Be warned this is a word-heavy post. No pictures. At all.
This is a recording of some of the tips and tricks that I learned at HKU during my exchange from September to December of 2015. These might not necessarily apply now but I like to keep this as a record of what happened and things to keep in mind. But if you are exchanging at HKU soon, maybe these will help you, or maybe the whole system might have changed by now. Who knows? But here’s my experience.
My overall experience at HKU was definitely positive. I’ve heard stories from other exchange students who said they experienced discrimination but I was fortunate enough to be well integrated into the system. I’m going to separate this diary into a few different categories. First, I’ll cover the canteens and libraries (the campus), HKU courses, potential slang that you might encounter, the dorm situation and things to do nearby HKU.
These are some of the things I’ve learnt from my experience at HKU as an exchange student.
Canteen and Libraries:
During your breaks or even after breaks when you’re looking for places to study or meet up for group projects, canteens and libraries are the places to go. In terms of canteens at HKU, there are quiet a few but the main ones are Chong Yuet Ming Amenities Centre Restaurants (all the students call it Maxim’s), CYM Canteen, Delifrance, Bijas Vegetarian, Super Super Congee and Noodle, U-Deli, Starbucks and Subway.
First let me cover Delifrance, Starbucks and Subway which are all chain restaurants situated in HKU. There are two Starbucks on Campus, one next to the main library and the other one is on the first floor of the Student Union Building (or more commonly known as SU Building). The Starbucks on campus is the cheapest Starbucks in all of Hong Kong but they don’t offer all the drinks that they might offer outside of HKU. You get a student discount when you order at the Starbucks on campus. Delifrance is a popular place for students who have class in the Centennial Buildings. The lines can get quite long during peak hours and the wait is long for pasta etc. You can get sandwiches, pastries and pasta here. To be honest, I found myself constantly eating here because most Arts students visited this place and its directly across from the library that I frequent, making it extremely convenient. But the prices at Delifrance and more expensive than other food options on campus. The Subway on the HKU campus is always has a long line during peak hours. It goes fast and is convenient.
Next up SU Canteen, CYM Canteen, Bijas Vegetarian, Super Super Congee and Noodle and U-Deli are the other commonly visited food options on campus. SU Canteen is a popular canteen because of it’s dirt cheap food and easy access. Beware of lines during peak times. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is mainly Chinese food including barbequed chicken and meats, congee, noodles and rice. It’s hearty and filling. My favourite thing to get is their tea time snacks at around 3:00 pm. The snacks are cheap and delicious, great before, during or after classes. CYM Canteen (Maxims) is pretty far from the middle of the campus but it makes sense if you are on that side of the campus (good for business and science students, far for arts and social science students). They have a great range of food for a canteen and they may be one of the most delicious canteens on campus. They have teppanyaki at the CYM canteen and roasted meats, noodles and rice. They also have snacks during afternoon tea time like fried toast with condensed milk. This is definitely one of my go to canteens. Bijas Vegetarian is a sit down canteen where you pick the food you want in the platters and it gets weighed. The food here is slightly pricier than other options but the quality if good. At lunch they have a cheaper option outside their sit down area where they offer a set lunch where you can choose a dish. Super Super Congee and Noodle is next to Bijas (both Bijas and Super Super Congee are situated in Centennial Campus). Super Super Congee serves congee, noodles and also they have dim sum as well. So if you are craving some har gaw then you can come here for a quick fix. U-Deli is situated in the Student Union Building on the first floor (next to Starbucks). It’s great for a quick and cheap meal. There’s no where to sit and the food can sometimes be a hit or miss depending on what it is (get the unagi rice if they have it). These are just SOME of the options on campus but also the more popular ones.
Extra tip: There’s also a place that serves egg waffles in the same building as Maxim’s Food.
In terms of libraries, it’s important to note that the private rooms in the libraries can be booked online on the HKU library website. Choose which room you want and you can book if for a max 2 hours. If you want it for longer than that, you can get your buddies to book it in the time slot after you. Rooms can be booked 48 hours in advance. Some rooms that are bigger require two people to book so keep that in mind. To access the libraries, you need a student card, without one you cannot get in (they are pretty strict with this). The libraries that I recommend are the Main libraries for its huge space, Chi Wah for its abundance of available rooms, the Law Library and the Music Library (which is on the 11th floor of the Run Run Shaw Tower). Not a lot of people know about the rooms in the music library so they are usually free but the rooms in the music library MUST be booked before hand because they are locked and cannot be accessed without the student card that booked it. The best room to book in the Music Library is Discussion Room 1 – it’s very big and has a nice view as well (2 is okay, but avoid room 3 because it is very small). Also the Music Library is very strict with food (I learned that the hard way). The only library you can really eat in is Chi Wah (which is a learning commons and not a library). Chi Wah is good if you want to eat your lunch somewhere (My favourite room to book is in Chi Wah – Room 15 – because it has a nice view of Hong Kong if there’s no smog). These libraries are great for studying, meeting up for group projects and just passing time really. They are generally pretty clean.
