My name is Jana Saastamoinen and I am a second year Events and Leisure Marketing student. I have just completed a study exchange semester in Macau.
I am fairly outgoing and love jumping at every opportunity that pushes my boundaries.
I wanted to spend six months studying in Asia because it was a part of the world I hadn't really travelled to before and this seemed like the perfect way to emerse myself into a different culture. I decided to go to Macau because it was a country I knew nothing about and it seemed like a place I wouldn't normally visit, so why not just move there for the experience.
Before leaving, I was really nervous about the language barriers, finance and making friends because I didn't know anyone before moving there. All of this was for nothing as I ended up having the best half year of my life. I made friends for life, travelled a lot and learnt so much about Asia as well as about myself.
Tips Before Leaving
Get started on your paperwork early
I left my medical examination for two and a half weeks before it was due and barely got it back in time.
Hand in your alternative assignments early
I know everyone always says this, but the semester in Macau starts early January and you do not want to be stuck in the study room writing essays and other projects while you're there like I was.
Save as much money as you can
At least in my year, BU didn't offer any funding so I had to be prepared to pay for everything myself. Accommodation and transportation in Macau is relatively cheap. You can also find inexpensive restaurants or cook for yourself to save money while you're there, but I recommend putting aside money for travelling around Asia. Make use of your time there as it's considerably cheaper to fly to Asian countries while you're there than it is to fly from Europe.
Reach out to previous exchange students
Having spoken to people who had gone to Macau before us really helped us feel prepared. They told us what places we should visit, what courses they recommended to take, what culture differences to expect and talked about the life there in general. I am happy to help everyone so feel free to reach out to me if you're going to or thinking about going to Macau.
Once You Get There
If you're landing in Hong Kong
Do not go get your luggage when you arrive. Go straight to the ferry counter, they will get your luggage for you and you'll get in in Macau. If you go to the baggage claim, you won't be able to go back and will have to either take the ferry from Central or take the bus.
One of the most important things I learnt is to talk to everyone and just socialize. Everyone's in the same situation of being in a foreign culture not knowing anyone and this way you make tons of new friends. It can get very lonely staying in the room, so just take every opportunity to do things.
The courses aren't difficult to pass so choose what interests you or what would be benefitial in the future even if they're final year courses. Everyone's favourite was Wine Studies so if you can, sign up for that. Also sign up for extracurriculars. IFT offers free language courses and sports like boxing, volleyball and fencing.
Lunar New Year Celebration
Grand Lisboa Landscape
Macau is a place that is almost impossible to understand without experiencing it.
Macau is known as the Las Vegas of Asia. There are glitzy, glamorous resorts, hotels and shopping centres with huge casinos in the middle everywhere. The gambling revenue there exceeds that of Las Vegas, making it one of the most visited cities in the world, although most tourists come from Mainland China.
Macau used to be a Portuguese colony and you can see the heritage everywhere in the architecture, food, street signs and even sidewalks. This made it easy to move around as all of the street signs and bus stops had Portuguese translations for the Cantonese and it is far easier to read latin letters than Chinese characters.
The culture is very collective, but people were generally very nice to us foreigners. A lot of people, especially the younger generation spoke English and those who didn't still went out of their way to help us understand what they were saying with voice translation apps or body language. We made a lot of local friends while we were there and still keep in touch.
Ruins of St. Paul
Travelling within Asia is super cheap. A lot of the exchange students were in a different country almost every week and hearing all of their stories was amazing.
I got a chance to go to Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and Mainland China. If you have the opportunity, definitely go to as many places as you can while you're there. Personally I do recommend going to the Philippines if you want a relaxing beachy type holiday because the locals were some of the nicest people I've ever met and we constantly got offers to do activities like canyoneering (jumping off cliffs and waterfalls) and island hopping for basically no money at all. If you prefer a city vacation, go to South Korea or Japan, but it's handy to have someone who can speak Korean or Japanese with you.
From what I've heard, everyone loved the culture and sights in Cambodia, so that's also worth considering.
Canyoneering in Moalboal
In Macau I attended the Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT). Comapred to BU, it is far easier to get a good grade, however, they do require 80% attendance and have a lot of small projects within every unit compared to one big one and one exam that I'm used to at Bournemouth.
I was able to choose my own courses, which meant I could study what interested me. I chose mostly marketing courses and one for hospitality management. Although all of the lectures are in English, not all students speak the language fluently, which means that there weren't many discussions, but this was subsituted with many group projects or individual assignments. All of our lecturers were very welcoming and engaged the exchange students as much as possible.
IFT also organized a ton of events for us. They hosted an immersive welcome week, a couple movie nights, a Oscar themed gala type night and a bittersweet farewell party.
Our accommodation was at the East Asia Halls, which is the IFT hostel. Rent for the whole semester was arount £600. Every floor had a hostel trainee looking after us and helping us with anything and everything from how to turn on the washing machine to helping us order takeaway. There's a pool table, ping pong, foosball and vending machines in the lobby, where we spent most of our time as boys and girls aren't otherwise allowed on the same floor. The only major downside was that the hostel is located on top of a steep hill, but you can take a bus almost to the entrance and it's great exercise.
The rooms are quite small and basic, but have eveything you really need: a closet, shelves, desk, bed and bedside table. I shared my room with a Finnish girl and quickly became really good friends. Every floor had one shared kitchen, which was huge and despite over 20 people using it, there was never any lack of space.
The wardens are very strict with the hostel rules. Boys and girls aren't allowed on the same floor except for the lobbby, you have to keep quiet after 10pm and cannot smoke anywhere except the designated areas. However, they are really nice and will help you with anything you need, including if you need to go to hospital or any required maintenance.
Casinos and resorts
We spent the first month or so exploring all the resorts because they are breathtaking. There are replicas of the canals in Venice, the Eiffel Towel and the Collosseum. They're building a London themed hotel as well and in addition to those, there are extravagant aquariums, arcades, studio sets and shopping centres in almost every building.
There is an 8km hiking trail in Coloane, which is beautiful when the sun is out and a great getaway from the busy city. We kind of always forgot we're in Macau whenever we went. There are also a couple beaches and loads of places to grill so that's where we spent a lot of our time in spring.
You can't compare the nightlife of Macau to anywhere else. There are tons of bars to have a drink, play pool, shoot darts and sing karaoke. There are a few clubs as well that are far more glamorous than those in Bournemouth.
Go see all of the main sights like the Ruins of St. Paul, UNESCO heritage buildings and countless temples.
To be completely honest, there's not much more you can do in Macau. We mainly spent time with friends walking around, talking and exploring abandoned buildings. It may not seem like there's a ton to do, but there weren't many dull moments and there's normally always an event happening somewhere.
Why You Should Go
My time in Macau was the best time of my life. I made so many close friends and fell in love with the culture. Being so far from home also teaches you a lot about yourself and puts everything in perspective.
Macau is a country and culture that cannot be properly described and I suggest everyone experiences it for themselves. There are so many sides to this tiny ex-colony, the people are very welcoming and I got to try countless new things that I otherwise may never have the opportunity to.
I think everyone should go a study exchange because in addition to it being a great addition to your CV, it's amazing for the experience, personal growth, adventures and networking. After spending six months in Macau, I am a lot more confident, outgoing and learned so much. I believe that now I am ready for anything and can go do my placement with a fresh perspective.