Exchange students

Exchange students vs Covid-19: Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore

Reading time: 9 minutes

For this episode of the series “Exchange students vs Covid-19”, dedicated to Asian destinations,  we decided to interview three Bocconi students who are doing three different experiences in this continent: Sara Chiuri, Bachelor’s exchange student at Yonsei University, in Seoul, South Korea; Kristiana Santos, a WBB student, who is studying for her 4th year at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; and Alberto Rota, Essec-Bocconi double degree MSc student, who is studying for this semester at Essec – Singapore campus.

Sara Chiuri

Bachelor’s exchange at Yonsei University, in Seoul (South Korea)

Many students gave up their exchange applications in 2020 because of the pandemic. Why did you choose to leave?

2020 has been a hard year for me (like for everyone), so I really needed a change in my life. Covid-19 has made me understand the importance of catching every opportunity and living the moment, so I just could not give up my exchange. I knew it was risky but this program has been my dream since the beginning of university, so I just tried to pick the safest destination and hope for the best.

Did Covid-19 influence your exchange destination? Why did you choose this country?

Covid-19 has actually been crucial in my choice. I decided to go to South Korea for two main reasons. First, it has been the best country in facing Covid-19. I needed to choose a place where I would feel safe and live an almost normal life, so South Korea was just the perfect choice. After experiencing its organized approach to the pandemic, I must also admit that I was right.
Secondly, for my exchange I was looking of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially after a year like the last one. We are young, we have a lot of time, energy, and opportunities, so why not do something extreme that we would probably not have the chance to do in the future? Given these ideas, Asia seemed just right for me. I wanted to explore something totally different and get to know a new culture.

Is there a blended format for the lessons or are they 100% in presence/online? How are they managed?

The lessons are 100% online. They are managed on Zoom and we use a platform for the online material.

Do you think that with lessons in presence your experience would have been better?

Lessons in person would surely have been better, since they would have been the perfect occasions to know people, especially Koreans. This is hard to do without in-presence lessons since we live in a dormitory solely for exchange students and there are no big events where you can get to know other students better.

Do you have to face daily restrictions when you are on campus? If yes, could you make some examples?

Daily restrictions on the campus have impacted classes (since all lessons are online), sports facilities, and association life (for example, the mentors club is holding only online events). For the rest, everything on campus is open. We just have to use an app to register our presence in the various buildings, which we also do in every place outside the campus.

Do you think that your experience will lack quality because of the pandemic?

About the whole experience, I would surely have had more fun without the pandemic since there are some restrictions, but I believe that the academic quality in the end is almost the same, since they are really well organized. But, in general, it will still be a wonderful experience, like it has been until now and I am appreciating it more, since I have been so lucky to travel in a period like this.

Is it possible to travel in the country where you are right now? If it is possible now or when it will be possible in the future, would you like to visit more of your exchange destination?

Travelling inside South Korea is totally possible! After exploring Seoul, I am doing my first trip to Gangneung, and in the next months I planned to see other places like Busan or Jeju Island. Obviously, travelling outside the country is not possible since the quarantine is compulsory when coming back to South Korea.

Basing off what you have lived until today, how would you judge this experience? Would you do everything again?

I can just say that for now it has been a crazy amazing experience. I have met great people and seen incredible places. I am totally happy with my choice, since this country has exceeded my best expectations. I would do everything again a thousand times and I hope that it will continue like this.

Kristiana Santos

WBB student (4th year), currently at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)

Why did you choose Hong Kong for your final year of WBB experience?

While I have thoroughly enjoyed all three WBB cities, Hong Kong has been the one where I’ve felt the most independent. The combination of efficient public transportation and plenty to do has enabled me to explore Hong Kong on a daily basis, both individually and with friends. I hadn’t explored the city enough during my second year, as I spent most breaks traveling elsewhere in Asia, so a silver lining of COVID restrictions has been the opportunity to focus inwardly on Hong Kong. There is also a surprising number of national parks here—ideal for COVID restrictions—and life here has been relatively normal over the last year. Additionally, since I grew up in Los Angeles and will be working in New York after graduating, I wanted to spend one more year abroad (particularly in Asia, as I can see myself returning to Asia in the long term.  

Is there a blended format for the lessons or are they 100% in presence/online? How are they managed?

Lesson format has changed as the COVID situation has. We started this year with purely online classes, then we switched to a hybrid format when the daily COVID cases dropped to single digits. Currently, most classes with less than 75 students offer an in-person option. Students have the flexibility to attend either in-person or over Zoom. Classrooms are decked out with plexiglass in between each seat, and the HKUST professors have done an incredible job of switching back and forth between formats.

Do you have to face daily restrictions when you are on campus?

There aren’t many restrictions that we face on campus specifically, beyond the city-wide restrictions—namely, wearing face masks at all times and not gathering in groups of more than four people. Gyms and sports facilities require bookings in advance and operate at lower capacities. We simply check our temperatures and scan the Leave Home Safe app whenever we enter a canteen/venue.

4. Is it possible to travel in Hong Kong? Have you done any trips recently?

As Hong Kong is relatively small, we are able to move freely within it. There are many outlying islands that make great day trips, accessible by ferry. We’ve spent much of this year exploring the outdoors—hiking, camping, swimming, and much more (around 75% of Hong Kong is actually green space, and 40% is national parks!).

Travel to most of the surrounding countries, however, would require a strict quarantine upon arrival (and a 14-21 day hotel quarantine upon return to Hong Kong), so we have not been able to travel outside of Hong Kong.

Basing off what you have lived through from September until today, how do you think Covid-19 impacted your university life?

