Hong Kong had finally started welcoming exchange students again after two years of hard restrictions. Entering the country has not been easy, with 21 days of compulsory quarantine for all students who decided to come this semester despite the risk of COVID striking back. The situation is now getting worse and it is affecting some of the university’s exchange students – who are now starting to leave the country.
New COVID restrictions
The Hong Kong government has recently implemented new covid restrictions prohibiting people from having social gatherings with more than two people. Many places are closing – such as beaches, museums and exhibitions. Hairdressers have had to temporarily close the salons, so for those would like to get a haircut – they would have to either wait until they open up again, or hope that someone they know is good with the scissor.
Universities in Hong Kong have gone over to full time online classes for the rest of the semester, and student housing have started to encourage their students to leave their dorms. The City University of Hong Kong, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and The University of Hong Kong are three universities which last week sent out information to their students about these new housing regulations.
Above mentioned things are just a few that have motivated exchange students to actually leave the country and finish their studies remotely in their home countries. Some students will even travel to another country since they have the opportunity to go anywhere they want.
‘One of the many reasons why I decided to go to Hong Kong even though I had to do the quarantine, was because of the free society everyone was talking about, which I thought that I would get to experience once I got out of quarantine,’ said Clara Komischke-Konnerup, a 26-year-old HKU exchange student who comes from Denmark.
Students were already at their quarantine hotels when omicron spread to Hong Kong and the government decided to put these new restrictions. It implied for instance that bars and restaurants could not serve guests after 6pm and that there could only be four people at the same table.
‘I could not believe it when I got the information about the new restrictions, I felt so unlucky. However I still have hopes that this exchange semester will be fun if we just try to make the best out of it. Although I have to be honest and say that right now the future does not seem bright,’said 26-year-old Swedish Klara Hasselberg who is also an exchange student at the University of Hong Kong.
Another student who would not like to give out her name is a 24 year old exchange student from Germany. She is here for two semesters and goes to the same university as Hasselberg and Kommiscke-Konnerup. She explains that she realized the situation had gone bad when all university lectures and tutorials were changing back to online instead of face to face.
‘One of the reasons why I go on exchange is to study in person at a foreign University and to be networking with students and teachers from all over the world. Right now I am spending all of my awake hours in front of my computer, in my tiny dorm room,’ she said.
Schools are encouraging students to leave
At the end of last week, students at The Chinese University of Hong Kong started to get emails with new information about the COVID situation. In these emails, students were recommended to leave their dorms as soon as possible, and if they do – they would get their money back for the rest of the rental period. One of the affected students is Axel Pantzare, 23-year-old Swedish who is currently an exchange student at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
‘I had already decided to leave because of the very strict restrictions, but I guess the whole dorm situation made it easier, since now I did not even have an opportunity to stay here, unless I would just stay inside for the entire time,’ said Pantzare.
23-year-old Swedish Theodor Lyrheden who is in the same situation, has now decided to also leave the country. He explains that his thoughts have been divided but he says that if your school recommends you to leave the country, you probably should. He would have liked to stay, but right now he thinks that the safest and most secure thing for himself and everyone else is to leave.
‘You might get one opportunity in life to do something like this, and therefore I do not think that it is worth it staying here when you are not able to have fun,’ said Lyrheden.
The University of Hong Kong also sent out a similar message to their students, where the moral is to let the students know that they are actually allowed to stay at their housing in the Jockey Club. However, if they do stay – it would mean that they are not allowed to have any social gathering at all. Students would only be allowed to leave their housing to do essential activities such as grocery shopping, exercising or visiting the doctor.
The 24-year-old German exchange student living at the HKU Jockey club student housing has decided to leave the country already this weekend.
‘I heard about these messages already last Friday, but I had my hopes up that they were just rumours. Today I got the email myself, so I just talked to my friends about what are the options and then we quickly decided to book tickets to get out of the country before it is too late,’ she said.
Outside of HKU campus
Hong Kong is well-known for its big city vibe – where clubs, restaurants, beaches, events, rooftops and gatherings are all a big part of the student life. Lyrheden who has already been here for one semester says that this is why it is such a shame for the students who have come here for this one semester, and won’t get to experience any of this. Further, Lyrheden explained that the deal breaker for him was the restrictions for social gatherings, and that they had already gotten used to last semesters’ relatively non-strict restrictions and are having a hard time adapting to this new lifestyle.
‘Since this is my second semester I think that it is harder to stay during the restrictions, since I constantly have my last semester to compare this situation to. If we are not allowed to meet people at school, and we are not allowed to meet them after school, then what’s the point,’ Lyrheden said, stating that he probably would not have made the decision of leaving if it was his first semester.
At the end of our talk Lyrheden says that he is still trying to stay positive about the whole situation.
‘I see this as a great opportunity to travel and see other parts of Asia, since I have already experienced Hong Kong for 5 months,’ he said.