Caldwell Zimmerman

Major: Business Administration

Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Study Abroad Program: Chinese University of Hong Kong - Summer

Let me tell you about life in my hometown, Atlanta.  Atlanta is the epitome of a city with urban sprawl.  I live in the suburbs about five miles north of downtown.  Everyday my dad commutes back and forth from work downtown in heavy traffic – the average commuter drives fifty miles a day.  Although public transportation is available, it is impractical and inefficient for the majority of Atlanta residents.  We live on a quiet little street in a three story brick house, with my parents living on the top floor and me living in the basement (when I’m home).  Now let me tell you about life in Hong Kong.

If you were to own a house in Hong Kong, you would be in the top .01% percent of the population socioeconomically, and you would most-likely live in a tiny house on Victoria’s Peak just a half-mile from downtown.  If you were in the other 99.99% of the population, you would live in one of the thousands of skyscraper apartment complexes that seem to dominate much of the bustling Hong Kong skyline outside of downtown.  Getting to work, you would probably walk or take a public bus to the nearest subway station, where you could enjoy the vast, extensive, and efficient Hong Kong public transportation.

These are the most general realities of life in Hong Kong – and I was completely unaware of any of them before I studied abroad in Hong Kong in the summer of 2009.  In recent years China has surged onto the world economic scene, and in doing so it has become a hot topic in all sorts of media outlets.  Before I went abroad to Hong Kong, I read these articles and watched the documentaries, but I had to discover Hong Kong myself to see if it lived up to its hype.  The hype around Hong Kong and China was not accurate; in fact, China is even more infrastructural-efficient and economically powerful than I ever could have imagined.

I took two classes, Asian Business and Management and Principles of Management, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  However, I was not going to let school get in the way of my true Asian education.  Class only met on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, so as soon as class got out on Thursday afternoon I was either exploring Hong Kong or heading to the airport to travel to other parts of Asia.  In my six weeks in Hong Kong I traveled extensively through Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Macau, and Singapore.  In each of these cities I was able to witness first-hand the similarities and differences between the people and cultures.

For example, Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) and has a completely different government than mainland China.  However, Shanghai and Beijing, both cities in mainland China, are astoundingly different.  Singapore awed me with its ethnic diversity (there are five significant ethnic populations including Caucasians, Eurasians, Indians, Chinese, and Malaysians), cleanliness, and because everyone spoke English!  Every new Asian city I discovered gave me an urge to discover the next.

What memories from my summer will I keep with me the longest?  I will never forget the smells (both good and bad!) inexorably redolent in the air.  Walking down street markets our nostrils were always tinged by street vendors cooking food, the passing of a person with bad hygiene, or the unique smell of our dorm at our university.  I will remember the nervous excitement of taking a taxi and being uncertain if you have communicated your desired destination well enough to actually get there.  I will smile as I remember making all of my Chinese friends at school laugh as I struggled to pronounce words in Cantonese.  And lastly, I will yearn to be back in that once-foreign city as I remember the wonderful memories of discovering Hong Kong and East Asia.