Major: Business Administration
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Study Abroad Program: Chinese University of Hong Kong, Fall
As I sat in the taxi and stared out the window one last time at the beautiful Hong Kong architecture and people, I was overcome by a reminiscent feeling. Four months ago, I looked out the window of my taxi driving through these exact roads and was both excited and intimidated by the foreignness of the country. However, my feelings were quite different this time; I was no longer anxious of the unknown, but rather sad to say goodbye to a place where I called home for four wonderful months. I did not feel ready to let go. I thought about the friends I met, the places I traveled to, my school campus, the amazing food I had, but most importantly the culture that allowed me to grow into the person that I am today.
Studying abroad in Hong Kong was the best decision I ever made, and this past semester has been the most amazing one out of my collegiate career. Never would I have thought in four months I could become as close as I did to a group of friends. At home most of my closest friends are American, not intentionally, but because I am exposed to mostly American people. However, in my exchange program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I became friends with people from all the over the world and people who I would never have met otherwise. I had friends from the Americas, Europe, Australia, and all different parts of Asia. It was a beautiful multi-cultural exchange with one similarity amongst us all: an open mind. By the end of the semester, I felt that I had learned more about different cultures than I have my whole life. This kind of knowledge is not something one can learn from a text book, or any kind of book or television program, but is something that one must learn from first-hand experience. I left Hong Kong knowing that no matter what continent I traveled to in the future, I would have friends who I could visit and places where I could stay.
On the topic of traveling, studying abroad is not only about studying, but about spending time traveling while abroad. I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity to travel and to visit nearby countries. I spent most of my weekdays in Hong Kong, while I spent many of my weekends in different countries. Shenzhen, China was only half an hour away from my university by train and was the cheapest I ever traveled from one country to another. I also went to Thailand where I spent a weekend laying on the beach in November soaking in the sun and rode elephants and pet tigers in Northern Thailand. I went backpacking in Laos and went to three different cities within five days, where I went inner tubing on the famous Nam Song River. I took an hour ferry to Macau, the other special administration region of China, and visited various Portuguese-styled sites. I went to Beijing and climbed the Great Wall, and Shanghai to admire both the Chinese and Old English inspired architecture. Never again in my life would I have the chance to visit these many places solely for pleasure within this short period of time. Having this opportunity to study abroad in Hong Kong made it possible for me to live out my passion of traveling.
Perhaps my favorite aspect about Hong Kong is its variety of food. Food is an extremely important part of a country’s culture, and I believe that Chinese people are probably one of the most adventurous when it comes to food. When people think of Hong Kong, they think of dim sum. Dim sum is a traditional Cantonese type of food that comes in small portions and is usually served in steamer baskets or small plates. The most famous dishes include barbeque pork buns, shrimp dumplings, and sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf. My favorite dim sum dish is (as far-fetched as it sounds) chicken feet marinated in black bean sauce. I was also a huge fan of Hong Kong street food, including curry fish balls, wonton noodle soup, pig intestines, and stinky tofu. The one place I fell absolutely in love with is a dessert shop called Honey Moon Dessert, which originated in Hong Kong and is now widely spread across mainland China as well. It does not have the traditional cakes and cookies, when people generally think of desserts, instead, it serves desserts as a soup style: some hot, some cold, some with ice cream on top, and some with other unique toppings such as grass jelly (a healthy herbal gelatin). These were dishes I would not find in the United States, so it was definitely an exciting food adventure for me.
I have never lived in a large metropolitan city like Hong Kong. I grew up in the suburbs of Charlotte, where I had little exposure to the fast-paced lifestyle and high rising buildings of larger cities. I always knew that one day I wanted to live in a big city filled with tall skyscrapers, busy streets, and always something entertaining to do. Hong Kong was the perfect city for me to experience this sort of lifestyle. Hong Kong is the second largest financial center in the world and as an undergraduate business student pursing my masters in accounting next year, I knew that I will have many job opportunities to work in Hong Kong in the future. A great aspect about living in a metropolitan area and especially Hong Kong is its public transportation system. In the U.S. not having a car, is like not having legs: it is almost impossible to get anywhere. However, in Hong Kong, their public transportation system is not only efficient, making it possible to get to any part of town, but inexpensive and clean as well. I remember seeing elementary school students who took the subway without any parents, which is a freedom and independence that cannot be seen in the U.S. I loved this lifestyle and I know that I will return to a city like Hong Kong, if not Hong Kong in the future.
I believe my best take-away from this experience is realizing that I am American, but I am also Chinese, and now I could truly say I am proud to be both. This was absolutely the best experience of my life and I have grown so much as a person and opened up my mind to see Chinese culture in a way that is so new and enlightening. I lived and breathed in Chinese culture, and I soaked it all in. I remember first having this feeling when I celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival, also commonly referred to as the Moon Cake Festival. This is a holiday where the moon is supposed to be the roundest of the entire year, and friends and family come together with a huge feast and eat moon cake (rich cake with fillings such as lotus seed paste, egg yolk, and red bean). I celebrated this day with the close friends I met at my university, and we went to see the main attraction: the fire dragon dance. The fire dragon is a dragon built out of thousands of sticks of incense. After the performance, the dragon dancers give the incense to the audience symbolizing a sharing of the holiday to others. This day truly meant a lot to me because to me it seemed that everyone took that day off to just be together. I did not see men and women in their business suits or people walking frantically to get somewhere; it seemed like the city slowed down for a day. I could tell on peoples’ faces that they were very proud of this Chinese holiday, and like everyone else, I too was proud, not just of this holiday, but to be Chinese-American.
As I stepped out of the taxi and walked into the airport, I turned around and looked at Hong Kong one last time and thought to myself “this not a permanent goodbye; this is only the beginning of the rest of my life.” In four months, I learned how to converse in simple Cantonese. In four months, I made a whole new group of close-knit friends. In four months, I discovered myself in a new light: a new me, a better me. Thank you to the Phillips Ambassador Program for giving me the opportunity to become a more cultured, open-minded, and passionate individual. I will never forget this amazing experience.