Studying in Hong Kong
Location: Lingnan University
Why did you choose your particular destination?
I chose to study in Hong Kong for many reasons. I really wanted to experience culture shock and a culture that I really knew very little about. I also study colonial history and thought it would be interesting to compare former British colonies, the US and HK both meeting that requirement. Finally, I really wanted to know what it would be like to think and experience things from a totally opposite point of view, as I think that is an important skill and that many of today’s geopolitical problems could be resolved with that mindset.
Describe your favorite moment or most breathtaking experience.
That is a very hard question to answer. My entire experience was my “favorite”; I loved my whole time spent there. But if I had to choose, I suppose the most amazing to me was the night we went out to a horse race. While the race itself was fun, it was also a great way to experience Hong Kong’s society. People from varying socioeconomic classes and separate neighborhoods within Hong Kong were all on equal footing. It was possible to sit next to the CEO of HSBC bank and have someone who lived in the infamous “cage houses” of Kowloon watching the race at the same time. It was just very powerful to be able to see all of society on essentially equal terms.
What was your favorite class or learning experience?
While it was by far the most difficult, I really enjoyed my Cantonese class. I think that one of the best ways to learn about another culture is through its language. Learning even the few phrases I know allowed me to better understand Hong Kong and its rich culture.
How did the educational experience differ from your experience here at Washington College?
I was surprised by how little the students in Hong Kong seemed to care about their classes. Often, I was the only one answering the questions; the locals just sat there and didn’t participate. Also, the biggest difference was that classes were generally lecture only, with a separate “tutorial” for discussion. This method is very common in China, but can be quite perplexing to those at WC who are used to discussion-based classes only.
How did your experience change you?
I think that the biggest change was—as corny as it may sound—that it expanded my horizons. I don’t think I was terribly closed-minded, but being in a new culture really helped me see things from a point of view that wasn’t American—or even Western for that matter. Another major change was the feeling of total independence, which is incredibly relevant to when I’ll be in the “real world” in a few years.
What specific aspects of the culture did you want to bring back to America?
If I could bring anything back, it would be the pure sincerity of the people. Sure, Americans love to think that we are all open and friendly and that we aren’t biased anymore, but never have I felt so welcomed—even as a white outsider with limited language skills—as I did in Hong Kong. I think that this welcoming and sincere hospitality and friendliness is very important for us to have in the States.
Where else were you able to travel while abroad?
I didn’t get to travel as much as I’d like, which allowed me to really explore all of Hong Kong’s hidden wonders, but I did get to visit Macau and Taiwan.
What did you miss most about Washington College while you were away?
I missed my friends and the familiarity and found that I even missed just being on campus. It’s a really beautiful campus and has become my second home.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying abroad?
No matter where you go, do your homework. This is a life-changing eent and you want it to be great, so spending a few hours reading up about where you’ll be will be benficial to you, and the locals will like you because you won’t be the stereotypical “dumb American.”
My other piece of advice is this: be open. While this may seem obvious, many of the fellow Americans at Lingnan chose to hang out only with other Americans or Westerners, and often did the same things as the other Western kids. But this limits your experience. Just be willing to do anything and everything, and by being open, you’ll really get to forge the friendships with locals that will last a lifetime.
That said, despite spending time learning about Hong Kong and asking people who’d been there about it, I was still surprised by the amount of people who don’t speak English. It’s one thing to read the statistic about how many people speak it, but another thing entirely when you have to buy groceries without words!