On September 3rd, 2012, one other student from Linfield and I found ourselves in Hong Kong after roughly 20 hours of travel and three exhausting plane rides. Having arrived close to midnight, and being from the Pacific Northwest, I expected to be greeted by cool night air as I stepped out of the airport, but much to my surprise I was instead welcomed by an inferno of heat and humidity; thankfully the shuttle to the university was air conditioned.
The heat, thus far, has been the greatest shock and has required the greatest amount of adjustment on my part. Nonetheless, the climate of Hong Kong is far outweighed by its spellbinding qualities. A week here and I have already fallen in love with this city. I feel at home rather than out of place among Hong Kong’s population of 7million; being here feels natural, and comfortable, like I have been here for much longer than five days.
During my first week in Hong Kong there are four main things I have learned. The first is to always carry an umbrella. Being from Oregon I have, until now, always abided by one of my home state’s most ridiculous cultural customs that is: umbrellas are for foreigners. In Hong Kong, however, a perfectly nice day can instantly turn into a typhoon, as I learned on my first full day here. While walking to the MTR (the local subway) with a group of other exchange students we quickly found ourselves in the middle of a downpour, without umbrellas, and too far from campus to turn around. 30 minutes later we arrived at IKEA drenched from head to toe. I now carry an umbrella with me everywhere I go.
The second lesson I’ve learned is to never be afraid to ask for help. I have already found myself lost, confused, and without a map or directions too many times to count in this large city that I am unfamiliar with. The locals here are always happy to help; if they don’t speak English they will find someone else who does. Part of studying abroad is pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone; you have to be willing to throw yourself into unfamiliar situations; it’s surprising how much you can learn about yourself in doing so.
Next, always wear comfortable shoes. I am used to walking around Linfield to get to class and around Portland when at home but Hong Kong takes walking to a whole new level. People walk everywhere here commuting between MTR stations. I made the mistake of wearing sandals while walking back to campus during a rainstorm, I was slipping and sliding everywhere: ultimately I walked home barefoot.
Finally, you can’t take yourself too seriously. Life is too short to get caught up on the little things. I knew that studying in a country where I don’t speak the language would present certain obstacles, which it already has, but all I can do is laugh at myself, learn from the experience, and move onto the next hurdle.
Cheers from Hong Kong,