Extra Tip: during exam season – the private rooms go REALLY quickly so make sure you book it right on the dot or you’ll miss the opportunity.
Tips about the campus itself: Unfortunately, I spent most of my time in Centennial (which is the newer side of campus made for arts and social science students) so I don’t have many tips about the campus itself but I generally found it pretty easy navigate. I have been through most of the campus and some buildings can be old and confusing. But each path connects to the path next to it, so at most you’ll end up going in a circle. Be aware of buildings with similar building names like the Run Run Shaw Tower versus Run Run Shaw Building. It’s good to know where Happy Park is, it’s right in front of the Main Library, because that’s where most of the events take place. There are two places that you can get directly from the MTR straight to Campus one which goes to Centennial and another which goes to the centre of campus. There’s also an exit called the East Gate which is where you can get down through the elevator which basically leads you to some more food options outside of campus.
There’s not much to say about the courses at HKU. The professors all speak English but it’s possible that they might add some Cantonese phrases during class so just beware of that. Some courses have field trips that might be required. Registering for courses can be a little confusing because of the difficult system. You must be approved to each course which takes a little patience. You might not always be approved right away. Also some courses may be taught in Chinese without any notification. For example anything that begins in CHIN that might by about China or Hong Kong are most likely taught in Cantonese. Also HKU courses are only listed up to 3000 – so if you’re university requires 4th year courses like mine make sure they understand that 3000 is considered 3rd and 4th year courses as well. 2000 can be considered as 2nd and 3rd year courses. There are also these courses called common core courses that sound very interesting to us exchange students (trust me they all sound interesting) but they will be very hard to register for because they are meant for local students. Local students need these CCST (Common Core) courses to graduate. Of course, it is possible to sign up for these courses in person with the professor but it will be more difficult than other courses (this is just a warning). On your time table it will say not approved when you register for a common core course so just be forewarned.
There’s so much slang or abbreviations in Hong Kong. This of course doesn’t only apply to HKU but I wanted to include it here because it’s easier to understand what’s going around you if you know these slang words. I won’t teach you any swear words (you can look those up yourself).
上莊 (xiong jzong) is when you join like a club (kind of) – it’s when you basically need to dedicate your life to an organization at school or a club (for example drama)
過三 (go sam) – basically means your GPA is above 3 (which is JUST acceptable)
Centenn = centennial campus
Main Li – means Main library (they don’t say Main library they shorten it to Main Li)
Zi Wah – is Chi Wah but in Cantonese (they rarely say Chi Wah in English)
Sor = Sorry (Local say sor and not sorry – it’s somewhat of an abbreviation)
Chur = very hard working or hard to do (can be used as a description of a person or an activitiy)
Hea = opposite of chur, very relaxed
Kong U = University of Hong Kong
Those are the only ones I can think of so far, feel free to mention others that I have forgotten. Or ask me any other slang words that you have encountered that you might not understand.
This is a tricky topic because as an exchange student you get to choose 3 preferred places but there’s a high chance that you will not get the dorm that you want. I’m not sure how they decide who gets to go to their preferred dorm and who doesn’t but I think it’s all about luck. The dorm system works differently for international students, exchange students and local students. For International and local students they must go through interview process to see if they would be fit for dorm life and they must also participate in dorm activities for points to stay in the hall next year but more about that later. Here’s a break down of the halls (from what I’ve heard):
On the Main Campus there are only 2 dorms – Simon K.Y. Lee Hall (Also called Sky Lee) is very convenient because it’s in the middle of campus. It’s under renovation (2015-2016) currently so I would expect the conditions in there to be better now. Swire Hall is the other dorm on campus which is close for Business students.
There are 3 Jockey Club Student Villages:
Jockey Club (JC) Village 1 there is Lady Ho Tung Hall which is an all female residence. From speculation and rumours: I’ve heard that for local students Lady Ho Tung can be very chur (refer to Slang) and they have many vacancies during the year. Starr Hall is famous for being one of the best halls. (I’m not sure why but I just heard that it was the most famous which is why I put it as my top preference but unfortunately I didn’t get Starr Hall as my dorm). Rumour has it that their lobby watchers are stricter and don’t let visitors in after 9pm.
Ricci Hall is situated next to Starr Hall and is an all boys hall. It is a hall famous for sports and rumour has it that all the hot guys (definitely buff) live in this hall. This is a non-university administered hall.
Jockey Club Student Village II is my favourite Jockey club (because I stayed here). Here we have Lee Shau Kee Hall, Morrison Hall and Suen Chi Sun Hall. Lee Shau Kee and Suen Chi Sun are very similar both co-ed, both good choices as a laid back hall. Morrison Hall is an all boy’s hall but they also have floors for female graduate students. Jockey Club Student Village II is also where Flora Ho Sports Centre is located (fitness rooms, badminton courts, tennis courts, swimming pools). It’s a 15 minute from campus but there’s also a short cut that people shouldn’t take because it’s dangerous but it’s also fast so… your call.
