Gregor MacLennan

Major: Political Science

Hometown: Glasgow, Scotland

Study Abroad Program: Chinese University of Hong Kong, Fall

I first went to Hong Kong in 2004 with my high school to play the bagpipes.  I thought that it was amazing then, and I still maintain that feeling.  As soon as I stepped off of the plane at the end of August, until I departed at the end of December, I had an incredible experience in one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

It was very exciting to effectively start fresh and be thrown into a new country, new culture, new university and not knowing anyone.  With so much to do in Hong Kong at all times, the first couple of weeks were filled with social events to meet other exchange students.  The introductory weeks meant that I was able to explore the place where I would be living for a semester.

I studied at Hong Kong University, which is situated in the Mid-Levels on Hong Kong island.  It was a great time to be at HKU as it was preparing to celebrate its centenary year.  I was enrolled in the Faculty of Business and Economics, and I managed to take a Mandarin class.  Living and learning with local students helped me understand my surroundings better, and allowed me to learn more than if I just interacted with traveling students.

With the transport in Hong Kong scarily efficient, navigating my way around was simple, and this also proved valuable when I travelled outside of the city.  Spontaneous decisions were a frequent occurrence and none were more fun than the trips to Macau, the New Territories or Shenzhen.  These impulsive journeys symbolized my time in Asia – constantly trying to seek out challenges and satisfy my ever-growing travel curiosity.

The generosity of the Phillips program meant that I could explore more of Asia and consequently, I visited Vietnam, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.  My favourite place by far was China because of its diversity and magnitude.  I was lucky enough to visit the historic capital Beijing, the economic powerhouse Shanghai and the elegant karst backwaters of Guilin and Yangshuo.  One of my most memorable days was in Yangshuo when my friends and I rented bicycles and took the hills and back roads.  As little as a mile outside of the relatively touristy Yangshuo, paddy fields and agricultural land surrounded us.  We witnessed young children tilling the land, animals acting as vehicles, and houses barely able to stand.  It was one of the many vivid examples of stark contrast I witnessed in China.  As the sun began to set, we cycled along the Li river taking in the beauty of the scenery.  Darkness fell quickly, and we were still a good distance away from the town.  Subsequently, we stopped at a little hut for some dinner…and what a dinner it was.  We begrudgingly sampled the chicken feet, dog, ‘beerfish’, pig’s throat and sheep testicles that lay on the table and washed down these delicacies with some snake wine.  Everything I thought I would never eat was tried that night, and I do not regret it in the slightest.

Hong Kong truly was an incredible experience.  When I arrived home after my study abroad, my mother asked me in which class did I learn the most?  In terms of class material, I could have learnt that anywhere, but experiencing learning in a foreign country, with a foreign professor, mixed in groups with local, Chinese and foreign classmates is something I could not have done everywhere and these everyday ‘living’ experiences were by far the most important and valuable things I learnt whilst in Asia.