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Horse races, dim sum, rooftop bars: An exchange student’s experience of Hong Kong

Xavier Palle loved Hong Kong and the mixed, vibrant Asian culture it has to offer. Source: Xavier Palle

Nightclubs at Lan Kwai Fong, horse races, bar-hopping in Wan Chai, hiking to Hong Kong’s highest peak — it’s safe to say Xavier Palle had a good time in Hong Kong as an exchange student. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne student was part of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) Engineering Exchange Programme.

Palle is originally from the French mountains with Europe at his doorstep and the US and Canada a reasonably-long plane ride away. So why did he choose to travel halfway across the world to Asia instead? “International experiences have always appealed to me since I was young. Asian culture has something different than what I am used to in Europe, and was what attracted me there. Hong Kong topped the list of Asian countries I wanted to go to as it provides the best immersion into Asian culture and was also close to a lot of other Asian countries which gave me the opportunity to travel around,” Palle says.

Below we ask him more about the ups (travelling to five different countries), the downs (sky-high drink prices) and everything in between about his time at the Vertical City:

What did you like most about studying at HKUST?

There are many things I liked about studying in Hong Kong, one of them being the university’s location. For instance, when studying from the library, you had the most magnificent view of the bay. In addition, you are also very close to the city making it easy to visit, eat, shop, and everything. 

Here, Palle is seen at the library at HKUST in Hong Kong. Source: Xavier Palle

What was the application like for the course you did in HKUST?

The person in charge of your programme sends you all the information relative to it before the beginning of the academic year, so everything is well explained and easy to follow. However, you have to be careful and stick to deadlines — like the visa deadline so you can receive it before arriving. 

Before you arrive in Hong Kong, you should select the maximum number of courses you’d like to have because you may not get all of them. If you have too many courses, you can drop some of them during an add-drop period, which is the second stage of the course selection. 

What are you currently doing? Give us more details.

I am currently back at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, studying for a major in Mechanical Engineering, specialising in fluid mechanics and a minor in mathematics in computational science and engineering. I did my third year of Mechanical Engineering at HKUST. 

Tell us about your most memorable time at HKUST. What did you like most about it, and why?

At HKUST I met a lot of people from all over the world. I’ve never met so many people who are open to new things, and interested in discovering the world and its population. My memorable time here includes working late in the library to submit a project, then going to watch the horse races, followed by a night in Wan Chai — a popular and vibrant commercial area. 

What I like about Hong Kong is that it is very international, so you can meet a lot of people from all around the world and also speak English. Hong Kong is very well situated in Asia which allows you to travel very easily. 

Tell us more about where you travelled to within Asia from Hong Kong.

I travelled to five different countries! Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand and South Korea — I spent 10 days in each country backpacking, a total of one destination per month. It was a great group of friends and I that travelled around together enjoying what Asia had to offer. 

Hiking is one of Palle’s favourite things to do in Hong Kong. Source: Xavier Palle

What were your favourite foods in HK?

I enjoyed Tim Wo Han’s dim sum very much, they have so many options — from soups, to chicken legs, to fried pork balls! I love that you can make your own meal out of many little side dishes. 

My friends and I used to do that at restaurants because it was much more affordable than eating out at more sophisticated places. On our campus at HKUST we also had the options to try different Asian cuisines, and I really liked the Taiwanese foods they had. Another favourite of mine was the Japanese ramen, I just loved the fact that in Hong Kong food from all over Asia was available. 

What were your favourite bars – would you be able to provide some photos?

We used to go to Ladies Night in Wan Chai (so Wednesday) in a bar called Devil’s Advocate. There were a lot of people there all night long and the drinks were affordable. In September, I went to some rooftops bars in Hong Kong. The view was absolutely impressive but the prices were very high. A more affordable rooftop would be just as impressive IFC mall rooftop in Central! 

Palle with his friends at IFC Mall rooftop in Central Hong Kong. Source: Xavier Palle

What did you miss most from home, and how did you substitute it during your studies at HKUST? 

Since I used to live in the mountains in France, I missed them. Hong Kong is quite a crowded city which is something I wasn’t very used to. I found peace and calmness by hiking in the mountains in Hong Kong, and doing sports at HKUST. I would also say I missed my family and friends back home. However, communication nowadays is easy thanks to digital social networks. I would just call home whenever I would feel a little sad, and the proximity I had with new friends in Hong Kong helped. 

What is your top advice for others planning to study in Hong Kong?

Don’t be too shy at the beginning, all the people you meet have chosen to study abroad and face the unknown just like you did. You will surely find some incredible people which you will keep in touch with, even after you return home. 

Don’t stay on campus all the time (even though HKUST is beautiful, you can do a lot of activities outside including visiting the “Big Buddha,” or going on a hike to the “Dragon’s Back,” eating out at restaurants which are surprisingly affordable (like “Tim Ho Wan” and his excellent dim sum), and go shop at the Ladies Market — there are so many things to do!

 Lastly, I would absolutely recommend saving some money to travel throughout Asia, the travelling memories were for me the most beautiful part of my exchange. Flights from Hong Kong are very accessible in price, and you can go to a lot of different places.