Physics student Iris Reitsma (21) was studying in Hong Kong for a semester when the university closed due to the ongoing protests. The UvA called on her to return, offering to pay for her flight, but Iris wants to stay.
How are things now in Hong Kong?
‘The HKU is on Hong Kong Island where you notice less of the violence than on mainland Hong Kong where the other universities are located. The strange thing is how quickly I’ve become used to the situation and try to make the best of it, though I know many exchange students who want to go home as quickly as possible. Last Monday my Chinese flatmate told me she’s moving back to her parents, that too much of the city is unsafe. In general there are fewer people in my building, fewer people on the street. At bus stops I often see people lining up with large suitcases.’
One of Hong Kong's largest universities, Polytechnic University, has been occupied by campaigners since last Sunday. How’s your university doing?
‘Last Sunday my roommate told me that the protesters would also be occupying the HKU entrances the next morning at seven. The next day I walked to the campus with friends for our Mandarin lesson to find we couldn’t enter the building. Police were at one metro entrance and demonstrators at another. This was the first time I saw the protest up close. I watched as people, not the police, try to remove the roadblocks, but they were pelted with bricks by activists.’
When did you realise that your lessons might be stopped altogether?
‘That took a while. There were blockades again on Thursday but still I thought maybe lessons would continue next week. Only when I spoke with other students did I learn that more and more universities were shutting down. Considering all, the atmosphere is relatively calm right now even if the campus is looking a bit beat up. There’s broken glass everywhere, the metro entrances were destroyed and there’s graffiti on the walls. On the main street of the campus you see the supplies of the protesters: food, water, helmets, masks. There are guards at the entrances and you can only enter the university building with a student card.’
When did you first hear something from the UvA?
‘I’ve received emails from the UvA several times. Many of my friends here have been forced to come back, either by their home university or by their parents. My parents sometimes worry, but I’m happy I can stay. I live from day to day. You don’t know in advance which metro lines will run, and it’s hard planning to see friends because you never know which of them will suddenly decide to leave. Tonight for instance I have to say goodbye to two people, but overall I try to make the best of it. In the worst-case scenario, I’m going to travel around Asia.’