My WBB cohort had to leave Milan unexpectedly in February of 2020, cutting short both our time together and our time to explore Italy and Europe. Adjusting to online classes was difficult, as all students experienced, and closed borders removed a central part of the WBB experience—traveling. However, positive elements also resulted from the unexpected. Even though I was separated from most of my cohort (Class of 2021) sooner than anticipated, the sophomore WBB students that are here in Hong Kong (Class of 2023) have truly become a second cohort to me. If it weren’t for COVID, I probably would not have ended up in Hong Kong for my fourth year, and I am so happy that I did. I’m very lucky to have spent the last year in a city where life has been relatively normal. Ultimately, COVID gave me a greater appreciation for how incredible my first 2 ½ years of WBB were.

What are the current restrictions in Hong Kong?

Only residents and visa-holders are allowed to enter Hong Kong and they are required to quarantine in a hotel for 21 days upon arrival. Face masks are required in public spaces and group gatherings are currently limited to four people (this number has fluctuated based on the situation). Restaurants have plastic dividers in between each group of four people, and they are open for both indoor and outdoor dining until 10 pm. Most venues, including bars and clubs, were able to open during majority of our Fall 2020 semester, although they had to close in December when the third wave started. Now that we’ve had a few days of zero locally transmitted cases, beaches and fitness facilities have all been allowed to reopen.

Alberto Rota

First year MSc, Double Degree-ESSEC: Currently at Singapore, Going to Mumbai in October, Paris in 2022

How have you found the differences between the two countries’ education systems based on your current impressions?

I am attending the Pacific campus of the French university ESSEC, so it is structured around a French model. The terms are shorter at 1.5 months, so there are three blocks this semester. Because the blocks are shorter, we have to write a report or do a presentation or do a midterm every seven to ten days. There is a lot of group work between these exams. All of these assignments count towards a final grade out of 20, which is again based on the French model. The classes are much smaller, with 30 to 40 students per class, so it’s easier to interact with the professor and participate. It is much quicker paced than at Bocconi.

Why did you apply to this program?

This particular program caught my eye, since it’s hard to find such a program around the world. I really liked the feature where the campus changes every semester and where I can see the interdynamics between European and Asian academia. I also wanted to expand my personal horizons by getting in touch with different cultures, ways of thinking, ways of doing things. Singapore, for example, is surrounded by multiple international neighborhoods, so I get to experience a lot of interesting cultures. There’s also the divide between the financial center and traditional neighborhoods like Chinatown, so it’s eye-opening to see this contradiction.

Do you have to face daily restrictions when you are on campus? If yes, could you make some examples?

Yes, every time I go to the campus I have to register through a QR code and my ID number, so the university keeps track on who’s on campus. Of course, we always have to wear masks and we can take them off only and only if we’re drinking and eating at the cafeteria.

Is there a blended format for the lessons or are the 100% in presence/online? How are they managed?

It is a blended format, because the Singapore government imposes a 60% normal capacity on public buildings. So it is half-and-half alternating weeks.

How have the restrictions impacted in-presence classes, if they are still implemented?

Without restrictions they would have, of course, been better if we were on campus all the time. I focus better on campus so the effectiveness of the online classes may not be optimal. I once did a group presentation in class with half of the group online; coordinating between online and in-presence was somewhat difficult.

Do you think that your experience abroad will lack quality because of the pandemic?

No. Singapore still allows travel within the country so I get to explore the city and its nature reserves when I can. Singapore has been very effective in containing the virus. When you come to the country, the government puts you on a bus from the airport and then quarantines you in a hotel for 14 days, and then tests you before allowing you to go home. The only cases found in Singapore come from these mandatory quarantines.

Is it possible to travel in the Country where you are right now? If it is possible now or when it will be possible in the future, would you like to visit more of your double degree destination?

I can’t travel to other places outside Singapore. The city itself is calm and under control for the most part, but their neighbors are too risky to visit. Bars, museums, restaurants, attractions, hiking spots, and other places in Singapore are open. There is a limit of 8 people gathering outdoors and 8 people plus the owners for indoor gatherings. There are even discussions of augmenting the number if there are 2-3 cases per day. It is basically okay to do anything within the Singaporean borders. I do some hikes every now and then and explore the city center when I can. It is unknown what Mumbai and Paris will be like in the next 8 months, and the DD program managers are observing closely how the host countries are dealing with the pandemic. So I am enjoying my time while I can.

How is social life? Is it impacted by Covid-19?

I have met both the 20 people from Bocconi and the 20 from ESSEC through the DD program. There are also people from the ESSEC exchange program that are mostly French students. I have mostly met with DD students, especially since we’ll be in the same locations in the future. Despite the pandemic, I found myself meeting interesting people through the program and making friends during the classes. There is the mask mandate and 8-person limit but otherwise it’s been fine.

Basing off what you have lived until today, how would you judge this experience? Would you do everything again?

So far, it has been incredible. I have never been to Asia, and this was a big opportunity to see other countries and other cultures. I am getting to try a lot of new, great-tasting foods, even though at some venues I can only point to the food on the menus for now. There are a lot of exciting months ahead!

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I’m an Economics and Management student at Bocconi University, coming from Puglia. I’m interested in all forms of art, cinema, literature and culture.

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Kellie is a World Bachelor in Business student from Hong Kong. Through her conversations and experiences, she loves to ponder the world from different perspectives. She is especially curious about international affairs, culture, and sustainable finance.

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I am a MSc Management student with an interest in the growing sustainability industry. My interests lie in the social impact of business and history of organization.

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