re: solutions

New Year? New Yeah!

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Trying to escape the rain in the UK and being greeted by this sight in HK.

It’s mid-January, but never too late to say Happy New Year! Having spent Christmas break back in the UK with family and friends, I am now back in Hong Kong and more than ready to start the new semester. Over Christmas I decided to set myself some goals for the coming year, so without further ado…

  • More photographs! Although I post quite regularly on Instagram, I want to be more active in posting photo sets on the blog, after all a picture speaks a thousand words ammirite? Also, I’m guilty of neglecting to take photos of actual people, so that’s another little thing to keep in mind.
  • More travel! Last semester I didn’t do as much travelling as I thought I would – I haven’t even been to Macau yet! So this year, I plan to take advantage of cheaper flight tickets and visit more places in Asia before I leave. In a similar vein, I’d like to explore much more of Hong Kong in terms of natural landscapes and scenic hikes. Definitely on the list is cliff diving and beaches, even though I’m not a huge fan of beaches (too much sand).
  • More language! As always, I will continue working on my Cantonese, through speaking in social situations and also learning to write! In turn, I am also able to revise and study Mandarin since I use pinyin to type traditional characters. Who knows, maybe I will aim to write a small segment of my blog posts in Chinese…

So there you go, nothing too difficult to achieve, but something to work towards this semester. Let me know of your goals/resolutions for the New Year too!

re: cantonese

Gwong Dung Whaaaat?

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Sitting on the bus just the other day, I was struck by how at home I felt. Surrounded only by people speaking Cantonese, it felt as comfortable as sitting on a bus in the UK. Having grown up with the language always in the background of my life, I guess it’s no surprise how quickly I’ve grown accustomed to life here. With Hong Kong’s colonial past and native roots from China, many people in the city are able to speak at least two or three languages. Sometimes that can be depressing, but putting my jealously aside for one second, it is SO impressive! In the UK, being able to speak English was quite enough. Here, with almost everyone I’ve met being bilingual, you do start to feel a little inferior, not to mention ashamed. I can blame my parents for not enforcing the second language growing up, or myself for foolishly not wanting to learn, there are so many ways to lay the blame, but that doesn’t help me today.

Actually, when I first came to Hong Kong I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed of not knowing the language fluently (aren’t you supposed to be Chinese?) and I was embarrassed of speaking it in public – for some reason it felt fraudulent. I know people say that locals love and appreciate it when you try to communicate using their language, but to me it feels offensive. During an inter-railing stop in Paris, I cringed internally every time my friends used ‘merci’ (guys, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!) Maybe ‘thank-you’ comes across as ignorant or stubborn, but I feel much more truthful saying it. This can probably be attributed to the amount of random people I’ve come across in my life who have ever uttered the words ‘ni hao/nei hou!’ to me -_-‘ please… do not do that. Similarly, it goes to say that people (i.e waiters/waitresses) here also do not have the patience to listen to you rattle out your awkward Canto. My exchange friends have told me of their experiences where they got scolded for not knowing the correct word or not fully understanding (note, these people have a far better grasp of Cantonese than me!)

However, I’ve always heard it said that the best way to learn a language is to live abroad, to immerse yourself in the desired language and culture. Being surrounded by people speaking Cantonese, I can definitely say that being abroad is an enormous help. However, the problem is that many people are also able to speak English! It therefore becomes too easy to fall back on the language I’m most comfortable with in social situations – if I get asked a question in Cantonese on campus, my immediate instinct is to respond in English (must…resist). Taking Cantonese lessons helps to build upon my existing foundations (shaky though they are!) and it becomes easier for me to retrieve certain words from memory. I can optimistically say that I am able to perfectly understand roughly 90% of what is spoken to or around me, but when it comes to speaking it myself, somehow the words don’t come to mind. Maybe my problem is wanting to express myself exactly how I would in English, thus making it harder to construct sentences with the vocabulary I know. To combat this, I am regularly going to a Cantonese language exchange. As well as being a great way to practice speaking with locals, it’s also a wonderful way to meet new people as you’re paired with a different partner each time – plus everyone goes for dim sum after!

It took a trip to Japan to make me see how it truly feels to be living in a place where I do not know the language at all, to realise how familiar I am with Cantonese. Returning to Hong Kong actually felt like home, everything became understandable again! All in all, I do really want to become orally fluent, and hope that by the end of my study abroad period I am able to confidently say (maybe in Cantonese heh) that I am. Wish me luck!

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.