Andrew Schwartz ’20, majoring in Business Administration, studied abroad at the Chinese University Hong Kong in Fall 2019 and develops a unique perspective by witnessing the city’s ongoing protests firsthand, culminating with an early end to his semester abroad.
When I had decided to study abroad at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, I never thought I would be caught in the middle of a social revolution. It’s funny how quickly things can change. The current protests that we are seeing today started in mid-June 2019 and have only intensified. What started out as a request to remove an extradition bill has turned into much more. This bill in question would allow Hong Kong to extradite criminals to Mainland China, where there is a less-clear legal system and a much higher conviction rate. Early protests that were non-violent drew crowds of over 2 million people– a staggering amount of the city’s over 7 million population. Police then started using violent tactics such as tear gas and rubber bullets. This has caused the protestors to establish five key demands, not one less– full withdrawal of the extradition bill, a commission of inquiry into police brutality, retracting the classification of protestors as “rioters”, amnesty for arrested protestors, and dual universal suffrage for both the Legislative Council and Chief Executive.
For my first month abroad, the protests caused minor inconveniences for those trying to go about their lives, but the effects soon became more apparent. After National Day on October 1st, the anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, violence ramped up as two protestors were shot by police with live rounds. This was the first time such force was used, but luckily nobody died. The following month and a half had some days where transportation and food were unattainable due to citywide strikes or damaged facilities. Even through all of these challenges that exchange students had to face alone, the situation became normal to us. We eventually started to plan ahead for if metro stations were to close, or if we knew violence might break out in our area ahead of time. The height of the conflict resulted in the early conclusion of my semester on November 13th. At the beginning of that week, student protests had begun on multiple campuses including mine, and this was the first time police had ever entered campus. The conflict lasted for over 3 days and I ended up evacuating to South Korea. I’ll never forget my last night of the semester– watching with friends on the rooftop as the protestors fought the police. We could see the molotovs flying, then exploding, the sound of rubber bullets and tear gas being shot. Over 1600 canisters of tear gas were shot onto our campus alone, and I’ll never forget the smell.
Although I’m sad my experience in Hong Kong ended early, I have no regrets about my time there. I’m grateful to have witnessed history and for the skills I gained through stepping out of my comfort zone. Being alone in another country for school was already challenging, but having to evacuate alone to multiple unfamiliar places matured me in a way I could not have predicted. This was over two months ago, and the protests show no signs of slowing down. Additionally, Hong Kong just classified the new Wuhan coronavirus as a citywide emergency. CUHK’s new semester just recently started, and now they are already canceling class again until February 17th due to the virus. I’m lucky to call the people of Hong Kong my friends, and I sincerely hope they are able to find a solution in the near future. I have no doubt I’ll return to Asia in the near future.
Due to the ongoing nature of the events in the city and at Chinese University Hong Kong, Chapman student travel has been temporarily suspended to Hong Kong. Students interested in studying abroad in Hong Kong can contact the Center for Global Education for updates and alternative locations.