Hong Kong, China
Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 19:12
Lotus is my roommate. She’s dating Nixon. Sample and Popular live down the hall, and Orange and Israel are in my theology class. Welcome to Hong Kong, where the English names are questionable, bathrooms are B.Y.O.T. (bring your own toilet paper) and the MTR, China’s railway system, makes the Metro look like cavemen built it. It is — surprise — not at all like America.
I expected as much, despite the fact that anyone who has ever kept a study abroad blog will take great pains to remind you repeatedly that wherever they’re studying is completely unlike the United States. I’ve spent three months fumbling along, both culturally and linguistically, in a place that is neither home nor a vacation. Other than Hong Kong not being America though, I came with zero expectations, so technically I haven’t been let down. But honestly, to go against what most people say about their study abroad experiences, I haven’t loved being here. Some of it is Hong Kong’s fault. But much of it is my own.
That’s not to say I haven’t had any fun. I rode an elephant, hiked some mountains and consumed heart-stopping quantities of Pocky and bubble tea. When you study abroad, there are no rules. So jump off that cliff and order that shot just because it’s called The Buttery Nipple (for the record, it was delicious).
But studying abroad, at least for me, hasn’t been the crazy binge drinking and globetrotting adventure everyone makes it out to be. It’s been so, so much less than that. Hong Kong, like most of the rest of the world, operates in a different dimension than Georgetown. Things here happen so unbelievably slowly. It’s normal for clubs not to start until the eighth week of the semester, not that anyone expects you to participate in extracurriculars in the first place. Because I am somewhat introverted and clubbing isn’t exactly my favorite way to spend my weekend, I’ve spent quite a few Saturday nights in my room reading. A little rest and relaxation is important, but after three months I still haven’t adjusted. I’m all about that fast-paced living. I enjoy juggling 20 different things at once, even if all of the stress will take 20 years off my life.
Which brings me to why I studied abroad in the first place. The destination was arbitrary. I was looking for the farthest possible place from Georgetown where I could get credit for my major, and 8,000 miles seemed sufficient. This, as it turns out, is a pretty stupid way to pick a destination. Oops.
I studied abroad for two reasons. The first is because sophomore year, I hit bottom. My misery was largely self-inflicted: I took a challenging course load, had a demanding job and was involved in too many things. I had a textbook case of acute, chronically busy Hoya syndrome. But many things, like health issues and hurricanes, were beyond my control. While I was mostly functional in public, I hardly slept, hardly ate and probably cried on average five days a week throughout October. Three separate people suggested I go to CAPS. There wasn’t really anything wrong with me besides the fact that I wasn’t Superwoman. I was overwhelmed, and instead of doing something about it, I dealt with it in typical Georgetown fashion: pretending I was fine. Then, I ran off to China.
The second reason I went abroad was peer pressure. Initially, I didn’t think studying abroad would work out financially, so I considered taking a semester off of school since I had enough credits to still graduate on time. The few people I discussed this with, parents included, freaked. They saw it as running away, as a symptom of something being seriously wrong. Yet as soon as studying abroad became an option, attitudes shifted dramatically. Everyone had an opinion, and everyone had the same one. And I mean everyone — from the guy who sold me shoes to my grandmother who thinks Hong Kong is in Japan. They told me I had to go, or I’d regret it forever. After a year of feeling unhinged, I knew in my gut that it was better to learn to prioritize and stay in a stable, familiar environment than to turn everything as I knew it upside down, but against my better instincts I allowed myself to be guilt-tripped into going.
Although everything I ran away from will be waiting for me when I come back, I cannot express how excited I am to return to the Hilltop, no matter how rough the transition is going to be.
I’m not sure what this experience is supposed to have taught me. Sure, I’ve picked up valuable life skills like how to swear in Cantonese and to always stay away from monkeys. But I’m done trying to figure out the deeper meaning. Life isn’t a Thought Catalogue article with neatly ascribed lessons. Sometimes you make poorly thought-out decisions, and the consequences are neither great nor terrible. They just are. So for now, I’m just eagerly awaiting the day when I can come back.