The Catholic University of America

May 7, 2014

Students Reflect on Hong Kong Exchange Program

  Matthew Tang, L.R. Poos, Vanessa Lau, and Kathleen Harrington

In March 2012, Dean of Arts and Sciences L.R. Poos traveled to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (UST) to give a lecture. “I thought it was the most wonderful place. It overlooks a bay and cliffs and is quite beautiful and is not far from the main city,” said Poos. “The University is just 25 years old and has already established an international reputation not just in science and technology, but in business and humanities as well.”

Since Catholic University’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures introduced Chinese language courses four years ago, Poos had been investigating the possibility of offering students an option for studying in China to further their language skills along with their study of East Asian history, literature, and culture.

While at UST, Poos worked out the details of a formal exchange program between the two universities. In the spring semester of 2013, CUA junior Kathleen Harrington, an international business major, was the first student to be part of the exchange when she became a student at UST. Then in fall 2013, second-year global Chinese studies majors Vanessa Tin Lam Lau and Chuen Ngai Matthew Tang arrived at CUA for the academic year to become the first Chinese students to participate in the program.

In late April, Poos brought the students together at his office to reflect on their experiences as the first three to chart the course for the UST-CUA exchange program.

Interest in Exchange Program

Harrington: I took Chinese 101 my sophomore year and loved it. It spurred my interest not just in learning the language at a more proficient level but in learning more about the culture, and about Asia in general. This seemed like an incredible opportunity to do that.

Tang: I was interested in the differences between the East and the West. In Hong Kong, we hear so much about America and I wanted to experience the real deal. When I heard about the exchange program at Catholic University with an opportunity for an internship in Congress, I had to give it a try.

Lau: The chance to study American politics at its core in the United States capital appealed to me. I was also very interested in the social science-based curriculum — history, philosophy, sociology.

The Unexpected

Harrington: I did not expect the crowds and the malls. Who knew there are so many malls in Hong Kong? Over time I got used to being in crowds. It’s a skill. I had read about Hong Kong and pictured big business and skyscrapers. But I didn’t expect the hiking and boating. It’s a perfect blend of both.

The coursework is heavily based on memorization and reading. So that was a bit different. And I was very surprised by the academic club culture. Students are very much grouped by their club, right down to what they wear. During club promotion week, the activities were incredible. People were building these beautiful sculptures of dragons.

Tang: What struck me was the very developed civil society. When I interact with local students, even those not majoring in government, I am surprised by how much they know about political participation and current affairs. During my internship in Congress, people were calling every day wanting to express their opinion, often based on in-depth analysis, to their representative.

Lau: My family likes to travel and I grew up at an international school so I am used to international faces and different practices. What surprised me about living in the U.S. is how far apart everything is and the walking that involves, and the close proximity to nature. Things are more relaxed. I think in Hong Kong, because everything is so dense, we feel more pressured. I was sick last week and had to take a few days off from my internship and was worried when I came back. My supervisor told me it was perfectly OK, ‘We want you to be healthy.’ There is a more humanistic approach to life, more options for how to live your life, and more openness to different things.


Vanessa Lau with Rep. Bobby Rush.  

Harrington: I interned at the U. S. State Department this past semester. They look for candidates who have language skills and have studied abroad. My semester in Hong Kong was absolutely a factor in my getting this position.

Tang: I interned in the office of [Rep.] Don Young (R) of Alaska. People from Alaska are tough and that was the personality of the office. They are conservative and very big on second amendment rights. I had interaction with the congressman. We had dinners together as a staff.

Lau: I interned in the office of [Rep.] Bobby Rush (D) of Illinois. They are very committed to helping African American at-risk populations in Chicago. I was at the front desk and was surprised by how many people who came through wanted to talk to me about Hong Kong. It was nice to see such an interest.

Impressions of Host School

Harrington: I lived on campus on an international floor. My roommate was from Malaysia. Other exchange students were from Europe. It was a wonderful group including my Chinese classmates. The campus is gorgeous. I had a view of the Clear Water Bay Peninsula. My only regret is that I couldn't stay longer.

Tang: The campus is beautiful. I love the trees and vegetation. The courses emphasize interaction between students and professors.

Lau: The Basilica is beautiful. The girls in my dorm had really great talks. It was so nice when the priests came to bless our rooms with holy water. I enjoyed learning American history in the nation’s capital. I enjoyed being part of the Chinese Club. I went to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China with the club.


Harrington: I miss the food so much. Why can’t I have udon noodles every day for lunch?

Tang: My roommates introduced me to American junk food. They also took me to Chinese restaurants and had me order in Chinese. Very few understood me. Chinese food here is sort of an American imagination of what we have at home. My favorite American food was the crab cake I had in Baltimore. It was unforgettable.

Lau: I was at Metro Center last night and found a small local burger shop. I had an incredible burger. American food at the local level is more authentic than the chain restaurants.

Favorite Course

Harrington: I took an art history course that I loved. The instructor took us to the Art Museum of Hong Kong

Matthew Tang at the Rayburn House Office Building, where he interned this spring.  

and showed us treasures that the average tourist would never know about.

Tang: Introduction to Political Theory with Dr. Stephen Schneck. He put theories in a very systematic and clear way. He really opened my eyes to the subject and was very interesting to talk to.

Lau: The Human Condition: Culture, Society, and Personality taught by Dr. David Mutchler. He was a diplomat and traveled to so many places, and taught us about social inequalities across the globe from Africa to India to El Salvador.


Harrington: While studying at UST, I traveled to Thailand, Taiwan, and Cambodia. My parents came to visit and we went to Beijing.

Tang: I visited Boston, Chicago, New York City, Richmond, and Charlottesville, which was my favorite. It’s a nice small town, the people are welcoming, and Monticello had such beautiful views.

Lau: Through the International Affairs Association at CUA, I went to the Modern United Nations Conference at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and met students from Harvard and NYU and so many others. I also traveled to New York City.

Lasting Impressions

Harrington: It’s a comfort knowing that I can travel abroad and establish roots to some extent and find friends. I am more appreciative of people with different backgrounds and cultures. I plan to study Chinese in Taiwan after I graduate to gain complete fluency. I hope to work in international finance. My interest and experience in China will be a huge help.

Tang: I learned a lot about the West. I now appreciate the power of understanding different perspectives.

Lau: I loved that American politics emphasizes social inequalities. I am now more determined to pursue politics. I have an internship when I return at the U.S. General Consulate in Hong Kong. This experience helped me get that amazing opportunity. I am also happy and proud to hear that Kathleen had such a positive experience while studying at my university and in my city.




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