The HKUST experience at Lehigh: Enjoying small classes and catching onto slang
By Courtney Buchanan, ‘13
Imagine leaving your home by yourself to study in a new country. You aren’t fluent in the language and you don’t know a single soul there.
Meet Mike Lam, a 20-year-old exchange student from Hong Kong studying at Lehigh University the fall semester. Lam is a junior double majoring in Civil Engineering and Business Management at his home university, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
When Lam arrived in the U.S., he was thankful he arrived safely after hearing about how a taxi driver treated his friends who had visited the U.S. previously. The taxi driver drove a circuitous route in order to charge his friends more money that their journey cost. This was the first experience that his friends had in the U.S. – being cheated by a taxi driver.
Despite the stories he heard, Lam said he wasn’t nervous to come to the U.S. Right before he came, he heard about the gunshots in Aurora, Co. He said, “Sometimes I think about safety problems but am not scared.”
With the thought of coming to the U.S. free from his worries, Lam is experiencing the American education experience which proves to be quite similar to that in Hong Kong. Many academic components at Lehigh parallel to those at HKUST. Lam said that there is a similar style of teaching although the business classes focus more on discussion.
At HKUST Lam said, “The professor usually lectures in front of a huge number of students in a large lecture hall.”
The main difference is the small class size at Lehigh. Students and teachers don’t interact with each other in Hong Kong since the teaching method is predominately lecture.
“I like the small class size because you can talk to more people and the professors focus on everyone more,” said Lam. “They don’t just lecture, but there’s some interaction.”
In addition to the small class sizes, Lam said that the open feeling of Lehigh is a nice contrast to the crowded feel of HKUST: “The thing I like here most is there are not too many people, not too crowded.”
While the classes are small, there are plenty of new people for Lam to meet. By living among and interacting with American students, Lam is not just living in America, but engaging with the American culture. He plays basketball at the gym, an activity that he did in Hong Kong just less frequently.
Living in Brodhead House with three American roommates, Lam has been formed a community within his dorm. The first couple of days that Lam was at Lehigh the only students on campus were first-years. His roommates reached out to him and included him in all of their activities.
“My favorite is to meet different kinds of people here,” said Lam. “I make friends in class, I make friends in the gym from basketball, I know Chinese friends from orientation.”
Talking with American students has helped Lam improve his English language skills, especially the oral component. Since he was six or seven years old in primary school, Lam has been learning English. Taking English at school in Hong Kong is no where similar to being in the U.S. because they speak so slow and clear when they teach you, said Lam.
Lam, who graduates in June 2014, isn’t sure about his plans after graduating although he hopes to come back to the U.S. for work or travel. He chose to come to the U.S. in part because he wants to improve his English skills but also because of his love for American athletics.
““I love watching the MBA, so I wished to come to the U.S. if I was going to study abroad and I want a good study abroad because I didn’t want to stay in Hong Kong all along,” said Lam.
With a language there is always room for improvement, whether it’s a native language or second language. To learn about American culture and the English language, Lam has watched two movies since August. Resident Evil helped because he could listen to every word, whereas Looper was more challenging because the characters whispered so he had to guess the overall meaning often.
English is the most challenging part of being abroad for Lam. In class and outside of class, he often is unable to fully understand what someone is saying because he or she talks too fast or his or her accent is so prominent. One of his roommates frequently has to repeat what he says because he talks so fast and Lam can’t catch a word he says.
Watching movies has helped Lam expand his repertoire of slang and jokes, but still he has difficulty following along.
“I’m not quite used to listening to some professor’s spoken English and sometimes they use like their own slang and maybe they know about the American culture and they know what the funniest thing is,” said Lam. “And when they laugh I’m like what I have no idea.”
Even though he can’t understand the jokes and slang that American students use, Lam shares a bond with Lehigh students – a bond over the dislike of hills. “Actually my school in Hong Kong is also on a hill,” he said. “It’s so hot in Hong Kong. You have to get changed if you walk up the hill.”
November 6, 2012