“On Monday 11 November, protests became very violent,” TU Delft student Paula (surname known to editor) recalls. “Protesters broke into the main building of our University and started wrecking the campus. The fire alarm went off and rang for one hour until the University announced that classes were cancelled for that day. A few hours later, they announced that classes would also be cancelled on Tuesday and Wednesday. Finally, on Thursday we received an email stating that the semester had been cancelled and that we didn’t need to worry about the final exams.”
Amidst all the turmoil, Paula managed to leave for Seoul. Even though the semester was cancelled, she can’t help but think of the assignments and projects she still needs to finish. The Aerospace Engineering student arrived in Hong Kong in mid-August. At that point, protests were limited to weekends and were relatively easy to avoid.
On Monday 11 November protesters started wrecking the campus.
Advice to return home
At present Paula is safely in Seoul, but she will travel back to Hong Kong soon. “Right now, I feel very confused as we don’t really know what will happen next. The embassies of our home countries (Paula is originally from Spain) have emailed us telling us to go back home. Many people bought their flights back to Europe this week (one month earlier than expected), but I still don’t know what I will do.”
Since receiving the email from the embassy, Paula also got in contact with TU Delft. However, it was not the university that initiated the contact, but a fellow student who emailed asking for advice on what to do. “Since then we are both in close contact with TU Delft and I will get full support in every way if I want to return earlier.”
This has also been confirmed by a TU Delft spokeswoman. “Last Thursday, we wrote to all the students who had registered trips to Hong Kong and advised them to return to the Netherlands. Any additional costs incurred will be borne by TU Delft.” The spokeswoman noted that two students had not registered their journeys and that they had been contacted a little later.
‘The best thing we can do is help them spread the word’
Unprepared for these kind of circumstances, Paula found herself in some stressful situations. The worst was going to the airport last Tuesday night. “Hundreds of people were running towards us because the police were shooting tear gas and running after them. It was pretty stressful, but in the end I was safe and made it to the bus that took me to the airport.”
Despite being surrounded by protests, Paula herself never joined one. “I did talk to many local students and I always try to share posts on social media. I think it’s very important that everyone knows what is going on here. All these protests are happening because the people want to be heard, so the best thing we can do is help them spread the word.”
She had never received training in dealing with these types of situations, but City University did send her a document with some tips. According to the TU Delft spokeswoman, all students that travel as part of their studies are requested to register their trips. When they register, they receive training from the Safety and Security Department and are insured through Education & Student Affairs (ESA).
Despite surrounded by protests, Paula does not regret coming to Hong Kong.
One may regret spending a semester in such turmoil. Not Paula. “Hong Kong is an amazing city, full of life, incredible nature and very tasty food! I don’t regret coming here at all,” she concludes. And even though she won’t formally finish the semester, her study will not be delayed. “We still get grades and credits for the courses. Hong Kong City University uses continuous assessments which make up about 70% of the grade so they will base our final grade on that.”
Still unsure what she will do, Paula hopes to decide this Wednesday whether she’ll go back to Delft or travel around Southeast Asia until 22 December, her original date of return.