Screen shot 2014-06-19 at 2.34.57 PM

Halls for Me… And You?

June 20, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

Disclaimer: This article does not intend to scare anyone away from applying and/or living in a hall. This is merely a reflection on my experience. I’m not going to detail every bit of my bit of hall experience, but rather paint a picture of what halls are to me and what could possibly be done better. At the end of the day, it’s your own personal choice and everyone’s experience is different. This is only one story.

I chose to stay in a hall right at the beginning of my HKU journey. Sadly, it was a little short-lived than I had hoped. I left a couple of days into the first semester. I was partly to blame, given my poor knowledge of halls before I joined. But I don’t entirely blame myself because there were close-to-zero possible ways for me to research and dig into the history of halls.

Most of the information regarding halls are from local Hong Kong forums commenting on the notion of “hall culture”, most of which, end up berating the “hall culture” system. Additionally, given my poor levels of Chinese, I found it ridiculously hard to make sense of the somewhat recognisable Chinese characters (something I vow to correct during my time at HKU).

Leaving the silly forums, I googled to land myself on a student review from a previous exchange student from Canada. Everything about the halls was extremely positive (e.g. cleanliness, friendliness of the people) and that was the vibe that I got from one of the most stressful days in my life “Registration Day”. Everyone was really enthusiastic to have me just to go have a peek of what their hall was like. Given the wonderfully, at points overwhelming, enthusiasm and positivity that I got from oh-so-reliable Google and the miniscule amount of personal experience, I thought that I wouldn’t be wrong in submitting myself to a hall and… I had absolutely nothing to loose. What could be better than starting off Uni life with a bunch of excited mates and a place that’s a mere 15 minutes away from the infamous Lankwai? What could possibly go wrong…

Little did I know that I’d be quitting my hall after 2, rather long weeks (orientation before the semester started and a couple of days after). The whole notion of “hall” is very different for everyone, some have a blast, some don’t and I guess I fell in the “don’t” category.

The very first thing I learnt about halls, the hard way, is that the undying crazy spirit from halls is very real, whether you liked it or not. During my “hall orientation”, the orientation organisers and executive committee members made sure that I was going to accept and adopt this hall spirit within one short week and continue this over-infatuation with hall for the next 4 years of my uni life.

Each morning consisted of perfecting “hall military training cheers” and hall songs. After, I was to participate in physically and mentally tough challenges that often concluded with, at times, an over sentimental reflection period. To be fair, it’s a great process, being able to reflect on the things you’ve achieved and the things you haven’t. In a way, it really pushes you to grow as a person, something that “hall culture” strongly emphasises. It’s a good thing, but this often originates from a series of failures, or horribly direct MOs, where things tend to get awfully ugly.

MOs are a short abbreviation for Mass Orientation, where newly admitted residents are invited onto a stage, one by one, to be “evaluated” by the other members of the hall, including currents and alumni. This usually results in having the newly admitted residents stand vulnerably in front of the hall body, whilst quietly accepting the criticisms that other’s have devised. At times, the student is also treated as a medium for other members of the hall to vent about their issues with hall culture and the future of the hall, hoping to be able to put their very own footprint on hall history. I am aware that this specific activity is not exclusive to halls, but this is one of the most memorable hall orientation experiences I have.

On the other hand, given the strong sentiment regarding the ideal of democracy, changes are hard to make. As much of a changemaker you aspire to be, you dive head in, with pools of motivation and passion, but the “hall culture” system always manages to drain those pools out. This is also the result of the tight grip of bureaucracy we have around our university as a whole.

Although it’s not the same for all halls out there, but some do have this unspoken (some spoken) pressure on joining multiple hall activities at once. This is the reason why these mystery people you hear on the class attendance list never seem to make an appearance. The day, for some hall residents, starts with being too tired to wake up for the 830/1030 class, leading to skiving, then a chain of meetings or practices for when the student becomes reasonably aware of his or her surroundings, by the time everything comes to an end, it’s probably a ridiculous time of day, and repeat.

Similarly, it is common for one in a hall to attend ridiculously long and unproductive meetings to witness others argue over irrelevant and miniscule issues, whilst others blatantly “attend” the meeting by staring into their digital screens of death, which just so happens to be showing the newest 9gag GIF.

What made me dislike the notion of “hall culture” or halls in general was the over-emphasis on the negative areas (e.g. what we didn’t achieve, why we couldn’t do it as a team, why we don’t share and care about each other at ALL times of the day etc.) and the expectation for us to build a strong, solid bond over difficult times. Although it’s a great way to learn from mistakes, getting me to really like something or someone does not stem from negative, hard or tough memories, no matter how emotionally strong they may be. Likewise, there’s always this feeling of hopelessness after witnessing how halls are run. The fact that the situation will probably never change for the next 10 years or so, contributing to this vicious cycle that replays itself in front of your own bare eyes. And you can’t stop it.

To me, it’s a simple thought of human nature, to live happily, with memories to cherish, memories you wish you could relive. It’s not that halls don’t give their residents that, but halls have become more of a program, a factory (almost), that takes the naïve students by the hand, when their fresh into a new foreign world, and invites them to explore the overhyped notion of halls. Whilst in halls, it is customary to build relationships over tacky situations and heated debates about how to move forward. But the truth is that genuine bonds are built on a level of trust acquired through love and care, not during opportunities that are thrust upon people to show off their sacrifices.

Many may not agree with what I say about halls and I’m OK with that. Some actually do have a blast and sometimes I do envy them and I do wish that I never quit my hall. But I don’t regret my final decision; it was perhaps one of the most relieving and one of the most important decisions I’ve made so far in my uni life.

People may say that I’m too biased and I don’t understand how halls work … Yes, you’re right, I probably don’t. But at the end of the day, as long as I understand how I work, uni life will never be better. I guess the lesson I’ve learnt is that I don’t have to change who I am to be accepted and to be engaged in the school community. There are more than enough ways for us kids who choose to stay at home to celebrate the “best 4 years of your life”.