Sam Speed reports back from HKU

And so, the first semester passes. Momentous in its entirety, to accurately put the last few months into words would take a mind far more sophisticated than mine, yet mine is all I have. This brings me to point number 1; if you decide to study abroad, buy a go pro.

Since my last entry, I have experienced both the best and worst moments of my life in such quick succession I am convinced I am permanently attached to some form of metaphorical rollercoaster, bumping along behind on the rails. As always, the worst first; merely a week after my last entry, I managed to destroy both the laws of physics and the last shreds of my dignity with a rather spectacular bicycle crash. Grisly details aside, I spent two weeks with both hands wrapped in bandages, unable to shower, write or even pull open a door, and with half my teeth shattered. As you can probably imagine, this was not my finest hour. 6000 miles away from home and completely helpless is an experience I would not advise.

And yet I have never witnessed so clear an example of ‘behind every cloud is a silver lining’. This event was not just a cloud but a hurricane, a destructive force wreaking havoc amongst every element of my life. And yet I have never felt more innovative, resilient and downright determined since, or indeed before, that crash. Can’t eat? Drink soup through a straw. Can’t open a door? Use your feet. Can’t shower? Have a serious deodorant budget. Thousands of miles from home, and yet here I was connected to a part of myself I have never had to use before, one of sheer adaptability; Mind truly does rule over matter.

S1Within a month of that accident, I was riding a motorbike through the mountains and cities of Vietnam. Advisable or not, the feeling of sheer exhilaration at being completely free, without phone signal and reliant only upon myself and my friends for navigation in the most rural and wild place I have ever seen was the most thrilling moment of my life.

Happily, I was a quick study, and my Vietnam trip was accident free. In December I visited Tokyo, the largest city I have ever seen and one which I am hard pressed to describe; vast and vibrant yet ordered and clean, Tokyo is a melting pot of bizarre realities stacked atop one and mixing together to form a honeycomb of lights and excitement. I have barely scratched the surface of these places, and yet to be able to close my eyes and visualise their vistas and beauty on a whim is a mind-numbing experience.


Indeed, while I am exploring much of Asia, I am also tapping into the vast selection of academic pursuits offered here at HKU. I attempted to learn Cantonese at a beginner’s level, an experience that was enjoyable if not terribly successful (my apologies to the owners of practically every restaurant within 5 miles who has had to translate my rabbling).

King’s gave me the freedom to choose any module within reason, allowing me to explore elements of politics that have always fascinated me but which I did not have the time to do in London; contemporary Japanese politics and the moral philosophy of war to name but two. The university fully integrates exchange students into the discussion groups even though we are not technically full-time students, building a creative atmosphere that constantly astounds me; it is truly wonderful to see issues that I have always held as a given debated by students from every continent. It really is eye opening to approach issues from a different perspective and culture. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a different viewpoint on life!


The next semester promises to be even more adventurous than the last; a trip to the Winter Olympics in Korea, a tour of China, and a tropical holiday to the Philippines are the main events, yet everyday life continues to amaze me equally as much. Every street has a new treasure, and round every corner is a new experience. One group of friends has left back to their home countries, and now I can accurately say I have friends on every continent; worldwide adventure, here I come! A new group has arrived, and through it all I have my fellow King’s College students. This Year Abroad really is spectacular.

A Year in 3 Countries by Jazmin Rivas Chong

When I originally told people I was planning on doing a year abroad, most of the responses I got back were – “but you are already studying abroad”. While yes, I am an international student, originally from Mexico, I guess you could say I already had a study abroad experience. However, the reality is that no past experiences could have prepared me for the wonderful challenging year I had as a participant of the 3-Campus Programme. Doing a year aboard has by far been one of the most fundamental things I could have done for my education and personal growth.

What makes the 3-Campus Programme different from most study abroad programs at King’s, is that right off the bat you have to consider that you will be moving countries three times in one year. Which might sound wonderful and exciting (which it is) but you also have to consider that it also means dealing with three different university enrolment processes, three different visa applications, and three different cities/ languages you will have to get accustom too, in addition to staying on top of your studies. Therefore, I would not recommend the three campus program if you are looking for a relaxing year abroad. Additionally, if you’re an international student thinking of doing this program keep in mind that you will have to re-apply for a UK visa upon your return – and given that the summer term ends in the last week of August I would advise you to start checking your visa requirements in advance if you plan on starting your third year on time. Nevertheless, all the bureaucratic paper work and stress are worth the participation of this program.

Reality vs. Expectations

Tokyo waimage3s by far like nothing I could have ever imagine. I have never seen such a city so well organised and clean. To the point that I almost felt I was living in one of those miniature architecture models – you know the ones that have little fake trees. However, too much order and social rules can sometimes not be ideal if you’re not used to that type of culture. Coming from a Latin country where people are loud and expressionist, I sometimes felt that I was very restricted in the way I could express myself, or act. I don’t say this to discourage anyone from going to Japan as it is an amazing country. But I do warn you, you will experience a culture shock. From not understanding why face masks are a thing, to not being able to talk in public transportation, to having to learn that you are not defined by your individual attributes but by the large social group you belong to: In our case, students. But with that being said, culture shock is after all part of the study abroad experience, and most importantly necessary to better understand international development studies.


