Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Hong Kong to deliver the beginning of Social Psychology 2 to students studying BA (Hons) Social Sciences at HKU Space University. This was my first experience teaching overseas and my first visit to Hong Kong. What a time to visit the Pearl of the Orient… In the week I was there planned student protests were confined to the financial district (Central) and Tamar Park. I followed these with interest and while there was widespread awareness of the protests and TV coverage, there was no real disruption in the city and I managed to get about quickly and easily. The real escalation in activity began about 24 hours after my departure and I am following developments through some excellent accounts on twitter such as Occupy Central and Varsity CUHK. I support the students in Hong Kong and I hope they can all keep safe.
Teaching overseas was intense and hard work. After about 19 hours of travelling from Edinburgh I arrived at 5.30pm on Sunday and went straight into meetings at 9am on Monday (no mercy for my cold or the considerable jet lag!) Tiredness inevitably strikes in the mid afternoon when it is bed time in the UK. On Tuesday morning teaching began at 9am for an intensive three and a half hours. This is where I made an effort to get to know my new students for the few days I would be with them. The students at HKU Space were very friendly and very keen to learn. It was a genuine pleasure to meet and work with them.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was going to be learning a lot alongside my students. I had never considered how much cultural information I take for granted when teaching – examples, jokes, prices, imagery – all of these things have to be adapted for your teaching to have the same meaning in a different context. Sometimes my efforts were met with amusement (e.g. when I decided to talk about the Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong for my gambling example instead of betting on football matches at William Hill!). The next day I was teaching again for a four hour block in the afternoon and my students showed impressive focus during a week where they attended from 9am to 5.30pm almost every day. I found such long periods of teaching hard work but then had a day free to explore wonderful Hong Kong.
My teaching in Hong Kong raised some questions for me about the value and meaning of psychology. In May I attended a conference in Singapore where Professor Olwen Bedford spoke about indigenous psychology. I really enjoyed her presentation – it quickly made sense to me and I was keen to know more. For Social Psychology 2 I was teaching attitude formation and heuristics developed in a western culture. This is essential for a British psychology degree and my Hong Kong students are specifically working towards a British degree, but I can’t deny it felt strange telling them what was ‘normal’ when for them, it may not be. Both of my visits to Asia this year have caused me considerable reflection on psychology and teaching and I’m glad of that. I think Hong Kong will be in my thoughts for some time.