Sorry, I’ve been MIA these past two weeks because I’ve been holed up in the library and in my room studying for midterms! However, over the course of these past two weeks, I have not only done a lot of studying, but also a lot of self-reflection…

Studying for Sustainable Development in the library at 8AM 😢

Coming to Hong Kong, I realized that I would have to get used to a different academic atmosphere. After all, I would be enrolled in a completely different school that is bound to a completely different culture. However, that didn’t mean I knew how it would be actually having to adjust to the new academic setting.

I’ve grown extremely comfortable with Cornell’s rigorous and continuous downpour of assignments, group projects, and prelims throughout the semester, as well as informal interaction with professors and TAs during office hours. I’m used to running around campus all the time and juggling multiple assignments and exams all at once. But at HKUST, most of the classes I am taking are structured so that my entire grade depends on a midterm and a final, with very few assignments and group projects. Some classes have “tutorials” that are similar to discussion sections at Cornell, but for the classes I am taking, attendance is not required.

Because a majority of the time I have been here I have been relatively “stress-free”, I have been struggling to stay engaged and focused in my classes. I love being constantly challenged and at first, felt that this seemingly less rigorous academic environment was not challenging me as much as I would like it to.

However, I have started to see that it’s not that HKUST isn’t challenging… but that it poses a different type of challenge: developing the initiative to be actively learning and actively engaged in your classes. I think that Cornell gives a perfect environment to stimulate academic curiosity and it has given me a lifelong thirst for knowledge, but I’ve learned that I have become too dependent on my professors, TAs, and fellow Cornellians to keep me motivated and academically active.

I have started to suffer the consequences of this dependence while studying for my midterms this week. It has been extremely hard for me to focus and concentrate. (Luckily my exams went well, but the moments leading up to each exam were very difficult.)

Being at HKUST has also given me a unique opportunity to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of Cornell and re-evaluate my interests. Being left to my own devices has taught me a lot about what I am actually interested in academically and career-wise. For instance, I realized that I have an interest in product design and want to figure out how I can combine that interest with my passion for sustainability.

I came in this semester thinking I was pretty much set with my plan to pursue a MEng in Environmental Engineering through the Early Master’s program. I wasn’t planning to budge. But 7 weeks later, I am now contemplating taking my time with my last 3 semesters at Cornell, spreading out my classes more, and focusing on reflecting on what I am truly passionate about, what I really enjoy doing. I think that these past two years, I have been rushing to the “finish line” when I should be cherishing these life-changing  moments of my college career. Coming to Hong Kong has helped me realize that this was my way of running away from feeling uncertain about my future, but I am finally ready to slow down and be brave enough to face the fact that I may not know exactly what I am doing.