When her family moved to Shanghai in 2011, Cindy Liu enrolled at YCIS Pudong and spent seven years at the school before graduating. Upon graduation in 2018, she moved to Hong Kong where she is about to complete her first year studying Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, with a plan to major in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. Cindy will be in Shanghai this summer to visit her family, and we look forward to welcoming her back on campus very soon!
I am currently taking one course about Evolution and Biodiversity, one General Chemistry course, and a Science Foundation course. These classes are compulsory for my major. In addition to that, HKU also has compulsory courses called ‘common cores’ where we learn about things that are not necessarily related to our major. I am taking two common core courses right now; one is related to psychology, and the other one focuses on genocide.
What do your day-to-day studies entail?
Since I am still in the first year of my studies, most of my science classes are lecture and exam-based. In addition, we also have labs. In the Evolution and Biodiversity course, the lab typically consists of looking at different living specimens and answering questions related to them. In the Chemistry class, we have labs regarding basic concepts of chemistry such as chromatography, titrations, and infrared spectroscopy. In the common core courses, there is a stronger emphasis on assignments. For example, in the course related to psychology, we wrote two papers and completed a group project, and for the class on genocide, we are currently working on a group project where we investigate a particular incident of genocide in detail.
What are you learning that you enjoy the most?
I am really enjoying learning more about humans, so I find physiology and genetics fascinating. I also enjoy my psychology common core a lot because it is about the human brain and how it makes us who we are. This is the first time I’ve studied psychology.
Why did you decide to study at Hong Kong University and your particular major?
HKU has a lot of international students, which is something I was looking for. Additionally, HKU offered me a significant scholarship. Other than that, I knew I wanted to do something related to biology because that was the class that I enjoyed the most during high school. I ended up studying Molecular Biology and Biotechnology because it is a field with lots of potential in the future.
How was the transition from YCIS to university?
The transition to university was not as difficult as I had expected. The most significant change was the number of people in school, as YCIS was a very tight-knit community. The teachers knew us well in person, and almost everyone in the school knew each other. In university, there are many people. Even though you recognise your lecturers on the streets, they might not recognise you, and you meet so many people, it becomes a challenge to keep track of their names and faces. I wouldn’t say this is difficult, but it was different from what I am used to.
How did your experience at YCIS help prepare you for university both academically and beyond the academics?
I think one of the most essential things YCIS taught me was time management. Especially in Year 13, we had deadlines on top of deadlines, which helped me learn how to prioritise and work efficiently. We were also participating in many extra-curricular activities at the same time, which taught us how to balance schoolwork and other interests. I have found that when many students start university, they actually have a lot of trouble managing their time and balancing between their assignments and activities. As such, in university, I am a lot less stressed than other students.
Were there any challenges you had to adapt to when starting university?
Moving to a new city was a bit of a challenge for me because people in Hong Kong don’t speak English or Mandarin that much – they tend to prefer speaking Cantonese. I’ve never lived in a city where I did not understand the local language. So, last semester, I took a Cantonese course. As Cantonese is the primary medium of communication here, the class helped me a lot in daily conversations.
How did your past experiences at YCIS help you cope with these challenges?
When I first joined YCIS in 2011, I didn’t speak any English because I grew up speaking Japanese and a bit of Mandarin. I remember, back then, I tried communicating in any way possible, including body language, Mandarin, or dictionaries. I would also ask my friends what a word meant or how to use it and try to use the words I learned as much as possible.
I realised that the teachers are very willing to help and will understand your situation.
Do your current studies connect to what you learned at YCIS?
Since I am still taking first-year courses, a lot of the content covered in the classes are things I actually already learned in high school. In addition to that, I am also using a lot of the skills and techniques I learned during Chemistry class at YCIS in my chemistry lab.
What are the biggest differences you have found between living and studying in Shanghai and in Hong Kong?
I think the biggest difference is that not everybody in the school has had the same educational background. At YCIS, although we were all from different countries, we all shared a similar experience in terms of living in a host country and studying at an international school. In HKU, not everybody has had the same experience. A lot of the students went through the local system of their own country. I was surprised to learn that they had never written an essay or worked on a group presentation.
