Accommodation at HKUST

There’s something really interesting happening at HKUST right now which has inspired me to write a much less interesting post.

So the university is currently changing its policy for allocating rooms in on-campus accommodation. What’s interesting is that the administration is attempting to make this more like an open debate on how the rules should be changed, rather than simply changing it and telling people to deal with it. This has resulted in two main groups battling each other to have their interests represented; the local students versus the international students. And I’m stuck somewhere in the middle.

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The locals planning to ‘checkmate’ the internationals. Photo: HKUST

The problem is that there are too many people who want to live on campus, and not enough rooms for them. On-campus accommodation is highly desirable as it removes the need for a costly and time-consuming daily commute to campus, but mainly as the rooms cost less than half what you would pay off campus. For exchange students like myself, there is nothing to complain about as we are guaranteed a room on campus for the duration of our exchange. But for locals and international students (non-Hong Kongers who do their entire 4-year degree here), it’s a big deal.

With the current system, most people are allowed to spend their first 1-2 years living in halls before having to move off campus. However, international students are significantly more likely to be given a room in halls for their entire university career. Understandably, the locals see this as extremely unfair towards them. Well, the uni justifies it due to it being so much harder for non-locals to find rooms here, and locals often have rent-free family homes to move back into. Additionally, many international students come here under the impression that they will be able to spend the whole time in halls. So they crunch the numbers and calculate that they can afford to do their degree here! Then after two years, they’re told “m8 did u think u could stay here more than 2 years? lol get out“, and now they literally cannot afford to pay the increased rent off-campus, and they become essentially homeless. They have no option but to abandon their degree and go home.

On the other hand, for locals with no family home (or one which is prohibitively far from campus), they find themselves in a similar situation. Why should international students get the better rooms and they have to pay three times as much to live somewhere smaller and further away? The few rooms which are given to 3rd-year and 4th-year locals are allocated using a strange point system. You get points for being an ‘active member of the student body’, for example, being in a society’s organising committee, or taking part in all kinds of programs and events. While this is a good idea in theory, it just means all the societies end up being run by people who are only in it for the points.

So there you go. Honestly, I think the uni needs to do a lot more to make the hall allocation policy more transparent. Also, they can prevent this problem from occurring in the first place by either reducing student intake or building more student accommodation. It really isn’t fair for anyone right now. I don’t really see myself as being on the international students’ ‘side’ or the local students’ ‘side’, I just want to see a fairer system for everybody.

Anyway, this boring topic reminded me to do something I haven’t done yet. ROOM TOURRRRRR! AWWW YEAAAAH GET HYPE. This is mainly for the benefit of anyone reading this who is a prospective HKUST exchange student and is curious about the accommodation system on campus. Or for internet strangers who want to see where I keep my socks.

During the application process, I was asked only two questions about accommodation. Firstly, do I want a double room or a triple room? Secondly, do I want a local roommate, an international roommate, or an exchange roommate? If there’s a specific person you want to share with, they also let you do that. No option to request a single room, no option to request a specific hall. Just get what you’re given. Okay then.

I asked for a double room with a local roommate, as I wanted to connect better with the locals during my time here (plus they go home at the weekend so I’d get the room to myself!). They put me with a guy from my home university in England. Um, okay. Great way to make new friends I guess? No idea what the hall allocation people are thinking. Turns out, nobody who requested a local roommate actually got one, because none of the locals wanted to share with an exchange student. Personally, I find this hilarious, but take what you want from it. All the exchange students I know are sharing with another exchange student or an international student. Now one thing they don’t do here is give you a questionnaire about your personality, sleeping habits etc. to match you with a good roommate. An American guy I know was complaining because his roommate was the polar opposite of his personality. I guess I got pretty lucky that my roommate has a very similar personality since we get along really well.

There are nine undergraduate halls on campus, all named by the order they were built in; from Hall I to Hall IX. I was put in Hall IX; the most recently built hall (along with VIII) with the newest and best facilities. Its main appeal is the bathrooms and toilets, which are private and shared by 4 people each, compared to other halls where an entire floor shared a large ‘bathroom’ with a bunch of stalls. However, it’s one of the furthest halls from the main uni building, so I guess swings and roundabouts. Honestly, all the halls are quite similar and mostly fine, except for the infamous hall V. Originally built as single rooms, the uni then decided to convert the beds to bunk beds and make the rooms doubles. Yes, they are tiny. They don’t seem to put exchange students there, though; I guess they don’t want us going back with a bad impression of their accommodation options.

So here’s my room! On the second floor of hall IX, with a sea-view. As you can see, the room is quite small, but we haven’t really had any space problems yet. The room is divided in two lengthwise, into ‘R’ and ‘L’ sides. We each get a narrow single bed with a thin but comfy mattress (you have to provide your own bedding). Underneath the bed are three surprisingly large roll-out storage containers. We each get a tall wardrobe, a couple of drawers, towel hanger, plastic chair, large-ish desk, bookcase, noticeboard, lamp, and loads more storage shelves above the desk. The facilities are relatively new and quite good, and there is more than enough storage space. I’m honestly quite happy with the room. Very little to complain about. Plus we have a mini fridge so that’s pretty swell.

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It’s snowing outside! No wait that’s just me failing to take a good photograph again.
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A slightly better photo of the stunning view from our window.

We also have our own sink in the room, with a large mirror and light. The water tastes very chloriney but is drinkable. Unfortunately, we don’t get hot or even warm water; just freezing cold. Makes shaving super fun. We’ve also got a ceiling fan which rotates around the room; it is controlled via a switch on the wall and has different speed settings.

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I really need to clean that mirror…

Finally, our saviour in times of 35-degree weather and 85% humidity – the air conditioner! You top it up using these machines beside the lifts, using your university ID card which you top up from these other machines somewhere else. I believe it costs 1 HKD for 65 minutes. We tend to switch it on just before we go to bed and set it to turn off for a couple hours in the middle of the night. We only needed to use it during September and October, and it cost us roughly 30p each per night. It’s bloody loud though so be warned.

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This thing has saved us from many sweaty, sleepless nights.

The toilet and shower and inside our little ‘suite’, which has its own door which requires a key to either of the rooms inside to unlock. That means no other dirty scrubs are able to come in and use our toilet; it’s just for us four dirty scrubs. We had some problems with the shower door sticking and the toilet leaking but they were both eventually fixed. I’m really happy with the bathroom facilities here.

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A picture of my toilet. Enjoy.
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Our big-ass shower cubicle with weird wall design.

Here’s the entrance to our floor with our whiteboard, where we write random stuff sometimes. Right now it’s being used to send increasingly frustrated messages to the one Indian guy on our floor who keeps smoking in the hall; it’s filling all the corridors and even some of the rooms with nasty, gross, cancer-causing cigarette smoke but he still won’t stop doing it, even though we all know it’s him. Slightly annoying but oh well.

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I bet your wooden floors aren’t this shiny. Get jelly, nerd.

So yeah, that’s my room. If you have any questions about anything to do with the accommodation system here at HKUST, feel free to post a comment or send me an email (totheislandsblog@gmail.com). I’d be happy to help.

Cheers,
Danny

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