re: ading week

a little Japanture between friends.

Reading week marks the mass exodus of exchange students from HKU to neighbouring lands, and for me it was no different. Together with four friends, we ventured off to the land of the rising sun, Japan! For the first few days we stayed outside the city, roaming the idyllic areas surrounding Mount Fuji, soaking in as much of its 3776m majestic glory as we could take, (seriously, I have a million pictures of this beauty).

Apart from hiking trails leading to spectacular views of Fuji, we took a trail through Aokigahara, notorious for the high number of suicides attempted there. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but having heard so much about this forest, my curiosity was piqued and I couldn’t miss out on experiencing the eeriness of the forest for myself. Wandering through the forest confirms the many warnings to not stray from the path, the trees are so many and so similar it’s easy to get disorientated. However, being in the company of friends, the quietness of the forest was easily unnoticed and any pre-existing perceptions were quickly dispelled due to its natural beauty – the surrounding scenery was so vibrant and lush, it’s hard to imagine Aokigahara’s darker lure. Perhaps a more dismal day and a different mindset may emphasise the desolate nature of the forest, but my experience showed me an unexpected lighter side.

Heading back into the city after our countryside retreat was definitely a shocking contrast. Away from the chilled atmosphere of the country, the lively, fast-paced undercurrent of Tokyo is felt instantly; just standing around makes you feel restless! Having grown accustomed to the narrow streets of Hong Kong, Tokyo felt massive in comparison, THERE’S JUST SO MUCH SPACE! It’s also interesting to see the clash of new and modern architecture, walking around Shinjuku I was surprised to find a shrine nestled between the high rises, which was additionally only a mere stumble away from Kabukicho, Toyko’s red light district (uhh… certainly intriguing to say the least).

As well as hitting up all the usual major tourist spots, (Senso-Ji Temple, Harajuku, Meji Shrine, Ghibli Museum, etc) we also participated in a traditional tea ceremony and got to try on a kimono! My terrible posture was brought to light and rather than being the vision of elegance I had pictured, I instead looked like child playing dress up, oh dear K. The tea ceremony itself was a fascinating experience; each step in the process was methodical, being perfectly and purposefully executed. Our host was lovely and enthusiastic about sharing her culture with us, which brings me to my next point. PEOPLE IN JAPAN ARE SO NICE! Walking into shops and restaurants, I was overwhelmed by how friendly and accommodating everyone is. Makes for such a huge difference compared to Hong Kong or the UK, where there’s just not that level of hospitality in everyday life.

Despite spending too much money and time on transport (pls standardise ur metro networks Tokyo) for my liking, I had a wonderful time in Japan and would love to return to explore further. Anyone care to be my sponsor?

*crickets chirp*

re: studying

Let’s talk U N’ I.

Telling people I’m going to HKU for exchange always garnered the same reaction. They tell me the students are competitive, the studying is intense and the workload is enormous. I mean, it’s not ranked 30th in the world for nothing right? (#humblebrag #justsayin). Having just completed a full month of study, I now feel I’ve gotten a pretty rounded view of the teaching style here – at least enough to write a ~~reflective~~ blog post anyways.

Reading the course outlines, trying to decide what modules to take, the glaring difference jumping out at me was WEEKLY TUTORIALS. As a UoN psychology student, you (or I) can get away with not keeping up with the readings helpfully suggested by our lecturers until about the revision period. But here, tutorials take the form of seminars (nope, never had those either) where we’re expected to actually do the readings and prepare for discussion… Psyching myself up for these tutorials, I had pictured being overwhelmed by fast-paced and intelligent discussion. Much to the contrary, tutorial sessions so far are quiet little affairs whereby there’s a main presentation, either from a lone individual or group, leading to a discussion of the topic after. Conversation seems to be a strong focus here at HKU, with the majority of modules allocating a percentage of the overall assessment grade on active participation in class. Likewise, lectures are more interactive, encouraging students to share their thoughts and opinions with the person beside them and for the brave or unfortunate, to the whole class.

In terms of workload, Nottingham seems like a dream compared to HKU. Here there seems to be a perpetual flow of work, whether it’s a test to revise for, homework to hand in, presentations to prepare, or essays to write. All of which annoyingly contribute a tiny percentage towards your final grade. Therefore, trying to maintain a good balance between study and leisure doesn’t leave much time to actually relax (a.k.a. do nothing, a guilty pastime of mine) – there’s forever something to do, something to see. At times, it can be tempting to rest on the fact that my year abroad doesn’t count to my final degree mark (I just have to pass the year), meaning I could just do the bare minimum. But (un?)fortunately I have an intrinsic prideful streak, preventing me from using this flimsy excuse not to do work. I guess it’ll be more beneficial in the long run, keeping me in the right mindset for when I return to the grim reality of completing my final year.

While there are some really wonderful lecturers at HKU and thoroughly interesting modules, I do find myself frustrated at times due to the lack of organisation and information given to us. One example: basic instructions were given to complete an online experiment, then wait for the data to be released in order to start writing up a partial lab report. Naively I assumed we would be given the statistical output to interpret the data, (oh, what a sweet summer child I was) but nope, it was literally the raw data. Cue frantic search for a computer with SPSS. Aside from having to conduct a casual 3*5 ANOVA, the finer details of the study, such as there being two independent variables weren’t immediately clear either. When it came to comparing our little sections of the lab reports in tutorial, it came as a relief that others were as clueless as me. Some had conducted multiple t-tests, others had not even realised the existence of the second IV, all a bit of a mess really. Additionally, for one of my psychology modules it seems that how we are actually assessed is still… under… assessment… (ok, so the bit under consideration is only 5% of the 20% [ugh] of my final grade, a menial detail, but still – the principle of it all!)

Despite university life being a mixed expanse of positives and negatives so far, I am working more independently than I have done in Nottingham. That’s not to say it’s unsociable, I integrate more with students on my course through our mutual panic/frustrations and my inherent laziness is forcefully uprooted as I attempt to balance work and leisure, so as not to squander my time abroad. #Growth.