In less than two weeks you will be half way around the world. Twelve time zones and thousands of miles of ocean will separate you from your family, your home, and your school. Looking back a few months, applying to the program in Hong Kong was a lot like jumping into a cold swimming pool. You knew it was something you wanted to do, but nerves held you back. As a result, it came to the final hours of the application being open for you to take the leap. Unfamiliarity is often accompanied by discomfort. Your first goal for the spring semester should be to embrace change instead of reverting back to the familiar. Secondly, it will be important for you to develop experience as an outsider and to adapt to different cultural norms. Lastly, you will want to develop your language skills so as to not be disconnected from all non-English speaking people.
While I am truly at home in Hong Kong, there are still some things I miss about school and the US. I’m starting to miss a lot of my friends at school now. I am also missing my family and being in San Francisco. I am very excited because my family is visiting in 2 weeks, and we are all traveling to mainland China together. I can’t wait to see them and have a vacation. It’s strange because while we are at school and I’ve been traveling so much, because I am alone, it hasn’t really felt like a vacation. Most of what I’m doing is very outside of my comfort zone, and I take a lot of my travel as a learning experience about other cultures and a chance to grow as a person. I am traveling alone to Vietnam tomorrow, and I couldn’t be more excited. Having experienced hostels for the first time in South East Asia, I am blown away by how friendly and communal backpackers are. I never would have thought I could feel welcomed by a group of random people from all over the world, but there is something about being outside your comfort zone that allows you to connect with other people on a new level. I am really excited to be in Ho Chi Minh alone for a week and experience the culture and people on my own time. I am excited to see what I can accomplish alone, and I think I will be pleasantly surprised by my trip.
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I have truly come to love Hong Kong, and I hope I can live here when I am older. I’m already sad about the prospect of going home because I have really taken advantage of the ability to travel here, and I will miss the opportunities Hong Kong has offered me. Some things that surprised me originally were the size of the city and the amount of people as well as the MTR (subway system). After being here for 2 months, I use the MTR all the time alone and have come to love how easily Hong Kong is to get around. While at first station names were confusing, I now know the general lay out of the city and have no fear in exploring. This has allowed me to explore different neighborhoods that have not been as touched by tourism. For example, I went camping on a beach reached only by busing, hiking, and taking a boat. The ease with which I can navigate through Hong Kong now has made the city feel much smaller and more intimate. Now when I travel, I am genuinely excited to come home to Hong Kong, and I miss all my familiar eating spots and friends.
A big part of my time abroad so far has also been traveling around Southeast Asia. I went to Thailand in the beginning of February, and I just arrived back from Cambodia. I am also traveling to Myanmar next weekend.
While in Thailand, it struck me how common traveling is in other countries as an expected activity to do. There were hundreds of backpackers from everywhere in the world, but the only noticeable country missing was America. Spending time with people traveling from different countries gave me different perspectives on the values of traveling, especially alone.
The culture in Hong Kong is surprisingly similar to that in America. Most of my classes are business classes, so I’m doing a lot of group work, which has been beneficial in working with local students as well as other exchange students from different countries. I think in school one of the most striking differences to me is in one of my business ethics course where we do a lot of case work in groups. Analyzing ethical decisions is very different country to country. For example, a lot of the mainland China students accept bribery as a common if not expected form of business negotiations.
Having started my travels visiting friends studying abroad in Barcelona and Paris, I was unsure of what to expect in Hong Kong. Europe was filled with Americans abroad, and more importantly it was culturally exciting and fun to explore while being comfortable and familiar. I was definitely ready to settle down after traveling, but I was nervous as to what to expect in terms of the people, accessibility to the city (because the school is in Kowloon), and whether I would be able to fit into my surroundings.
My top three goals for my semester abroad are to take advantage of all new opportunities, meet as many people as possible, and maintain a positive attitude. I plan on traveling as much as possible around East Asia, and I am excited to meet other exchange students as well as local Hong Kong residents. I am living with another exchange student in the dorms on campus, which I think will be a good way to interact with other students initially. I think meeting new people and traveling to new places will help me maintain a positive attitude about being in a foreign country alone and away from my friends at UVA.
What a week! Right now I’m typing this draft on my phone from a tiny airport in Kalibo, Philippines but this is truly the very worst of it.
One of my biggest goals that I set from the very beginning of this semester was to take every chance possible to explore beyond just the city of Hong Kong to the rest of South East Asia. This trip to the island paradise of Boracay in the Philippines was my first trip outside of Hong Kong. Even though we were here for just four days and three nights, we did so many things that I don’t even know where to start. I think maybe a chronological highlight reel would be the best.
My first month here in Hong Kong has been magical. There is too much to try to describe all at once, so instead I’ve broken down the experience here into three general areas of adventure: 1) School and language, 2) Food, and 3) Excursions.