“Despite the rigorous M&T course load, two degrees and study abroad don’t have to be mutually exclusive.” – Shannon Toole, M&T Class of 2017
Taking the advice of my upperclassmen friend Shannon, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity last semester to study at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). I front-loaded my class requirements freshman and sophomore year, freeing me to take a relatively lighter course load so I could travel and spend time off-campus.
Academic life at HKUST is similar to Penn. Classes are taught in English by a top notch-faculty from different countries. Courses are roughly as difficult as they are at Penn, with homework assignments and exams. There were a number of classes focused on Chinese politics, language, and culture, but the majority mirrored those at Penn. HKUST has both an undergraduate business program and engineering program, making it easy for M&Ts to take their required classes. Taking only five credits, compared to the average six or seven with M&Ts, I was able to free up my Fridays.
Life in Hong Kong is a fascinating blend of city and country, East and West. Some days I’d find myself in Sai Kung town out on the water, with fisherman selling their morning catch straight from the boat. After, I might take the metro to the Ladies Market in Mongkok, the most densely populated place in the world, haggling in Chinese with aggressive vendors. At night I might find myself in the big city, attending a startup launch party at the WeWork office and discussing differences between the Chinese and American venture capital climates with expats. How crazy to think such diversity of culture could exist in such a small place.
Besides all of the fun places to explore, Hong Kong is a centrally-located travel hub for all of Asia. During my time I was able to organize trips with friends to Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, China, and Vietnam. From rice paddies in China to the floating fishing compounds in Vietnam, I saw each of these destinations as truly amazing in their own way. Seeing how local communities operated gave me some perspective on how I may seek to live a harmonious life.
While the fall was a mad scramble to meet with my advisors and complete the required paperwork, I am so glad I took the chance to go abroad. I highly recommend everyone who is interested to travel abroad, whether it is during the summer or the school year. When else will you have an excuse to travel so many places while still getting ahead?
Those four months in Asia broadened my worldview and gave me friends in all corners of the world. I’m now open to the possibility of living somewhere other than the US in the future. Having caught the travel bug, I cannot wait till the next time I can set off for somewhere unknown!
Andrew Zhang is a System Science & Engineering major concentrating in Finance and Operations, Information & Decisions. He is a member of the Class of 2018.