Jean, Master in Management student on expatriation to Hong Kong
Would you please introduce yourself?
Jean: My name is Jean, I am a Master in Management student at EM Normandie Business School.
I have done my whole course on the Paris campus and I am currently in Hong Kong for a year. I also lived in Boston for a semester. When I returned from this expatriation, I created with other students an associative newspaper, EM International News, which covers French and international news.
What university are you at today?
Jean: I am currently at Hong Kong Baptist University, a partner university of EM Normandie.
Was this your first choice of expatriation?
Jean: Absolutely, it was my first choice.
What kind of courses are you taking at the University of Hong Kong?
Jean: It is like in France, I can choose my subjects. There are four levels of study.
As I am in my 4th year, I took the highest level in each subject in order to consolidate my skills. I have a lot of interest in entrepreneurship. So I have taken courses related to leadership and to international subjects in general.
Are your classes going well?
Jean: Yes, frankly it's fine, the workload is average, and the difficulty is not extreme either.
In addition, we have a lot of group work. It's quite advantageous in the sense that you get to mix with a lot of international students.
How is the Covid situation in Hong Kong?
Jean: There are few Covid cases. And as soon as there is one, it is directly taken care of. We are traced permanently: every time we enter somewhere, we scan a QR code. Obviously, the mask is compulsory everywhere.
At the university it's pretty simple even though we have to make a request every time we enter the building to say we have no symptoms etc... and to go to the dormitories we scan a QR code and our temperature is checked, which is quite reassuring.
Is there a difference between the pedagogy practiced in France and in Hong Kong?
Jean: Yes, there are differences. We have a lot of group work to do. They are different working methods as well, for example, to divide the work to be done. All students work on each part at the same time rather than dividing up the document. This allows for a diversity of opinions.
In addition, the majority of my professors were educated in the US.
How do you spend your free time in Hong Kong?
Jean: There is a huge amount to do in Hong Kong, it is the city of all possibilities. It is extremely urbanised but you can get to the beach in less than 30 minutes. In the north of Hong Kong, it's quite wild and in the south, there are islands that you can reach by taking a boat.
It's quite a festive city. The fact that Covid is extremely controlled makes it safer to go out than in France.
As far as activities are concerned, it is possible for us to play sports without going too far from the university or even staying there. For example, international students get together on Tuesday evenings to play football. I have also had the opportunity to play badminton.
One of the most popular activities in Hong Kong is hiking. There are plenty of places to do it and some beaches are only accessible by hiking.
What is the climate like in Hong Kong?
John: It is mostly hot. There is a period with typhoons in August-September when it is extremely humid. As soon as we go outside, we sweat a lot because the difference in temperature with the air-conditioned rooms is important.
In November and December, it's a bit cooler but the temperatures rise almost instantly. And it never snows.
Are there differences in the approach to economics and leadership in Asia?
Jean: We have a subject called "Asia Pacific Economy". Hong Kong is considered an extremely free country from an economic point of view. For example, companies are less taxed than in France. Many companies come to Hong Kong to benefit from this tax relief.
For leadership, as we are not in China and Hong Kong has a common history with the UK, I would say we have a "mix" between Asian and Western culture. The culture is still very Western though as many of our teachers were educated in the US.
How did you integrate in the country? How did you find your accommodation?
Jean: My arrival started with a quarantine. As soon as you get off the plane, you are tested, and then you stay in a hotel room for 15 days.
The integration itself was super easy as we have a WhatsApp group with a lot of international students sharing information. I was welcomed by my German roommate who arrived 3 days before me so he explained all the steps to me.
We share a 20m² room with two and a shared bathroom with another room for two people. We are housed on the campus. There are two large towers of 20 floors each, and they are designed for this purpose. We had the possibility to choose who we wanted to be with, i.e. with internationals or not, as well as to choose a mixed floor or not.
It is a huge advantage to be housed directly on campus as I only pay 200 euros per month. For a flat in the city with the same surface area, I would have to pay around 1,500 euros per month. Furthermore, I didn't have to look for accommodation because the university helped me with this process.
Are there any associations you can join?
Jean: What you need to know is that, even if it is a very international country and English is extremely spoken, the main language is still Cantonese.
The associations are managed by students from Hong Kong who mainly speak Cantonese. So it's very difficult for us to get in because of the language barrier.
There is an international association that is accessible to expats but I have not tried to join it. Community life is extremely developed but international students may not access all of it. I'll definitely try in the second semester to look into it more closely.
How is the food?
Jean: There is a huge French diaspora in Hong Kong and a fairly Western culture. You can find western restaurants but it's a bit more expensive than Asian food. Also, the local food is very good. A major difference with French cuisine is that the majority of dishes are rice-based.
In Hong Kong, you can find everything you have in France: kebabs, McDonalds, Burger King... In supermarkets, western food is present even if you can't find it everywhere because of the price.
If you had to recommend one or more places to visit in Hong Kong, what would they be?
Jean: You can find everything in Hong Kong. There are beautiful beaches, a giant Buddha, a Disneyland park, waterfalls that you can jump off and swim in.
The city in its entirety is worth discovering. Mong Kok is a very typical district where there are markets. There is of course Causeway Bay which is a bit like Times Square. The only problem in Hong Kong is that it's very hot so it's a bit complicated to discover the city on foot. I advise you to go and discover it as soon as you get the chance.
What has been your favourite thing about Hong Kong so far?
Jean: I love hiking. Behind the university there is a place called Lion Rock, it's a mountain overlooking Hong Kong. There is also Victoria Peak. These places are quite wild. It offers a wonderful view of the city lit up or the sunset.
Have you had the opportunity to travel to the surrounding countries?
Jean: No unfortunately it is not possible, Asia is extremely closed at the moment because of Covid. You would have to be quarantined every time you enter and leave the country, so it's complicated.
Since I'm staying there for a year, I have a Hong Kong ID card which should allow me to have quarantine abatements with mainland China. So if I go, it will be to China as it is the only destination for which I won't have quarantine.
Has your English improved?
Jean: Yes of course, we have to speak English all day: during classes, on outings, with my roommates.
In the building, there is a very dynamic and international floor. We are seven French people and there are many other nationalities so we necessarily express ourselves in English. It's one of the big advantages of expatriation.
What would be your advice for students who want to go on expatriation to Hong Kong?
Jean: Do the price conversion between the Euro and the Hong Kong dollar. You have to multiply the Euro by 9 and not by 10, otherwise you think it's not expensive whereas life is more expensive than in France. You really have to pay attention to this aspect.
Do you have any other advice?
Jean: You really have to pay attention to the cost of living in general. For example, for transport, there is no monthly or annual subscription system like in France, you pay per unit. The budget can go up quickly.
To pay in Hong Kong, we use the "Octopus" card. I use it to pay for the air conditioning in my room, to pay in shops and restaurants. I insist on having a good budget and doing the conversion calculations well.
What is your monthly budget?
Jean: I have a fairly substantial budget of 1,000 euros per month. But if you're careful, you can live on 700 euros per month, not including accommodation. Fortunately, I only pay 200 euros for my room.
How did you manage with your phone package?
Jean: Phone plans are not accepted in Hong Kong. You have to buy prepaid cards that you can top up. This is actually the first thing to do when you arrive in Hong Kong in the current situation. Because when you come out of quarantine, you have to be retested 2 or 3 times and you receive the results by phone.