As the epicenter of violent clashes between police and protesters in Hong Kong shifted from city streets to college campuses last week and forced universities to cut their programs short, most 5C students studying abroad in the semi-autonomous territory were quickly evacuated.
Katherine Adelman CM ’21 and Josh Rodriguez CM ’21 were studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong when the school announced Nov. 13 that it would end its semester early due to police-protester clashes on campus, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
They said they had to shelter in place for three days at CUHK as protesters barricaded entrances to campus Nov. 10 and clashed violently with police on a bridge close to their dorm the following day. As riot officers stormed campus, firing tear gas, protesters responded with Molotov cocktails and bricks, according to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
“We had to turn off our air conditioning and lock our windows so the tear gas and smoke wouldn’t seep through the AC and get into all our rooms and hallways,” Adelman said.
During this time, most CUHK dining halls were closed, and food was limited, Rodriguez said.
Adelman said a feeling of cabin fever enveloped some international students at CUHK and there was “growing resentment” for the protests that had disrupted their daily lives.
“By Tuesday morning, administrators had completely lost control of campus,” Adelman said, adding that protesters had hot-wired much of the campus transportation system. “We knew we couldn’t rely on the school for safety at that point.”
On Nov. 13, CUHK’s public relations office announced in an email that the school was ending its first term prematurely and canceling all remaining classes due to the escalating protests, public transit disruption and “severe damage” to campus facilities.
“I was just petrified by the situation…. I’m not sure I really understood the gravity of the situation to the extent I did that night. It just didn’t feel real.” – Kelly Ho PO ’21
Adelman and Rodriguez departed CUHK the same day, packing their essentials in a backpack and, with assistance from protesters, climbing over the barricades to catch a taxi to the house of a family friend, who works at the American consulate in Hong Kong.
Reluctant to return to the U.S. prematurely, the pair flew to Singapore and then to Taiwan, where they’re currently staying with Adelman’s family.
The CMC administration is monitoring the situation, spokesperson Peter Hong said via email, and will continue to allow students to study in Hong Kong in the spring.
In recent days, universities in Hong Kong have become a battleground for protests which started six months ago over an extradition bill allowing Hong Kong residents to be tried in Chinese courts. Though the bill has since been withdrawn, the protests have morphed into a struggle to preserve the territory’s semi-autonomy from the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
The protests at CUHK subsided by Nov. 15, though police have since accused CUHK of being a “manufacturing base for petrol bombs and a refuge for rioters and criminals,” according to The Guardian.
Five Pomona College students studying at Syracuse University in Hong Kong also saw their program end prematurely.
Nick Timms PO ’21 and Kelly Ho PO ’21 said Syracuse administrators told them via email Nov. 14 that their program would be ending a month early.
“We had to turn off our air conditioning and lock our windows so the tear gas and smoke wouldn’t seep through the AC and get into all our rooms and hallways.” – Katherine Adelman CM ’21
Timms and Ho, along with other Pomona students in Hong Kong, lived in an apartment complex district roughly half an hour from the city center, where the majority of protests occurred. Both said they rarely worried for their safety, only encountering the unrest in Hong Kong via public transit slowdowns and closures.
“More than me getting tear gassed, or me getting kidnapped and hit by a protester or police, I was more afraid I’d be stranded somewhere with no way to get home,” Ho said.
Things changed this past Sunday night, when protesters on their way to Hong Kong Polytechnic University — the site of a violent encounter between students and police that resulted in a police siege — stormed the central street by their apartment, according to Ho.
Protesters barricaded the street and launched bricks and Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with tear gas as the students watched from a window above, Timms said. The protests lasted until the morning, according to Ho, who was up all night watching the action unfold.
The next morning, Syracuse administrators informed them that they needed to evacuate their apartment building by 5:30 p.m. that day, they said.
“The whole thing was really surreal because beforehand I would just see those things on different media sites, but now it was right outside my doorstep,” Timms said. “Before last week, I thought calling Hong Kong a warzone was a bit too much, but seeing the state that it’s in now, ‘warzone’ is not too crazy of an adjective to use.”
“I was just petrified by the situation,” Ho said, adding that she could smell the tear gas used by police through her apartment window. “I’m not sure I really understood the gravity of the situation to the extent I did that night. It just didn’t feel real.”
The students were evacuated to the Hong Kong Disneyland hotel Monday and taken to the airport the next day, according to Ho. Timms quickly returned home to Chicago, and Ho flew to Vietnam to stay with her extended family.
One Harvey Mudd College student is also currently studying in Hong Kong, according to Mudd spokesperson Judy Augsburger.
“We are in contact with the student and are monitoring the situation, and will provide for travel home if the student desires to return early,” Augsburger said via email.
“The whole thing was really surreal because beforehand I would just see those things on different media sites, but now it was right outside my doorstep…. Before last week, I thought calling Hong Kong a warzone was a bit too much, but seeing the state that it’s in now, ‘warzone’ is not too crazy of an adjective to use.” – Nick Timms PO ’21
Though Augsburger did not confirm the institution at which the student is studying, the only Hong Kong study abroad program approved by the HMC office of study abroad is affiliated with CUHK, according to the school’s website.
The structure of Timms’ and Ho’s program allowed them to complete all of their course credits before departing Hong Kong, they said.
Adelman and Rodriguez said they will likely receive full credit for the semester from CUHK, either through online classes or based off their performances prior to their departure. They also said CMC has offered to work with them to secure adequate credit if they are unable to do so with CUHK.
“Detailed arrangements about assessment and learning support for all first term courses will be worked out by a University Task Force,” CUHK’s email announcement said.
Both the Pomona and CMC students said they felt supported by their respective colleges throughout their tumultuous experiences.
Ho said she was grateful for ongoing communications with Pomona’s study abroad office and the counseling services she was provided after leaving Hong Kong by Tracy Arwari, senior associate dean of academic and personal success.
“Whenever I felt anxious or scared or panicked, knowing that Pomona was behind me made me feel a lot better, and I feel really thankful to Pomona for that,” Ho said.
No students from Scripps College are currently studying abroad in Hong Kong, according to Neva Barker, director of Study Abroad and Global Education at Scripps.
The study abroad offices at Pomona and Pitzer College did not respond to requests for comment.
All videos courtesy of Nick Timms PO ’21.
This article was last updated November 22 at 2:50 p.m.