Hong Kong has been rocked by escalating protests for nearly six months. The epicenter of the protests recently shifted to universities, turning campuses into battlegrounds. Here’s an update on what’s happening in Hong Kong, and what it means for Tilburg University students.
The protests started as peaceful marches this past summer, when Hong Kongers demanded the withdrawal of a controversial law that would allow extradition to mainland China. Nearly six months later, the extradition bill has been suspended—but the protests have escalated into an all-out battle over the future of Hong Kong.
After the death of a Hong Kong student activist on 8 November, unrest shifted to universities. Campuses became the scene of some of the most violent clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters since the mass demonstrations began.
What does this mean for students on exchange in Hong Kong?
In mid-November, all 6 of Tilburg University’s partner universities in Hong Kong cancelled their on-campus classes for the remainder of the fall semester due to the escalation of violence.
Tilburg University urged its 36 exchange students studying in Hong Kong to leave the city immediately and return home, offering to pay for their travel costs.
‘Our campus looked like a warzone’
Benthe Vrijsen (23) is one of the 36 Tilburg University students who were on exchange in Hong Kong when the protests escalated. When she fled the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the campus “looked like a warzone”. She is now in Bangkok, where she will finish the semester.
Tilburg University’s study abroad and exchange coordinator Manouk van den Brink informed Univers that all 36 exchange students have left their campuses in Hong Kong. By taking online courses and exams, these students will be able to complete their exchange semester digitally.
So far, 10 students have returned to their home country—which in most cases is the Netherlands—to finish the semester.
With 18 students, the majority of the exchange group has traveled to other regions, either in Asia or elsewhere abroad. Although no longer staying on campuses, 8 students of the exchange group have chosen to remain in Hong Kong.
Is the university still sending students to Hong Kong next semester?
Tilburg University has decided not to send exchange students to Hong Kong for the 2020 spring semester.
Out of the 9 Tilburg University students who were preparing to spend the spring semester in Hong Kong, 3 students have decided to cancel their exchange altogether.
The remaining 6 students have chosen a different exchange destination. The Study Abroad Office assisted these students in finding a suitable alternative and making last-minute arrangements to still be able to go on exchange without study delay.
What about exchanges to Hong Kong in the future?
For the 2020 fall semester and beyond, exchanges to Hong Kong have not been called off.
‘I’m now going on exchange to Kuala Lumpur’
Until just a few weeks ago, Tilburg University student Ayra Lintsen (21) thought she would be spending the spring semester at the Hong Kong Baptist University. Her flight would depart for Hong Kong on 6 January. Given the choice to either cancel her abroad semester and stay in Tilburg or choose a different exchange destination, she chose the latter.
“I’m currently in the middle of exams and writing my thesis, so it’s been a hectic few weeks with all the new arrangements that needed to be made. But I still really wanted to go on exchange, and the Study Abroad team helped me tremendously. It looks like I’ll be going to Kuala Lumpur this February!”
“Some students who will be going on exchange next fall have selected Hong Kong in their top 3 preferences,” Manouk van den Brink says. “For now, the selection process is conducted as usual. This means that students can be selected to study in Hong Kong in the fall semester of the academic year 2020-2021. However, we did point out to students that we will be more flexible about cancellations or destination changes if the situation in Hong Kong does not improve over the next few months.”
If last weekend’s local elections were any indication, it seems that peace is returning to the streets of Hong Kong. It was the first weekend in months without teargas filling the air. Sunday’s vote, widely considered a referendum by proxy on Hong Kong’s future, was a peaceful yet powerful sign of support for the protests that have rocked the city for months.
Van den Brink is hopeful that next year’s exchange students will be able to experience student life in the Asian metropolis that famously mixes eastern and western culture. “Hong Kong is normally a safe, peaceful and very popular exchange destination,” she says. “We will be closely monitoring the situation, but we aim to resume exchanges to Hong Kong next year.”
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