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BREAKDOWN: Academics

Samantha Trippy, HKUST Exchange, Fall 2014

Sometimes, I remember that I’m not just in Asia to travel and explore new cultures. When I do remember that I’m a student, this is what I find myself thinking about HKUST academics…

View from the library (left) when I’m doing student-y things


Despite starting school about a month earlier than my friends back in Evanston, I found myself taking midterms around the same time as them. The long-running joke that at NU, you begin taking midterms around week three and don’t stop until you take your final is, more or less, true. So imagine my disbelief when I found myself here, in Hong Kong, with long stretches of weeks without tests! Perhaps I lucked out with classes in which I only have one midterm and the final, but this unfamiliar feeling of calm in the midst of a school term is fantastic and will likely make returning to a quarter system from a semester system very difficult.


The differences between local students and international students is, perhaps, never more present than in the classroom. Hong Kong locals are, generally, very reluctant to answer questions or speak in front of the class. I’m talking “Anyone?… Anyone?…” style silence, which leads some professors to diminish student interaction via Q&A and keep lecture as, well, a lecture. This is not necessarily a bad thing–my professors have no problem keeping my attention throughout class–but is certainly different than at NU where professors can easily engage students. (unless it’s a morning class) In any case, I have found this to be personally advantageous in that it has been much easier to establish relationships with professors since I will gladly come to a professor’s rescue if absolutely no one will speak up in one of the awkward silences which follow a question being posed. Additionally, I have had easy access to speak with professors after class about topics which interest me as I am probably among the very few to do so.


In my experience, the workload in my courses has been far smaller at HKUST than it typically is at Northwestern. I believe even my heaviest workload here is about the same as it would be at Northwestern, where it would be compressed into a 10-week period as opposed to a 15-week period. The general consensus among American students in my CS classes is that our grade, here, is much more dependent on test scores than it typically is in the US, where a number of programming assignments will typically keep you busy throughout the term.

This floor of the library is open 24 hours. You can catch that great view (right) if you’re there at a reasonable hour.

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