling, I could have a lot to share. However, since I have been to 17 European countries during this half year, I guess here is not a good media to do my sharing. As a student, budget travelling is my way of travelling: Visiting as many places as I could with the least amount of money. I always think that travelling is the best way to spend money. When I was backpacking in Europe, I usually cut down my budget on food, accommodation and also transportation (if possible). I always chose the cheapest hostel in town, and lived with other backpackers in a mixed dormitory room with 8-10 people. It was a great opportunity to know more people. It was always nice to share, and to listen to the stories from different people from all over the world. What is more, in order to save money, I had also stayed in the airport overnight for a few times. For the transportation, taking Ryanair (a famous budget airline in Europe) was often my choice. Even though it was notorious for its poor service and strict luggage regulations, my friends and I still picked it out of its exceptionally low price. Apart from budget airline, I had also tried free ride. It was an unforgettable experience for me, and also for my good fellow classmate, Kent Cheung. In April, we went travelling together in Eastern Europe. When we were in Santorini, Greece, we were lucky enough to be driven to our destination by having our thumbs up for free ride on the street. People in Europe were generally more helpful and open to strangers. As long as you are willing to take the initiative to talk to people, you would gain something out of every encounter.

This is just part of the sharing from my exchange experience. It could actually take me ten days ten nights to share all of them. Going on exchange is a once in a lifetime experience which is definitely worth trying. And I have never heard of someone would regret after the exchange. Therefore, I really recommend people to try this, and to create their own fruitful stories when they are on exchange. So… why not?