24 February 2019
Working for a master's degree while doing a full-time job in this fast-paced city is quite a challenge, more so if you are an expat student. Photo: HKU
Working for a master's degree while doing a full-time job in this fast-paced city is quite a challenge, more so if you are an expat student. Photo: HKU

Life of a part-time expat student in HK: It’s all about balance

I can’t believe it. I’m in the final semester of my master’s program at the University of Hong Kong.

Never have I thought it would be possible for me to work full-time while going to school part-time, and neither have I thought I would be doing my master’s in Hong Kong, instead of my home country Canada.

Yet the opportunity came to my doorstep, and here I am accepting the challenge.

I love being a student again – going to campus with other free-spirited individuals who are so young, so innocent and hungry for knowledge. I’m not too old myself but I definitely feel the difference going to school this time around.

Time flew by and I return to school with a new perspective on life. I envy those who have 15 hours of classes a week, while I have close to 40 hours of work each week while attending three hours of lectures three nights a week, and spending my two days off locked up in my room doing everything life throws at me plus readings and homework.

It’s been crazy trying to balance all these things.

I’m trying to convince myself of a crazy philosophy and to live by this standard: “Work hard, play harder.” I deserve it, after all.

I’m lucky to have a rather unusual work schedule, which so far has been working in my favor.

I work from Tuesday to Saturday, and those days include two nights of classes that last until 9 p.m.

Otherwise, I work until 7 p.m., and try to have a life afterwards, meaning dinner and catch-up with friends, or having some time for myself for some peace and reflection.

I spend time on a patio looking at the lights of the city, and other nights on campus, chatting away with my classmates who have become my new friends.

My Sundays become “Study Sundays”, the day I lock myself up in my room to finish all my homework. To save time, I’ve also developed a horrible habit – McDonald’s delivery, the convenience of not having to leave my flat for lunch or dinner.

Then comes “HKU Monday”.

I usually do all miscellaneous tasks such as doctor’s appointment, banking and buying supplies on this day or attend interesting lectures on campus. Then my night ends with a class that runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

I seem to have my life under control. Everything seems to be quite organized, or so I thought.

But as I reflect on my sleeping schedule, my stress level and my body signals, I can’t help but face the reality. The truth is I’m burning out.

Going for a master’s degree is no joke. I’m doing something really great, something much bigger than myself, and I’m paying a lot for it. Financially, physically and emotionally.

Without realizing it, I’ve sucked myself into the typical Hong Kong lifestyle.

I want to do more than what my body is capable of. How did I get myself in this mess? 

This part-time master’s program takes two years, and it’s been a very deep learning curve for me. I was falling into a deep black hole without even realizing the consequences of how it can destroy me.

After a year of full-time work, I called it quits and found work that better matched the hours and lifestyle I needed for school. I taught myself to re-adjust. I told myself that it is okay and found a new way to balance my life.

It was scary to see myself falling apart, to suffer from a work burnout that took a toll on my health and well-being but I’m finally changing the rules of the game.

Life is tricky but we need to look back and reflect and make the necessary changes.

I’m glad I did. Doing my master’s in Hong Kong was the best decision I’ve ever made and I don’t regret any of it.

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HKU graduate student from Toronto, Canada; works in the education sector

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