Glittering sky scrapers and roof top bars overlook the organised chaos of junk boats and ferries on Victoria Harbor. Mouth-watering street food competes for attention as hawkers tuck between sprawling Ladies markets selling everything under the sun and more. Tranquil rain-forest and deserted beaches offer unsuspected escapes from the city hustle. Smells, smog and sweat mingle as 7 million investment bankers, foreign students, domestic helpers, public officials, taxi drivers, retailers, navigate and enjoy this cosmopolitan, explosive melting pot. Hong Kong is truly a city like no other, and it never sleeps.

And I’ve been lucky enough to study there for a semester at City University; I cannot recommend the experience highly enough. Hong Kong truly is a city of dichotomy and contrast: at once steeped in a unique and ancient cultural identity, but embracing internationalism in the 21st century; battling a housing crisis and crippling inequality whilst shining as a beacon of wealth and commerce to the world; carving out an autonomous political space, but simultaneously beholden to Beijing; incredible hiking and sand beaches with views of some of the densest and busiest infrastructure I’ve ever seen.

Nowhere else in the world have I been able to go seamlessly from watching people perform tai-chi in a public park, to sipping on a perfectly brewed flat white with accompanying avocado toast; from a traditional tea ceremony and yum cha to old fashions at a Parisian influenced Jazz bar; from an exhibit on Spanish civil war inspired literature, to a public lecture on China’s place and power in the modern world; then less glamorously walking past towering apartment complexes of ‘coffin homes’ wedged between some of the most expensive and luxurious real estate in the world.

I did end up falling in love with the city itself, but the focus of my exchange was always broader than Hong Kong specifically. Wanting a challenging and unique exchange semester, I was determined to spend my time in Asia, soaking up the region’s rich culture, language, history and politics. I’ve always been curious about Australia’s role in an Asian century; our intersecting identities of an increasingly multicultural but traditionally Western culture, language and history, colliding with a consciousness of the implications of our geographic location in the Asia pacific; and the demand for driven and dedicated leadership to spearhead strategic, economic and cultural engagement with our neighbours. I thought it was high time I get some firsthand experience living and learning in the region. Safe to say, I was not disappointed.

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I took political science and language modules at Hong Kong City University and found the style of teaching and course content engaging. Delving into Cantonese traditions and speech, exploring the political tradition of authoritarian developmentalism and the economic successes it brought to North Asia, examining political participation and social movements in non-democratic states and discussing Hong Kong identity and its relationship with the mainland, I found the expertise of the CityU lecturers and the consolidation of classwork with regular small group assignments to be a particularly dynamic way to learn course content.

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Encouraged by the personal development and leadership component of the newly instituted Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarship, cultural immersion and intelligence were high on my priority list. I tried to soak up as much of Hong Kong life as possible, making friends with local students in tutorials, learning some day to day Cantonese and Mandarin, gorging on dim sum, char siu bao and dan tat, becoming a regular at the Happy Valley Race course in Wan Chai, joining a weekly hiking collective, experiencing traditional holidays like National Day and the Mid-Autumn Lunar Festival, riding the longest escalator in the world in Mid-Levels and scrambling up the Peak for the best sunset views in all of Hong Kong. I broadened these unique insights with trips to Beijing, Shanghai, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia, leaving the region after 7 months with a new-found respect and curiosity for life in this captivating part of the world.

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The one thing that disappointed me about my Hong Kong and Asian exchange was the lack of Australian students I met! The interest in pursuing a university exchange in the Asia Pacific seems low when you consider the financial incentives (multitude of Scholarships available and the increased HECS debt available), the scope of opportunities available for individuals who participate in moulding Australia’s future in the region and the momentum with which Asia is growing as a popular destination for travellers. I cannot recommend Hong Kong highly enough as an exchange destination brimming with energy, diversity and challenges, or Asia as a remarkable, unique and rewarding part of the world to immerse yourself in. I would strongly encourage anyone considering an exchange with ANU to put Asia and its fantastic universities at the top of their preferences and reap the personal and professional benefits of the experience, the memories made and relationships forged.

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