Jun 01, 2017
Steph Scott of the women's soccer team spent the Spring 2017 semester in Hong Kong and writes about her time in the Far East. Here is her experience.
By Steph Scott '18
There's no real succinct way to sum up six months in a country with a cultural background very opposite of your own. Hong Kong is considered extremely cosmopolitan due to its extensive trade and the variety of people that travel and work there, but under that layer is the base of local culture and expectations that remains truly 'Chinese'. Don't say that to a Hong Konger though, they may get offended.
Anyway, my semester started off with a slow crawl; the Chinese New Year festival meant that school didn't actually start off until about three weeks after all of the exchange students arrived, which gave us time to attack all aspects of tourism with a running start. Quickly crossed off the bucket list were items like "Hike Lion's Rock" and "go to a sky bar", two items that show the breadth of activities that Hong Kong has to offer. When classes finally did start, it seemed very haphazard in comparison to the consistent cycle of classes that we are familiar with at WAC. There are no consistent Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday class schedules or time slots; you may only see a professor every Monday and Friday, once for three hours and once for one hour. The result is never actually memorizing you schedule, or knowing the names of school buildings. This loose schedule was extremely conducive to travel, and I most definitely tried to take advantage of it.
During my semester in Hong Kong I was able to travel to Thailand, Malaysia, and Taiwan. My first two trips were with friends, the trip to Taiwan was on my own. Each of these countries were unique in the cuisine they had to offer, the art styles they valued, and the perspective of life they held. All were different from Hong Kong's "work hard, work harder" mentality. These trips really helped me with managing logistics, given that they need to be accomplished with little to no internet connection, generally outside of public transportation, and surrounded by foreign tongues. Ironically though, I found this to actually be enjoyable when traveling in Taiwan, perhaps because I was only responsible for myself. If I got lost, then it was up to me to figure things out, and it didn't impact anyone else. To be fair though, Taipei is very much a modern city and does not lack the modern comforts of internet or English speakers. I was quickly made aware of how woefully inadequate my Mandarin was, though the random broken conversation with an elderly woman on the way to my hostel made me feel rather accomplished.
And on that note, the language barrier that was so apparent from the beginning has only caused me to review public education in the U.S. and the inherent superiority that it contains. Every exchange student I met was required to be fluent (or close to) in English, as well as their own language. They had to master a difficult and confusing language, starting generally in elementary, and were forced to learn in it for the entire semester. In contrast, American students "take Spanish 'cause it's easy" or "French because they want to go to Paris". The attitude we Americans have towards language is so privileged since it is used currently as the international language; we rarely give pause to the position it puts us in, allowing us to unconsciously intimidate others simply because they have to process and translate everything in their minds before speaking, which we don't. Due to the prevalence of other languages, I realized how childlike I actually seemed, often unable to understand things that "don't translate well" or lacking the common experience of struggling with speaking English. This aspect of language really taught me how much more room I have to grow to actually be able to maneuver on a global level.
Managing sports while in Hong Kong was interesting, to say the least. I would definitely consider this semester as a taste of the 'narp' life. I completed the workouts assigned to me, unless the gym was closed or I was in another country, and I played for my hostel's soccer team. There was also the occasional exchange student pick-up game, accompanied by the consensus that soccer should really be called football, and Americans are fooling themselves. It was interesting to see what life is like without the required 2-3 hour sessions in the afternoons and the early morning lifts, but it really showed me how much I enjoyed the team aspect of my sport and the comradery I have with my teammates. The support and competition they provide is not replicable, and it makes returning next semester for my final season bitter-sweet, as I know that the following semester and onwards I will not have that atmosphere again.
My greatest lessons, or takeaways, from studying abroad are that limits can only be found if they are tested, balancing adventuring and taking time to relax is integral to mental health, and I actually don't like Chinese food.