A Homecoming


A first generation graduate from HKUST, Professor Rachel Ngai went around the world, came back and contributed to where it all started.

Born in China and moved to Hong Kong as a six-year-old, Prof Rachel Ngai still remembers fondly how life was different in her adoptive homeland. “The first time I noticed the striking differences in the economies of different places was in high school,” Rachel remembers. “I was a tutor in Hong Kong and my salary was HK$100 an hour, so much higher than that of my father who was a pharmacist, earning HK$300 a month in China.”

A quick learner, Rachel first won a scholarship to HKUST and, after graduating with a BSc in Economics, she continued her postgraduate studies in the US and received her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. She soon observed how students in the US were different from those from HK. “When I went to the US, I was not as assertive as other students. It took me a long time to master the skills of critical thinking. Asking questions is essential for a researcher.

Along with the rapid economic change in China, Rachel has observed a growing confidence among local students. “When I did my undergraduate study at HKUST from 1993 to 1996, students were still very obedient,” Much has since changed. Today, Rachel says, local students have become more confident and independent.  “I can see the local, mainland and overseas students influencing each other positively by bringing in different approaches to thinking. This interaction helps local students explore the world with a wider perspective.” An associate professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Rachel returns regularly to HK, and she is now a Visiting Fellow at HKUST Jockey Club Institute for Advanced Study (IAS).  It is good to be home.

Source: IAS Newsletter Feb 2016

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