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The land of Beauty

If I had to pick one thing that I will never forget about South Korea, is their obsession with physical beauty. You will never see anything like it; cosmetic stores line up as far as your eyes can see, all completely packed with men and women seeking to enhance their appearance. As one of my professors at Yonsei told me, “there are no uglyimage2 women in Korea, only poor women”. The most beautiful thing about it though is that once you understand the history and culture of such an obsession, you will truly respect the industries Korea has been able to build, and the liberty their people have to consume their own goods. I could truly go on about this forever, but for the purpose of this blog, I will only say this, Korea consists of a culture that reflects the hardships of its traumatic history, but its current economic development is truly poetic and unstoppable. Understanding such a country’s historical background will be something that I will never forget. Oh, and I would strongly recommend you enrol in the Politics of Beauty lectures, taught by Helen Lee.



To those wondering whether or not to do a year abroad, I would say do it! It won’t be easy, and at times it won’t be fun, and no matter how much research and preparation you do nothing will prepare you for the real thing. With that being said, I would also recommend image5that you consider externalities that could happen. For example, in my case, I would have never imagined that the cold winter in East Asia would have affected my health to the point that I was hospitalised three times in one year. The first was in Tokyo, where I caught influenza type A. However, only a few weeks after I was released from hospital I was ill yet again. Having felt uncomfortable in the hospital in Japan – given that no one spoke English – my parents flew me out to Mexico to get treatment. I was taken directly to the doctors upon my landing, only to be hospitalised moments later, as I was showing early signs of pneumonia. After simage8pending a week in the hospital in Mexico, and missing school, Keio still expected me to stay on top of all my assignments and deadlines (mind you I was in the hospital the last weeks of fall term).  Once I was finally healthy, I returned to east Asia. Only to fall ill once again when I arrived in Seoul. In Seoul I was hospitalised for a week, which led me to miss a few lectures (which I was still penalised for). Anyway, my point is that I could have never imagined that despite all the preparation I did for my year abroad, the greatest obstacle I would have to cope with would out of my control.

A Year of Rice and Noodles: 3 Campus East Asia Study Abroad

By Victoria Noya Vargas

To provide some context, the 3 Campus East Asia programme consists of spending almost 6 months in Japan, 4 months in South Korea, and 2 in Hong Kong. We spent the first semester in Tokyo, the second in Seoul, and in Hong Kong we had a two-week intensive course, followed by a six-week internship- to call it “intense” is a severe understatement.

The first thing to get out of the way is what everybody tells you: that it is a magical, life-changing, formative year that you will cherish for the rest of your life. Which it is, albeit only partly (a good ¾). It is impossible to go through a full year of studying abroad without experiencing any “opportunities to overcome hurdles” (read: you will struggle and mess up).

I had never been to any of those countries before, so other than the preconceived notions I had collected from what people would tell me, or what I heard on the news, I had no idea what it would be like.

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I arrived in Tokyo early in September, late at night. Having heard before that in Japan trains are super reliable, I thought it would all work out.

About half way into the trip, the train stops at an empty station. All the lights turn off, and carriage inspectors start running up and down the aisle. None of the other passengers seemed to be panicking, so I didn’t panic, although I was somewhat concerned.

My ticket to Musashikosugi (my intended stop), clearly marked that we would arrive at 10pm. At 9:59 we arrived at a stop and I wrongfully assumed it was mine. I hadn’t added the twenty minutes we spent stranded between Narita Airport and Tokyo, so I spent fifteen more minutes running around the station hauling an overweight suitcase frantically looking at any and every sign that could be written in English. I made it to the hotel a little past midnight, and I think this anecdote accurately describes the public transport system in Japan.

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Once settled in the dorms, the university did a good job in helping students settle in. The international students were friendly and open and genuinely interesting people. On the academics side, although we were required to enrol in a minimum of seven modules and be at university almost every day (a friend of mine had lessons on Saturdays too), the workload was very reasonable and professors were kind to exchange students.

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However, living in Japan for almost 6 months required some adjustment, in terms of culture differences and adapting to society. Japan is a very homogenous country, and general societal expectations are very rigid and powerfully respected. Even in its diverse-ish capital city, there is a very clear code of conduct, which we had to immerse ourselves in to not to become isolated and fall behind. We had to take a “Culture Difference” class which helped because it was with Japanese students who would explain the logic behind certain social understandings and expectations. I also took a module on Japanese Business and Society, which gave me more insight into social and business practices within Japanese culture.

