31 May, 2016
The Liberal Art University in Hong Kong
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Flora Chen’s admission to Columbia University exhilarated the professors at the Department of Visual Studies, who witnessed another graduate with courageous willingness to define her own values and carve out her own life.

With multiple offers from Columbia University, University of California Los Angeles and New York University, Visual Studies graduate Flora Chen daringly chose Columbia University to pursue her master degree in film studies, knowing the comparatively strenuous academic environment at Columbia will pose extra challenges. Such audacity is not unusual among Visual Studies students, according to Prof Mette Hjort, who gladly shared the intriguing stories of students she taught over the past years at the Department of Visual Studies. “Our students are widely exposed to different cultures and environments during their studies. The perspectives they acquire allow them to study, work and live in any place they desire,” she said.

A cinephile inspired at Lingnan

Grown up in Hangzhou, Flora has watched a long list of Hollywood and Asian films and even skimmed through a textbook on film studies before she joined Lingnan. Yet, it was at Lingnan that she began to understand the vast intellectual realm of the subject, in particular the cinema of small nations and low-budget films which are often neglected despite their artistic values. “Prof Hjort’s approach is really special. She offered a precious global perspective on film,” said Flora. Same as many non-local students, Flora struggled with English at the beginning but managed to strive in her sophomore year.

Visual studies students at Lingnan are indeed privileged, not only because of their access to a well-designed interdisciplinary course of study, but also because of the invaluable co-curricular learning opportunities offered by the department. Under the guidance of a team of international faculty with extensive overseas networks, students develop an international and cosmopolitan mindset through participating in summer programmes on filmmaking in Ireland, or volunteer at Cannes Film Festival, on top of the opportunities to go on exchange at overseas universities such as Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

Transformation driven by kindness and dedication

Applications for graduate schools can be a long and winding process. Like many alumni of the department, Flora has been fortunate enough to receive invaluable interview advice from Prof Hjort, who has close connections with elite institutions around the world. She was particularly amazed when Prof Jane Gaines from Columbia University, with whom Prof Hjort has collaborated, sent her emails encouraging her to study at Columbia. “Prof Hjort’s dedication and kindness continue to inspire me to become a better person,” said Flora. Now working with Prof Hjort on her directed research project, she sees it as an opportunity to strengthen her research skills, which will prepare her for graduate studies.

For professors at the Department of Visual Studies, the transformation of students is definitely their source of pride. Over the years, they have continuously sent students to prestigious graduate schools including the Huston School of Film & Digital Media at the National University of Ireland, the University of Geneva, Central St Martins College of Art and Design, and the list goes on. Other graduates have established their own businesses or joined companies for which concepts of the aesthetic play a key role, especially those in the fields of fashion, jewelry and gourmet food.

“It is now the younger generation, our graduates, who are doing the inspiring - with their positive outlook, and their wonderful grasp of who they are and what they want,” said Prof Hjort.