There are a couple of things I wish I knew about Hong Kong before I got here.
I definitely had the upper hand over my exchange peers in knowing a bit about surviving in HK because of my HK-native family members, but still there is a difference between hearing about HK’s ins and outs and actually figuring out what they were talking about in real life.
So, here are a few tips for a smooth arrival to HK…
- Make a plan for which classes you can take before you leave. Cornell is very good at communicating with study abroad students about coming up with a flexible course plan, but many of my exchange peers shocked to find that the courses they planned to take were either not offered or had long waiting lists. Even I had to switch around some courses when I got here because of certain restrictions and substitution issues. You can check courses available each semester on the “quota & class schedule page”. I highly recommend having at least one or two substitute classes in mind in case the classes you want are full or not available to you. I also had an awesome spreadsheet from one of my BEE department classes that helped me plan out my entire four years.
- To avoid international ATM fees, open a HSBC or other international bank account before you leave (if possible). Already, I know that a couple of people have been charged fees for withdrawing money in HK with their home bank’s debit card. HSBC is an international bank with many branch locations in US and HK. Think about opening a joint account with your parent so they can easily send you money and you can easily withdraw money. There’s actually an HSBC ATM right across from Jockey Club Hall, and there are Bank of China, Bank of East Asia, and Hang Seng Bank ATMs on campus as well. Pick and choose which is more convenient for you, but also do your research accordingly! Some banks do still charge international fees, but I know for sure HSBC does not charge such fees for HK.
- Figure out alternative transport options for getting to campus. There is an airport shuttle provided by HKUST, but it only ran at 12PM and 5PM on August 29th and August 30th. They don’t wait for people!! My flight ended up getting delayed by 3 hours so I missed the shuttle. Luckily, my exchange buddy picked me up at the airport so she guided me to the dorm via public bus, but I know that if I were alone I would not have been able to get around efficiently because I did not plan for it. Definitely make arrangements for alternative transport because flights do get delayed often. In my case, there were 3 typhoons in a row in HK at the time, so bad weather kept us from flying on time.
- Get a prepaid SIM card at 7-eleven, but each 7-eleven has different available stock so make sure to ask at a couple stores to find the right one for you. I purchased a HKD$100 CSL SIM card after asking around at 3 different 7-eleven stores. My SIM card is “all-in-one” — it includes voice, SMS, and data. You can find more information about this particular SIM card here.
- Your best friend in HK will be your Octopus Card (八達通). It is a metrocard and debit card all in one! It can be used to take the MTR train, make purchases at 7-eleven and Circle K, and even pay for food at restaurants. HKUST will give you a form to apply for a student Octopus Card, but you’ll have to wait for school to start before you can do so. For the first few days you are in HK before school starts, you’ll probably want to have one on hand for traveling to the more lively parts of HK. You can head over to the Customer Service Centre of any MTR station to purchase an Octopus Card. The closest MTR station to the HKUST campus is at Hang Hau (坑口) and the closest MTR station to the Jockey Club Hall is at Tseung Kwan O (將軍澳).
Arriving at HK after a 15 hour plane ride was exciting, but also a bit overwhelming. I hope that these tips will help you figure out how to get settled in HK when you first arrive, if you’re considering visiting or studying abroad in HK.