An Engineer in Hong Kong

Looking out over the coast in China

The past two weeks I’ve been holed up in the library and in my room studying for midterms! However, over the course of these past two weeks, I have not only done a lot of studying, but also a lot of self-reflection…

Coming to Hong Kong, I realized that I would have to get used to a different academic atmosphere. After all, I would be enrolled in a completely different school that is bound to a completely different culture. However, that didn’t mean I knew how it would actually be, having to adjust to the new academic setting.

Sidney Lok in front of a mural in Hong Kong

I’ve grown extremely comfortable with Cornell’s rigorous and continuous downpour of assignments, group projects and prelims throughout the semester, as well as informal interaction with professors and TAs during office hours. I’m used to running around campus all the time and juggling multiple assignments and exams all at once.

But at HKUST, most of the classes I am taking are structured so that my entire grade depends on a midterm and a final, with very few assignments and group projects. Some classes have “tutorials” that are similar to discussion sections at Cornell, but for the classes I am taking, attendance is not required.

The majority of the time I have been here I have been relatively stress-free. I love being constantly challenged and, at first, felt that this seemingly less rigorous academic environment was not challenging me as much as I would like. However, I have started to see that it’s not that HKUST isn’t challenging… but that it poses a different type of challenge: developing the initiative to be actively learning and actively engaged in your classes.

I think that Cornell gives a perfect environment to stimulate academic curiosity and it has given me a lifelong thirst for knowledge, but I’ve learned that I have become too dependent on my professors, TAs, and fellow Cornellians to keep me motivated and academically active.

Sidney Look enjoys a meal with friends in Hong Kong

I have started to suffer the consequences of this dependence while studying for my midterms this week. It has been extremely hard for me to focus and concentrate. (Luckily my exams went well, but the moments leading up to each exam were very difficult.)

Being left to my own devices has taught me a lot about what I am actually interested in academically and career-wise. For instance, I realized that I have an interest in product design and want to figure out how I can combine that interest with my passion for sustainability. Being at HKUST has also given me a unique opportunity to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of Cornell and re-evaluate my interests.

I came into this semester thinking I was pretty much set with my plan to pursue a MEng in Environmental Engineering through the Early Master’s program. I wasn’t planning to budge. But seven weeks later, I am now contemplating taking my time with my last three semesters at Cornell, spreading out my classes more, and focusing on reflecting on what I am truly passionate about, what I really enjoy doing.

I think that these past two years, I have been rushing to the finish line when I should be cherishing these life-changing  moments of my college career. Coming to Hong Kong has helped me realize that this pattern of behavior had been my way of running away from feeling uncertain about my future, but I am finally ready to slow down and be brave enough to face the fact that I may not know exactly what I am doing.


Going Abroad
Hong Kong
back to top