SCMP Saturday, January 13, 2001


Fascinated by local way of life


Alexander Berghofen has never regretted his decision to come to Hong Kong last August as an undergraduate exchange student.
Studying at the Polytechnic University for the past semester has been a valuable opportunity for more than just independence. It almost did not matter to the 23-year-old whether the credits he earned here would be recognised by his own institution, the University of Applied Sciences in Nuremberg, southern Germany, where he is enrolled in a business administration programme.
"Asia always fascinated me. I also wanted to know about the China market which is becoming even more important in this century," he said.
He returns home next week, having completed three business courses and one on the culture and politics of Hong Kong. He said socialising with local students had been limited due to different interests, but the learning process had been rewarding.
"It is very interesting to know about aspects of doing business in China. The professors have work experience other than teaching and spoke good English. They all brought a laptop to class to do presentations. In Germany, computers are not as common on campuses."
He has been impressed with the computer terminals attached to walls around the campus, which allow students to communicate with teachers and fellow students easily via e-mail. He sees wide use of the Internet for research as another sign of Hong Kong's modern outlook. Teaching methods, too, are different to those he has been used to. Students had to do more presentations here, though some simply reproduced materials given in class, said Mr Berghofen, who counted as another bonus the fact that he had learnt some Cantonese during his stay.
He found a joint presentation by a German and a Chinese student comparing the Tiananmen Square crackdown and events during the fall of the Berlin Wall particularly memorable.
The sight of students sleeping in class was a surprise to him, but he was thrilled when local students made a fuss of him, treating him as a "tourist attraction".
There were, however, times when he strongly felt the differences between himself and the others. "At one point, a few other exchange students and I were doing most of the talking in a class discussion. The other students were so quiet. I was a bit disappointed with that. But they became more willing to talk towards the end of the course."
Examinations, too, could be surprising as answers could simply be memorised from textbooks, he said. "In Germany, you can almost pass if you can think, without memorising facts."
Last month, he and other exchange students went on a trip to Beijing with several other classmates and a teacher, where they talked about a range of topics. "We talked a lot more to each other than in Hong Kong. We shared our impressions of Beijing.
"At the end of term, one student invited us to his home for a hotpot meal. It's something that a normal tourist would not experience."