I was so lucky to be able to participate in this year’s study trip to Hong Kong which was organised by Sefa. With 28 fellow students I spent a total of eight days in the metropolis. And it was awesome.
Once we arrived at the airport in Hong Kong after eleven hours on the airplane, I have to admit that I was a bit underwhelmed by the airport. For some reason I expected the airport of one the biggest financial centers — the Hong Kong stock market actually reached record highs a couple of days ago — to be a bit more fancy and impressive. The carpet had already seen better days and the only distinction between any standard airport in Europe were the Cantonese signs above the writings in Arabic letters. But as soon as the train, that took us from the airport to the Hong Kong Island in half an hour, left the train-tunnels from the airport, it allowed a clear view on the first residential skyscrapers that rocketed upwards between thoroughly green hills that are surrounded by pale blue water, and it didn’t take long until we got a first glance at Hong Kong itself. From afar the city looks like a sea of skyscrapers and the water divides it into the island of Hong Kong and the mainland part, Kowloon. And there is no other place in the world for which the cliché phrase ‘sea of skyscrapers’ is more accurate than for Hong Kong, since it is in fact the city with the most skyscrapers, followed by New York City. To get a rough feeling for how many of those skyscrapers there are, try to fit apartments for slightly less than 7 million people and countless offices from companies from all over the world into the area of the province of Utrecht. What you get is Hong Kong. It becomes apparent that one of the only things Hong Kong hasn’t got is space, and our hostel rooms were kind of proof of that. Three guys from our group became my Hong Kong roomies, and in a 12m² room it gets quite… let’s call it cozy, for four guys. But we got along with each other really well (which applies for the whole group of participants), and everything was working fine, so the room definitely served its purpose.
Surprisingly, I never felt like the city and the metro were uncomfortably crowded, because I found places where big crowds tend to cause problems to be well geared to deal with that issue. Metro stations, for example, have clear paths to enter and to exit them, so that you don’t need to dodge every oncoming person, and every exit and metro line of the stations are clearly signposted.
Our time schedule in Hong Kong can be roughly divided into sightseeing and company visits. The first days upon our arrival were Chinese holidays, forcing us to take a couple of days off and get a taste of what holidays in Hong Kong are like; we explored the city, rode the famous cable cars to a huge Buddha statue, went to the ‘Peak’ from where you have an amazing view over the city (see picture), some went to the beach, others put our luck to the test in Macau and, as good students, gave Hong Kong’s night life a shot and went to Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), the street where legends are born (sorry for the insider joke). It needs to be mentioned that drinks are generally quite expensive in bars/clubs compared to Dutch prices. I find €11,- for a 0.33l Heineken in a club (not in every club to be fair) quite insane. Luckily, the supermarket chain 7-Eleven found its way to LKF and reckoned that being open all night long and offering way cheaper alcohol probably brings in huge profits, since it’s allowed to drink on the streets. That doesn’t prevent the clubs/bars from playing the music so loud that there is no need to actually go inside, and (most of them) charge no entrance fees, so that people can just walk in and out as they please. Apparently they still make enough profits to keep things the way they are. What you get is a whole street that’s not too different from a big club, where people dance, drink and party no matter which way you look.
Thinking back, I find it hard to name a personal favourite activity during the first couple of (holi)days since everything was fun and exciting, but the rooftop bar ‘Wooloomooloo’ especially stuck in my mind. Located on the 32nd floor above a steak restaurant, it gave an overwhelming view over Hong Kong’s skyline, which I find to be unmatched based on my own personal experience. The drinks, the company and the music were great and it felt like we were already right in the center of things even though we hadn’t even spent a whole day in the city and basically hadn’t had got any idea of what’s going on in Hong Kong. That ‘wow!’-effect on the first day kind of fomented my hunger for more (of Hong Kong) and boosted the speed of acclimatization tremendously. As I said, we were already right in there.
Once the Chinese holidays were over and the offices opened again, it was time for us to suit up. Geared with ties, high heels and dresses and suits made of the finest garments, we were ready for the company meetings. Milliman, Robeco, ING Bank, EY, Friesland Campina, and Loyens & Loeff were waiting for us in their throughout impressive offices and themselves ready to give us interesting insights into their business in Hong Kong. One thing that every representative of the firms stressed, with some of them having working experience in the Netherlands or even being Dutch, were the working hours in Hong Kong. In order to be successful in Hong Kong, you need to work hard and people expect that from you. Long working hours are normal and nine-to-five jobs are not.
Generally, the meetings really gave us deeper insights in what the different companies are actually doing and what might be different to their business in the Netherlands. However, I hoped to be a bit more involved in the meetings and to be challenged a bit in little case studies or something like that. However, that’s really hard to implement considering the time constraints and the different study backgrounds of our group. The level of knowledge and skills probably differed substantially across different topics, making it hard to set up appropriate questions. In addition, the companies’ ability to recruit directly from a university outside Asia without the prospects already having considerable working experience in the field is most definitely very limited. But in the end, that didn’t make the trip less enjoyable or the experience less valuable for me.
Even though we tried to see and do as much as possible every day, there are certainly still lots of things that we haven’t discovered during those eight days, and I would definitely love to come back again at some point to try to fill in the gaps. One of those gaps would be the food, which is usually one of the first things people want to know about when they hear that you went to Asia. Looking back, I should have been more adventurous regarding the food, and should have just tried more things. There are countless street shops and all kinds of restaurants serving different types of Asian cuisine and creating a constant smell of food on the streets (even though I still have no idea what exactly it smelled like), but the amount of new and exotic things I tried is admittedly quite limited, which is why I don’t dare to make a judgment. However, I did hear that Hong Kong has great food to offer.
I would definitely encourage people to participate in the study trips of the upcoming years. I was so lucky that this year’s trip had the extraordinary destination of Hong Kong, but it is definitely not just about the destination. I met awesome people, the committee did a great job at organizing everything, and exploring new places as a group is always fun, no matter where you are. So be assured that the trip will leave you with awesome memories and experiences. I would participate again without any hesitation.