Major: Business Administration
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
Study Abroad Program: Chinese University of Hong Kong
My study abroad experience not only broadened my perspective on China and Asia, but on the world as a whole. I lived in an International dormitory at CUHK, so many of the students whom I befriended were from all over the world, including Europe, North America, South America, and Asia. I often asked people what their impressions or stereotypes of Americans were, and the answer often came down to Americans being too provincial and unappreciative of the world outside of the United States. To some extent before I lived abroad, I was guilty of this as well. However, my experience abroad opened my eyes in ways that I never could have expected.
What defined my experience in Hong Kong was not so much a complete culture shock, as Hong Kong is one of the most developed and Westernized cities in Asia, but the amount of international exposure I was able to get. While my experience was not uniquely Chinese in a way that a program in Beijing might have been, I had the opportunity to be exposed to a huge variety of international flavors.
My experience was enhanced in part because Hong Kong is such an international city. The population is 95% Chinese, but the international presence is quite strong. Walking down the street where I lived during the summer, one comes across Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, and various international restaurants ranging from Japanese to Nepalese to Canadian cuisine. In some ways it was a microcosm of the entire city, as there were influences from countries all across the world.
The international awareness that I gained was important not only for my personal development, but also for my career development. The US, on a relative basis, is becoming less and less important to the global economy, and Asia (specifically China and India) is the future of global economic growth. As the middle classes of these countries expand and their citizens become wealthier, their consumption will drive the world economy. It is intriguing to think of the potential growth of the global economy when you consider that the middle classes of India and China will be vastly larger than the entire US population. The US’s relatively small population has been able to achieve the highest material living standards in the history of the world, so as the rest of the world continues to grow, the possibilities seem endless.
I did learn a great deal about Chinese culture as well. My roommate at the International House was a local Hong Kong Chinese student, and, like me, was very interested in finance. When we came back to the room from our respective classes at the end of the day, we would chat with each other about what happened in the stock markets in Hong Kong and the US. I learned a great deal from him about Hong Kong markets, and I hope that I was able to teach him a lot about American markets and culture as well. I also befriended many local Hong Kong Chinese during the summer, and most of them also study in the US. This was a great way to really broaden my horizons, since I surrounded myself with people who shared many of my same interests, but still came from very different backgrounds and showed me many of the local hot spots around the city. These were the times when I would get most adventurous with my eating habits, and stepped out of my comfort zone many times. I think that I tried just about every Chinese delicacy that would seem repulsive to most Americans, and I even sang a song in Mandarin during one late night out at a karaoke bar.
My one complaint about this program is related my Chinese language proficiency. When I decided to study in Hong Kong, part of the reason I went there was because I thought that my Mandarin would improve to some extent by immersing myself in Chinese language and culture. However, I was disappointed to find out that Mandarin was not widely spoken at all, and it was very easy to get by almost exclusively by using English. Generally, the only Mandarin I ever spoke was with cab drivers during my late-night rides back to CUHK from Central. Had I known about this beforehand, and had language been my first priority in a study abroad program, I would have explored a program in Beijing. I spent about 3 weeks in Beijing during my time abroad, and I definitely learned more Mandarin there than I did in my 7 months in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the dates of the Beijing programs did not coincide very well with the dates of my summer internship. I have no regrets about going to Hong Kong, because it is one of the greatest cities in the world, but I wish that I could have improved my Mandarin more by being there.
The main thing I took away from my time abroad is a fundamental shift in the way I view the world. While before I might have thought of the US first and the rest of the world as an afterthought, I have noticed that my mindset has changed significantly as a result of living in Asia. Whether in my personal life or in my career, I now think of the world as a whole and have taken a significant interest in learning more about other cultures around the world. International awareness is something that I think everyone needs to have, and it is definitely an ideal that I will be pushing very hard on my children (however far into the future that may be).