Here’s a list of 5 big differences I found between engineering at Hong Kong University and engineering in the United States. They were all big culture shocks for me, and are a good reminder that just because my education was designed one way in America, it doesn’t mean every person with my degree had the same education. In my opinion, some of them are good, some are bad, and some are just very, very strange.
1. It’s not rude to talk over your professor in class.
There have unfortunately been many times at HKU where I’ve wanted to turn around and give a death glare to somebody talking loudly in the middle of the lecture. But then I look around, and realize…everybody is talking!
While it does vary on class size, quality of the lecture, and the actual students, it’s an extremely common thing for students to talk in lectures. In my electromagnetism class, I make sure I sit in the front row every day, or else I won’t be able to hear the professor go over the slides. Actually. Students are that loud sometimes. And it’s not that they’re being rude, it’s just part of the Hong Kong culture (or the HKU one at least). That’s the weirdest part though, it’s only Hong Kong. They don’t do it in mainland china (according to the students I’ve talked to from there), and they don’t do it at international schools. Just. Here.
2. Being the only English-speaker in lecture is weird, but fun too!
In both of my engineering classes right now, I’m officially the only person who speaks English as a first (and only) language. Happily for me, the professors at HKU are required to give lectures in English. This still means that some awkward situations arise though:
“Sorry, what did you say?” – me
He repeats himself. I couldn’t quite comprehend it.
“Sorry, one more time?” – me
He repeats himself again. Still can’t get it.
“What?” - me
He repeats himself because he’s a really nice guy. Shoot, I’ll just say yes.
“Yep!” – me
“Oh? You can understand mandarin characters? Fantastic!”- my professor
I then proceeded to facepalm and watch him do the rest of the lecture in mandarin characters. Awkward conversation ensued after class.
3. The engineers here tend to go into finance and banking for jobs
This fact really makes me take the industry in the US for granted. While computer and engineering jobs in America are in abundance, electrical engineering jobs in Hong Kong are extremely rare to find. Not only that, but they pay much less than other starting salaries. It appears that the average engineer for the Mass Transit Rapid Company (HK subway system) in Hong Kong makes 20 to 30 thousand HKD/month (about 40 to 50 thousand USD per year). However, the average JP Morgan finance consultant pulls 40 to 50 thousand HKD as a starting salary. As a result, many engineers flock to places like HSBC, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and other finance-based companies.
4. Asking/Answering questions gets you golden points with the professors.
Considering English is a second language for many students here, they have a right to be a little shy in class. As a result, class responses to professor’s questions can be hilariously awkward in their silence. That’s why many lecturers will love students who answer questions and talk in class. No matter the class size, my professors all know me by my first name, solely because I talk a bit in class. Even if my answer is wrong half the time, the fact that they aren’t staring at 200 blank faces is a relief for them.
5. Power Electronics are HUGE
I’m finally beginning to realize why the United States has such terrible public transportation system. The electric railway system is fast. Like, blazing fast. They make the U.S. railway systems look like relics from the 1960s (and many of them are *cough cough Amtrak*). However, why is this? Because they really emphasize large-scale power electronics in their engineering here.
Hong Kong University has many, many classes in large-scale power electronics, which is very smart. Power electronics are everywhere, and are a big key to making a city run efficiently. As a result, Hong Kong has fantastic energy delivery and transportation systems, and companies like the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) are actually the number one employer of electronics engineers out of HKU.