As I arrived in August, the first thing I experienced was apocalyptic rain. Because Hong Kong is situated in the sub-tropic climate zone and is as an island exposed to the sea, in summer there are typhoons and rains that are so massive that people stay in their houses the whole day. This also happened to me in the first month as lectures were cancelled one day and the whole world seemed to hide in their houses.
Apart from the rain, the first most impressive experiences for me were all the lights around the city, the different language, the characters, the humidity, the heat, the noise, the roasted ducks in the windows of the restaurants and all the busy people. So many things, that at first I felt really overwhelmed, even though after some time these things became more normal.
Going to university was another interesting experience, as alone the campus was much bigger than what I was used to in London. It can take you easily 10 minutes to get from one end to the other for example. And as the way from my flat to university was uphill, I always had a little morning exercise. In terms of academic experience, I would not want to miss this year at HKU, as the teaching and assessment techniques are very modern (I had for example several classes without final examination but with assignments over the year) and really encourage students to participate in class. Especially two political philosophy classes I had were very interesting. The protests happening at the same time in Hong Kong made these classes even more thriving. As the protests were a movement for democracy and against more control of the CCP in Beijing, we discussed a lot about the value of individual freedom and liberty and what philosophers like J.S. Mill already thought about that. The protests themselves were something that made my exchange year unique.
I tried to make local friends which took longer than I had expected. As I do breakdance, I found almost all my friends through dancing, except from some other close friends at university who were also exchange students or locals. I have to admit that it took me a while to get to know the people and to really become friends, as even though most of the people speak English, Cantonese stays the first language and the language everyone feels more comfortable speaking. However, most people are still very nice, especially if they see that you are also making an effort, and after some time I found a really nice group of friends who would show me around Hong Kong and introduce me to the Hong Kong culture with Chinese New Year dinners, Chinese BBQs, Chinese-style birthdays and so forth. This showed me that it may take time to make friends in a different cultural setting but that if you are open-minded and willing to make an effort, you will make really good friends as there are always people that are interested in your story especially if you come from another country.
Outside of university
After some time, I also started to get more involved in the dance scene in Hong Kong and started my own group at the University of Hong Kong where we would train several times a week, or I would go to the Polytechnic University to practice with my friends there. An interesting experience was also the Mass Dance at HKU which I participated in with only one more non-local girl. The Mass Dance is an annual dance performance at several places in Hong Kong with dance teams from the different universities. As all of the rehearsals were held in Cantonese, I learnt a few sentences in Cantonese and got an insight in the working morals of the local students, as rehearsals were held from seven to 12 at night and one had to formally inform the team leader if one could not make it. Even though it was much more of a commitment than I expected, I enjoyed taking part from a cultural perspective. After the dance I started to do my own dance projects and performed five times at social and fundraising events. I enjoyed these shows as I got in touch with many different people from Hong Kong.
Another thing that I enjoyed about Hong Kong is its close proximity to so many countries in Asia which makes travelling very easy and affordable. That gave me the chance to visit countries like Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and a few others during my year abroad. These journeys have taught me more about different cultures in Asia and also about different religions, as for example in Malaysia there are three different main religions, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. Other than that, the different landscapes, people, architecture and history made all these trips very distinct and special.
Looking back on the last year, I have learnt so much coming to Hong Kong that I am really glad I made this decision one year ago. The most important thing I learnt was that even though not everything is easy and there will be moments in which you miss home, the experiences you make and the people you meet with different backgrounds and stories to tell, make the experience totally worth while. It also showed me that if you really want to get to know a culture and become close friends with the local community, it is advisable to learn the language, that is one reason why I started learning Mandarin and picked up some Cantonese which is the local dialect. It might not be enough to discuss matters, it shows the people that you are making an effort and you are interested in the culture, so they will be generally nicer to you. Therefore, I would say the most important thing when going abroad is to be open-minded and not to judge too quickly about another culture, as it takes time to adapt to a different cultural setting but that if you are open-minded and willing to make an effort, you will make really good friends as there are always people that are interested in your story especially if you come from another country.