A good example of the “new” logic we had to understand is the notion of “inemuri”, which basically means to fall asleep in public, be it in the tube, bus, at work or during a lecture. In fact, many of the Japanese students would place their heads on their desk during a lecture, so casually- as if that’s where their heads were supposed to go. This is because it is interpreted as them falling asleep because they are overworked, not because they are lazy. Another good example, is that unlike in our cultures, where one is responsible for one’s actions even when drunk, in Japan, minor issues caused by inebriation are very easily forgiven, with the understanding that while sober, those accidents would not have happened.

image7The classes we were required to take, along with continued interaction with Japanese students were very eye-opening and asked us to truly understand the cultural and historical roots of Japanese society’s expectations.

Expecting a similar situation in Korea, I prepared myself for a new cultural understanding. I learned in Seoul that Korean nightlife is just as intense as its academics, and Korean humour is as delectable as it’s food.

The challenges in Seoul were closer to home.  Yonsei University had some very ambitious courses, of which we were required to take a minimum of six. The pressure and expectations of the professors meant we had to be ready to be picked on at any time, competition between students was acutely felt in the air, and the grade curves had everyone constantly fearing failure. That being said, the professors were easily the most interesting and hilarious I have ever had the pleasure to learn from (except DID, of course).


Not two days after Korea, HKU kept the momentum going -and then some- with demanding courses and a tough workload. Fulfilling the course requirements on top of our internship work really tested our tenacity, and our sanity.



During the 8 weeks in Hong Kong, I suddenly found myself juggling a total of 6000 words in essays, video editing, an endless excel spreadsheet, three days of working with disenfranchised HK youth, and a week of rice harvesting (I will never be able to look at rice the same way). I can confidently say I felt immersed in the Hong Kong lifestyle of stress.


I’ve come back to London with a new understanding of how incredibly diverse East Asia is; Japan being so rooted in tradition, moral values, and keeping harmony, Korea’s ambitious and politically engaged youth- so eager to better themselves and keep improving their condition, and Hong Kong, a truly international city, that beautifully maintains its Chinese heritage.

Reflecting on the whole year, thinking of myself a year ago, I could never have imagined that this would be the way it was, or that it would have had the effect it did. On a very personal note, after this year, I feel more myself than I have ever been, but at the same time I feel completely unlike myself. I think it has to do with being placed completely outside your comfort zone, for a prolonged period of time. Regardless, taking a year abroad is one of the best decisions one could make, and I highly recommend it.

Sam Speed says hi from Hong Kong University

I spent days thinking about how to put my decision to study abroad into words. Fancy, eloquent words that would justify such a major decision and make the entire experience seem grand, adventurous and bold.

Alas, I have decided not to go down that route, for one simple reason; The decision was made in my head in a spur of the moment. Sitting at a pub with my parents on the South Coast of England last October, as all reading weeks are supposed to be taken of course, it occurred to me that University is about experiencing new things that I would never anticipate thinking rationally, outside of the box if you will. Such thinking requires a leap into the dark, a leap which requires less thinking and more doing, to quote any inspirational author or any post on Facebook for that matter.

Fast forward quite a few months and here I am, 1 month into my year abroad in Hong Kong, and already my everyday life has now become the experience people spend thousands of pounds and years of planning to live for merely a week. Climb the tallest mountain in Hong Kong, Victoria Peak, by climbing a set of stairs located just behind my accommodation on the first day, casual. Sign up to Cantonese class to learn how to look like less of an idiot abroad in the local Dim Sum restaurants, and then fail miserably but have a good laugh, check. Upgrade the tiny, drab sand shingles of the Thames to the most radiant, clear beaches I have ever seen, which I can visit straight out of university after lectures, been there. Proceed to get burnt and spend the next week being told you’re a sophisticated idiot by a group of friends who have no more experience than me yet insist they know it all, spectacular!

I have signed up for Karate classes, joined a mock UN debating team, next week I’m spending an entire Monday (that awful, awful day) cruising the coast on a Junk Boat with Thai Cuisine, unlimited drinks and 20 people I have never met before. And let’s not forget the university itself, where I am studying a different language to complement my expansive vocabulary of English, English and yes, English. I am looking at political reform in China and the views of Brexit from the Chinese perspective, an angle I never thought about but now get a chance to explore in detail. The University provides free sports facilities, guided tours, parties, formal dinners; in the coming months, I will be responsible for cooking English cuisine for my entire floor (Where can I get a deep fat fryer and some slightly mushy peas anyone?). My only hope is that I don’t put off any of the locals from visiting the UK for well, ever, but we’ll see.

The DID have given me this opportunity for an entire year, and one month in, I’m already having the best time of my life. To quote another of those famous but irritating Facebook posts, every day is a new adventure, except for me, it genuinely is. And once I get past the fact that those sweet, cool days of 14 degrees with light drizzle from the South are not an option out here, the sky is literally the limit.


The disarmingly handsome chap is me. If that doesn’t help, I’m on the right, to my left is another KCL student, George Lam.


Me and my floor. Notice how they’re all smiling? I’ll take another photo after I have cooked for them and see the result!