What are the similarities/differences between YCIS and Hong Kong University?
I think the biggest similarity is the emphasis on the balance between Western and Eastern culture. YCIS has a strong focus on studying the Chinese language as well as its culture. Of course, we also discussed Western culture in our classes. Consequently, my knowledge about both Western culture and Chinese culture improved at YCIS, as did my English and Mandarin. At HKU, there is also a strong emphasis on this balance. Although the classes are all taught in English, we are required to complete Chinese or Cantonese language classes and a common core class related to China. At HKU, we also celebrate a lot of the Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Year, as well as Western holidays such as Easter.
I think the biggest difference between HKU and YCIS is the size. YCIS was a very tight-knit community where everyone knew who you were and what you were up to. At HKU, that’s not the case, and you have to keep track of your own work and life. Of course, some people are willing to help you, but they won’t chase you and make sure that you’re on top of things.
Where are your classmates from?
At HKU, there are students from all over the world. As the name might suggest, the largest number of students are from Hong Kong. There are also lots of Mainland Chinese students because you can apply to HKU with Gaokao scores. Plus, there are a lot of exchange students from the UK, Europe, and North America. Many full-time international students are from Korea, Southeast Asia, and Malaysia. I have also met students from South Africa, Macedonia, and Kazakhstan. Other than that, there are also many students like me, who have a “global” background, and it’s interesting to hear about their origins. I was very excited to find other students who are also Chinese but who were born and raised in Japan and did IB, like me.
What do you plan on doing after you graduate?
My current plan after I graduate is to go into the research field, so I will probably pursue further studies. However, I am not sure if I would like to be a researcher, so I am trying to gain as much research experience as possible in my early years to see if that is what I want to do. If I don’t enjoy research, I might look for internships related to biology and perhaps work in a biotech company.
Are you doing any summer internships, or have you had any other experiences you’d like to share?
In the HKU science department, we have a program called the Summer Research Fellowship where you can work in a lab over the summer with stipends of $14,000. Usually, not many Year 1 students participate in this, as we are only allowed to participate in this once during our university degree. However, fortunately, I have been selected for a similar programme called the ‘Young Science Scheme’, which is something you can participate in multiple times. I will be working at the medical campus doing research regarding the lytic replication of Epstein-Barr Virus. This virus can infect humans and cause a range of disease, including infectious mononucleosis, lymphoma, and nasopharynx cancer.
What do you miss most about Shanghai?
I miss how convenient Shanghai is. You never have to bring cash, and you can have everything delivered to your doorstep. Hong Kong is still a very much cash-based society, so you have to bring your wallet everywhere. Also, parcel delivery and food delivery services are not as cheap or fast. I miss how spacious Shanghai is. Although Shanghai and Hong Kong are both cities, Shanghai has more space and is less crowded. Most of all, I miss my family and my friends. I’ve made so many good memories in Shanghai, and I definitely cherish all the happy moments I had there.
What do you miss most about YCIS? Any favourite memories from your time at YCIS?
I look back fondly on the school trips at YCIS because they were always unique. It is a rare opportunity to be able to go on a trip with your friends and stay at a villager’s house in Guizhou, or to plant trees in the desert or to ride elephants in Thailand together. But most of all, I miss our moments in the IB lounge. The lounge made YCIS feel like another home where you could help each other with your assignments, relax over coffee, or laugh with your friends about random things. I always loved having interesting conversations with all my classmates during lunch time.
Do you keep in touch / see any of your YCIS classmates?
My classmates and I keep in touch in many ways, including texting, video calls, and sending each other funny posts on Instagram. Luckily for me, Hong Kong is also a place where a lot of my classmates can drop by. Every time someone is in Hong Kong, they let me know, and we meet and catch up.
Can you share any advice/suggestions for this year’s Graduands and our other Secondary students to help them prepare for the transition to university?
I think the most important thing is not to overwhelm yourself. I worried about going to university a lot in the last year of high school, thinking about leaving home, making new friends, and the change in my learning environment. When I got to HKU, I transitioned pretty well and realised that there was nothing to worry about. Instead of worrying, I think it’s important to be excited about the future and also to enjoy the remaining time with your high school classmates.