Undergraduates Ms Emma Benitha Sugira and Ms Rahma Mbabazi have a few things in common.
They both hail from Rwanda, a country in East Africa, but have chosen to pursue their studies overseas in Hong Kong, about 9,500km from home.
They also share a love for engineering — a field traditionally dominated by males worldwide. Second-year student Ms Sugira is currently majoring in product and industrial engineering, while third-year undergraduate Ms Mbabazi is pursuing a degree in aviation engineering. Both are recipients of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) scholarship, which covers their tuition fees and a portion of their living expenses.
“I can specialise in product design and develop management skills for business,” says Ms Sugira, while Ms Mababazi, who loves to explore new places in different countries, notes: “Aviation is one of the most global industries with career opportunities around the world.”
Every year, PolyU representatives visit high schools in Rwanda to showcase the range of courses offered for potential international students. In particular, programmes in science and technology are aligned with Rwanda’s goals — it has been reported that the African country had aimed to invest over 1 per cent of its gross domestic product into research, technology and innovation by 2020.
What is the appeal of Hong Kong to international students?
A new home in a strategic location
Located in the heart of Asia with easy access to mainland China, Hong Kong has been one of the world’s most popular travel destinations for both leisure and business.
Says Ms Mbabazi: “I wanted to study in the eastern part of the world, and Hong Kong’s strategic location was perfect.”
Ms Sugira, who has always wanted to explore Asia since she was young, shares the same sentiment. She adds: “I would describe Hong Kong as a gateway to the whole of Asia. The vibrant city opens opportunities to meet every race, which makes it a beautiful place to spend my university days and explore culture, language, food, nature and life in general.”
For students like them, it is easy to get a glimpse of the boundless opportunities in the region, while immersing themselves in an international environment where English is widely spoken.
Experiencing multiculturalism at every turn
First-time visitors to Hong Kong will discover that the Chinese city seems global. While the majority of Hong Kong’s population is Chinese, “Asia’s World City'' comprises diverse ethnicities: local-born Caucasians, those from the Middle East and South-east Asia, long-term resident South Asians, and African and Latin communities.
Tertiary institutes such as PolyU also reflect this multicultural advantage. Ms Sugira, a member of the International Student Association, says being a student in Hong Kong enables her to embrace culture she might not experience on a single visit or exchange to the city, and that she “was attracted by the food and the culture”.
As for Ms Mbabazi, Hong Kong is a multicultural place where each person is valued and respected despite their backgrounds and cultural values. She says: “The best part of studying in Hong Kong is being able to interact with diverse individuals and making friends from different parts of the world.”
Feeling the warmth of Hong Kong’s hospitality
As a microcosm of the larger city, the culture at PolyU also reflects the warmth of the Hong Kong people.
Ms Mbabazi experienced this personally when she tried to communicate with a Cantonese-speaking GoGoVan driver. She recalls: “I couldn’t understand a lot, so I asked the security guard from PolyU’s Hung Hom hall to help me with the communication. After their conversation, I was able to get the service that I was looking for.”
Concurs Ms Sugira: “As an international student in Hong Kong, I feel like I am a priority. For example, at PolyU, the community ensures that you feel safe, and you get all the help you want.”
At PolyU’s campus, friendly staff at the Global Engagement Office are always quick to help the students, whether it is help with administrative matters or offering a shoulder to lean on. Counsellors and other school advisors are also on hand to offer academic or career advice, help for challenges faced in university, and encourage students to have a fruitful and healthy experience in their home away from home.
Making the most of Hong Kong’s education opportunities
Among Hong Kong’s over 20 higher education institutes awarding bachelor’s degrees and above, PolyU ranks sixth in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Top 50 Under 50 Rankings 2021. It also holds 25th place in the QS Asia University Rankings 2021, and 75th in the QS World University Rankings 2021 (up from 91st place in 2020).
As one of the founding disciplines of PolyU, engineering has been the university’s focus for over eight decades. Within the engineering faculty are several departments including biomedical engineering, computing, electrical engineering (includes transportation systems engineering), industrial and systems engineering (comprises product and industrial engineering, and logistics and enterprise engineering) and the interdisciplinary division of aeronautical and aviation engineering (AAE).
Ms Sugira was able to explore the fields of product engineering or industrial engineering to discover where her passions led. “I decided to focus on industrial and systems engineering, which incorporates project management and business. This is because I love organising, speaking and multi-tasking,” she says.
Ms Mbabazi chose her aviation engineering major because of its global prospects and leadership opportunities. After she graduates next May, she will be able to pursue a postgraduate course abroad.
She adds: “I am glad my department has an affiliate connection with the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and AAE students can continue their courses there for a year-long masters degree in Aviation Management. I can transfer the credits from PolyU to UNSW during the application process.”
Enjoying room for personal growth
While pursuing their engineering dreams, Ms Mbabazi and Ms Sugira have plenty of room for personal development and passion pursuits.
At PolyU, where service-learning is an integral part of the curriculum, students can apply their skills and knowledge to deal with complex issues in social service and develop stronger empathy and a greater sense of civic responsibility. Some of the service-learning modules touch on preserving cultural heritage for ethnic minorities in contemporary Asia, and ecotourism in rural and developing regions.
While Ms Sugira has yet to embark on her service-learning trip, Ms Mbabazi completed the module last summer. She says of her experience: “My friends and I prepared materials and taught primary school children from Rwanda different skills. I was able to connect with children from my home country, which felt amazing, and the whole experience was worth the time invested.”
She also served as public relations manager of the International Students Association (ISA) during her second year, picking up communication, teamwork and leadership skills. And she was a member of the PolyU karate team to pick up self-defence skills.
Students at PolyU can also embark on work-integrated education — a special internship programme for industrial experience, and opt to complete an exchange overseas when the Covid-19 situation improves.