Remember that scene in The Parent Trap when Hallie arrives in London and she has her head out the car window as she passes iconic sites while There She Goes plays in the background? Yes, I know you do! Well, this is the first thought that comes to my mind when attempting to put into words what studying abroad has felt like to me. I mean of course just remove the London backdrop and add a mountainous, over-populated city beautifully illuminated by the neon lights of endless skyscrapers and blue seas. Welcome to Hong Kong; my home for the spring semester.
I attend The Hong Kong Polytechnic University as part of an international exchange, where I focus in biomedical engineering as well as study Chinese language and culture. Before you
start forming any misconceptions about my previous international immersion experiences, I should tell you…this is not only my first time in Asia, but my first time abroad! Okay, so this little fact might influence the reason why I experience so many of these wide-eyed ‘Hallie’ moments, BUT how else does one react to the life-threatening view of Suicide Cliff, or the perfectly preserved body of Ho Chi Minh, or the precise detailing of the Angkor Temples in Cambodia? My point is, don’t let the distance, mysteriousness of Asia, or your travel inexperience hold you back! Embrace the unknown, eat the snake soup, dance in the streets for Chinese New Year, buy the mid-night sale tickets to Thailand!
Now, I am not going to try to convince you to study abroad in Asia (because you shouldn’t need convincing at all, IT’S AMAZING!) but I am going to try to clarify any misconceptions students might have about this experience and the world’s most visited city. To begin, Hong Kong has what my professor likes to call, “self-identity issues,” because although sovereignty over Hong Kong was transferred from the UK to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, Hong Kong still clings to some autonomy. This means that if you are planning on taking the trip 45 minutes
north into mainland China, be prepared to buy a visa first. Now, provided this fact along with Hong Kong’s international reputation, many of the locals do in fact speak English. This doesn’t mean you won’t experience any language or cultural barriers during your time abroad (especially when searching for taxis or, street market bargains, or delicious authentic food) so be prepared to do some extra studying outside of the classroom. This extra research will also come in handy when traveling respectfully to countries outside of Hong Kong, and knowing things like when to bow, how to dress, or that in Vietnam if you leave a temple with incense as a souvenir instead of offering it to Buddha you are publicly cursing yourself…yeah that was awkward.
As for the time spent in the classroom at PolyU, the environment is always extremely collaborative and hands-on; a quality that is perfectly translated into all aspects of campus life.
Work consists of primarily group research, labs, and excursions regardless of subject area, and local students are almost relentless when it comes to inviting exchange students to participate in their community events. Honestly, this university is a hidden trove amongst the non-stop traffic and overcrowded city blocks that surround its every edge. It has inspired me, welcomed me, and pushed me beyond all borders of my comfort zone. I know that my time here has not only made me a better biomedical engineer, but a stronger more confident individual. So, if you are daring enough to take the leap half-way around the world, find yourself a group of international travel/study buddies when you arrive, and try not to blink. 125 days is all you’ve got, no regrets when you return. See everything!