A third-year student in Industrial Engineering and Management, Alexander travelled to Hong Kong in late August, to spend a term on an exchange. The protests of the Hong Kong people had already started, in reaction to China’s efforts to bolster its influence over Hong Kong.
“At first we didn’t notice much of the protests”, Alexander says.
Street clashesAs the autumn proceeded, the protests of the Hong Kong people gained momentum. More and more students got involved, and street clashes between protesters and police became increasingly common. Instruction at Alexander’s university continued as usual until November, but then the university management decided to halt instruction on the university campus because of the riots.
The university did not close altogether; the students could still go there, and for instance visit the library and do labwork. But all instruction was done online.
Decided to head homeIn mid November, LiU urged all its LiU students in Hong Kong to leave the city.
Initially Alexander was hesitant; he had never felt afraid there.
“We exchange students have never been a target. It’s mostly been that we have to be careful, be mindful of large gatherings and of where the protests could take place, so that we don’t end up in the middle of a clash between protesters and police.”
But after a few days’ consideration, Alexander decided to head home.
“There were rumours that they might introduce a curfew. That might not have been true at all, but if it had, it would have been very difficult, perhaps hard to get food or even to leave the country.”
Good contact with LiUMost LiU students chose to leave Hong Kong.
“The contact with LiU has been good throughout this period. They’ve been keen to stay in touch with us, they’ve kept after us about responding to their emails, so they could be sure everything was OK. And they’ve listened to our views on the situation on the ground”, says Alexander.
He has previously studied a term of Mandarin in China, and is very interested in the entire region around China and Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is well known for its good universities, and I had heard lots of good reports about what it’s like to live there”, he says.
Alexander wanted to specialise in computer science, so he chose Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, one of LiU’s partner universities.
Watch the lectures onlineAll in all there were 38 exchange students from LiU in Hong Kong during the autumn of 2019. The LiU students naturally formed a community, as well as socialising with other exchange students.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get to know many local students. We talked about it, that it was too bad. And it’s the same at LiU – the exchange students mostly hang out with each other.”
Following his return home, Alexander has continued his studies at Hong Kong University, now remotely from Linköping.
“I watch the lectures online, read the course literature, hand in my assignments and will soon have my exam. So it’s full on. The only thing I’ve missed is a lab series, that’s unfortunate but not the end of the world.”
Happy with his studiesAlexander is happy with his studies in Hong Kong.
“I’d say the instruction resembles LiU’s, but it’s arranged differently. In Hong Kong the study tempo is more continuous, you have a steady stream of marked assignments, so when exam time comes, you’re well prepared. Plus, they release all lectures online, which is a great complement if you can’t attend. And the teachers were pretty relaxed.”
The exchange term meant a lot to him.
“Getting to see the world and learn more about other cultures is very rewarding – I definitely encourage other students to do it. And it’s a lot of fun.”
He is aware that this autumn he was in the middle of historic global developments. It has given him new insights. He and his exchange student friends have talked a lot about the courage shown by the Hong Kong students when they protest openly to retain Hong Kong’s democratic rights and freedoms.
“They risk ten years in prison. We Swedes talked about what would have to go wrong in Sweden to make us go out into the streets and risk something for it. We didn’t find an answer. As a Swede it’s hard to say where your own pain threshold goes, or to put yourself into a similar situation, we take so much for granted and have had peace for so long.”
What is the most important lesson from your time in Hong Kong?
The importance of reading up when political events occur, of staying informed, is his answer.
“I found that many international students – unlike the Hong Kong students – weren’t aware of what the protests were about. That they just had some vague opinions. If you get informed, you bring more detail to your own stance, and you understand more of the problem’s scope.”
Translation: Martin Mirko