St. John’s College is located across from Jockey Club Student Village II and is a non-university administered hall. The dorm has beautiful dining hall and library facilities. It has it’s own billiard room and chapel. Rumour has it that only the rich and beautiful can live in this hall – but that’s only a rumour… right? You’ll have to see for yourself.
There are also Sassoon Road residences: Lee Hysan, Wei Lun Hall and R.C. Lee Hall. These are all much further from campus. It’s around a 30 minute walk, but there’s also a shuttle bus that students can take.
University Hall is even further from HKU’s main campus and was once a castle. This is where the annual Halloween Haunted House is located. It is an all boy’s dorm.
Jockey Club III: is the newest village with the newest buildings. It has four buildings. They have their own study rooms at the bottom of each building. The design is modern and because it is new it still looks nice and clean. It’s located in Kennedy Town and is somewhat far from the main campus but there is a shuttle that you can take to the main campus. Also it’s a 5-minute walk to the MTR station but from the MTR station to JCIII it’s all uphill. Rumour has it that the cleaners at these buildings aren’t the best.
Residential Hall Activities: All the residential halls have a lot of dorm spirit. Students are required to participate in activities and join clubs. They have drama team, dance team, choir, and then all different kind of sports clubs and they meet at least once a week. Exchange students are not required to participate in these. They also have many activities like lunar celebrations, or studying celebrations and other holiday celebrations. Usually these involve activities in the meeting rooms and lots and lots of food. You are also required to participate in high table which is a gathering of the entire hall that happens 2-3 times a term. The entire hall gathers at a set location and has dinner. You are required to wear white top, black bottoms and black shoes along with your gown. There are also residential hall activities between floors (for example: drinking night, or soup night).
Many exchange students got placed in non-hall student housing such as Pok Field Road Residences which is a small residence with 6 flights and no elevator. It’s a very old residence but the rooms might be slightly bigger than other dorms. Also each room has their own bathroom, washer and kitchen so if you prefer that Pok Field Road Residences might be for you. HKU also has Student Flats and Ching Lin terrace available as non-hall student housing. With these non-hall student housing you will get a chance to meet many more international and exchange students. But you will out on hall activities. Non-hall student housing provides you with more privacy compared to hall housing where one would need to participate in hall activities.
My own Hall experience: I was lucky enough to be placed in a Suen Chi Sun Hall where student participation was encouraged. To be honest, when I first entered the dorm, I was astounded at the state of my room. It was dusty, mouldy and very tiny. It felt like there were insects crawling everywhere (when in fact it was probably my own imagination). But after a good scrub and a few weeks of getting used to, I loved it. I loved my roommate, my floormates and my dorm mates. The bathroom was shared – 5 toilets and 5 showers. There was also a pantry where you could cook. Along with hall experience, came a hall fee which you pay to the floor. This is an individual fee which covers pantry equipment and some toiletries and sometimes snacks. My own hall experience was terrific. My hall was so friendly and welcoming to newcomers. We spent many nights together in the pantry just simply gossiping, baking and watching dramas/movies. Floormates were also very kind to lend food or share meals. It’s just a great experience and would definitely recommend living in one of the residential halls for a true hall spirit experience. It becomes part of your identity and you feel like you become part of them.
Things to do Nearby:
Outside of the campus, there isn’t a whole lot to do because it’s more of a residential area than a shopping area. But if you are looking for groceries theirs a Park N Shop and Welcome not too far away. If you live in any of the residential buildings, you can head to Kennedy Town for groceries. If you are looking for a McDonalds you can exit HKU Station B2. If you are near the East Gate or the main entrance of the school, head toward Water street and you can find quiet a few eateries their too. If you head down Bonham Road you can find another McDonalds and other eateries such as pHd eatery. Most students hang around the Kennedy Town Area, especially students who are from JC I,II, and III because of the food, grocery shops and dim sum. If you are from JC I,II,III, make sure you head down for 3am dim sum at Sun Hing on Smithfield Road. It’s where all the students are at 3am. Make sure you get there early around 1:45 am because at 2 am you’ll get the big rush of students and by 4 am everyone’s gone. If you really want to show school spirit, wear your hall t-shirt. Another thing to do as an HKU student is to the pier at Kennedy town (straight towards the water), grab a beer or whatever drink you prefer and just drink with friends until daybreaks.
And that ends my HKU Tips and Tricks. I’ve definitely forgotten some things but when I remember them I’ll be sure to include them. My exchange at HKU was definitely an unforgettable one and I hope by sharing this information with you, it will help you see that it’s definitely a trip worth making. Not only is Hong Kong a good place for travel, there’s a lot to do in Hong Kong as well. It’s a city of vast knowledge and many quirks and charms.