Chapman student’s semester abroad ends early due to Hong Kong protests

The protests in Hong Kong began in June 2019 as peaceful gatherings, but have escalated to violence in the streets of Hong Kong. Photo Courtesy of Andrew Schwartz

Protests began in June regarding an extradition bill, but turned into a larger set of demands as protests turned violent

Andrew Schwartz has dreamed of studying abroad in Hong Kong since 2016. But when his dream came true and he situated himself in the city this fall, he didn’t expect to be caught up in the middle of a revolution. Or running for safety when police threw tear gas into a crowd.

After five months, the protests in Hong Kong have escalated to the point of safety concerns. The Chinese University of Hong Kong has ended the semester early on Nov. 14, due to the social movement’s turn to violence. Schwartz, a junior business administration major, is the only Chapman student studying abroad at the university.

The protests in Hong Kong started peacefully, but have recently turned violent due to the brutality and conflict between the locals and the Hong Kong police. Now, the Chinese University of Hong Kong is inoperable.

“The train station is vandalized. There are no workers coming in, so there is no food. Teachers and students are not coming and the entrances and exits are run by armed students. You can only pass with a student ID,” Schwartz said in a phone interview from South Korea.

After the school announced the end of the semester Nov. 14, Schwartz’s mom helped him book a flight to South Korea, where he would be safer.

“My parents are worried, but they have ensured my safety,” Schwartz said. “I’m worried about getting back and getting my stuff, but I’m thankful to be safe.”

The Center for Global Education is aware of the situation. “We monitor the situation along with our program providers and will do whatever is necessary to get the students to return to Chapman or to a safe location,” Jodi Hicks, assistant director of Overseas Program, wrote in an email to The Panther.

This is not the first time a study abroad semester has ended early. Hicks said an earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011 and a similar process was enacted to ensure students’ safety. Schwartz has been in Hong Kong since August, the beginning of the semester, and saw first-hand how the protests have evolved.

“In the beginning, people would vandalize campus, spray painting swastikas because they call China ‘Chinazi.’ But now a lot is different; people are hijacking and hotwiring buses, spray painting the city and chopping brick off the side walls to block streets,” Schwartz said. “It’s literally an army, kids at Chapman cannot do that.”

Schwartz was aware of the protest going on before he left, but he decided to go “no matter what.” Chapman tried to get him to go to London, due to the airport being shut down a week prior to his flight, Schwartz said. His parents were also concerned about his safety, but he was determined to visit the city of his dreams.

About a month ago during China’s National Day, the protests escalated to a point where the entire line of the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) was shut down at 7 p.m. instead of the usual 1 a.m. “It was like a curfew,” Schwartz said.

The protesters have five demands: withdrawing the extradition bill, inquiring commission into police brutality, retracting classification of protesters as “rioters,” amnesty for arrested protesters and dual universal suffrage for legislative council and the chief executive. Only the withdrawal of the extradition bill, which formerly required Hongkongers to be prosecuted for crimes in mainland China, has been met.

Schwartz’s opinions of the protests in Hong Kong have changed throughout his semester abroad.

“While I still support the revolution, I don’t agree with how much violence has escalated. A student is dead and others have been hospitalized after being shot by police with live ammo. The protest and police response affect many regular people’s lives as they continue their daily routines,” Schwartz said. “At this point, the extreme violence is only hurting the cause. But the government won’t listen, so I understand why protesters would resort to some of their tactics.”

During his time in Hong Kong, Schwartz has made local friends who want a safe future directed by democracy.

“They are fed up with the unjust treatment at the hands of Hong Kong police who have used excessive force during these last few months,” he said.

Schwartz has returned to Hong Kong to prepare for the next steps after the abrupt end to his semester abroad.

“It’s important for Chapman to be aware because the protesters are students just like us. It’s easy to forget about the rest of the world when you’re in our little bubble in Orange,” Schwartz said. “If we were fighting this fight we would want the world’s support.”