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My Year Abroad: The Beginning

First Impressions

When I open the door to the first day of my year abroad in Hong Kong, there’s a lot to take in. Dried fish. Skyscrapers. Umbrellas. Fried meat. People. Wet air. Was that a roll of thunder? The little blue dot jumps around my maps app. What is the MTR, and why is it so difficult to find? Will I ever get to the exchange student orientation?

Tropical rain soaks through my jacket prepared only for British drizzle. Shoes damp, face confused, by some miracle I make it to the Hong Kong University campus. I spend the lengthy orientation session slowly drying off under the freezing air conditioning.

Buildings of Hong Kong: taken on my first day while I was lost trying to get to orientation.

Despite the chaos, I loved every second of the first day. I got to see more of Hong Kong than if I had found and taken the MTR (the equivalent of an air-conditioned, cheap, unbelievably efficient London tube). The inevitable shambles and confusion is a normal part of moving abroad. All you can do is learn to laugh and enjoy yourself.

New Experiences

It’s difficult to always have this mindset. In my experience, the worst part of moving abroad are the days just before you leave. There’s plenty of time for overthinking and regretting what you’re leaving behind. Before my flight, I was apprehensive; I didn’t get hall accommodation, so how would I make friends? What if the courses are too difficult? And the language barrier; I studied Mandarin as an elective at Durham, but Hong Kong speaks Cantonese. Will I like the food? Would I enjoy living in such a massive city? A million doubts flooded my mind, resulting in me asking: why did I apply for a year abroad in the first place?

Being in Hong Kong has reminded me of these reasons, and given me a hundred more. Since I started my year abroad at the beginning of September, I haven’t looked back. I’m getting used to the language, culture and food. I’ve met incredible people in my accommodation, and I’m keeping up with the courses. I know there are more doubts and homesickness to come, but dealing with it is part of the experience. Watching all of my friends go back to Durham will be difficult (and who wouldn’t miss a wild night in Jimmy’s!) but I know that this is the right thing for me at the right time. I’m changing my opinions and developing my view of the world.

Before my year abroad, I didn’t think it was possible to love a big city. I have always lived in relatively small, beautiful places, and I didn’t think I could enjoy living in a metropolis where everything is easily available. I thought of cities as impersonal, busy, dirty places.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have fallen in love with Hong Kong; it’s a dynamic, thriving, changing, thought-provoking place with amazing food and little treasures tucked between towering buildings. There is always something to do, always something to see and go and try, which has led to a year abroad experience which is deeper than just going to a different university. Every day I am challenged, excited, amazed, in awe of the incredible place I can call home.

Art Lane: a series of murals on some streets close to where I live.

My year abroad is opening doors to freedoms of all kinds. In Hong Kong, I am less constrained by grades and university requirements. I study biology, but at HKU I can take interesting courses from a variety of disciplines, and this academic freedom has motivated me to expand my learning and work harder. I am free to grasp a range of opportunities; I am not sporty in the slightest, and have joined the university netball team; I haven’t done drama since primary school, and I’m part of the production team for a university theatre group. In my free time, I explore Hong Kong, discover new places and have new experiences. My year abroad has presented a level of academic, personal and physical freedom I have never encountered before.  

View from the top of Dragon’s Back hike.

Going on a year abroad is proving to be the refreshing experience I need after an intense and difficult second year. In the coming months, I want to keep exploring Hong Kong, continue to push the limits of my comfort zone and take advantage of the freedoms presented to me. I want to keep learning about myself, Hong Kong and the world. After only one month I’ve learned to navigate the MTR, use a better maps app and carry an umbrella at all times. If I’ve learnt all of that already, what does the rest of my year abroad hold?

Sunset over Hong Kong.

Visit the Study Abroad Fair

The study abroad fair takes place at Durham SU on Wednesday 23 October 2-5 pm

You can pre-register using the online form and be entered into a prize draw for a £50 voucher!. You will then receive a confirmation email, which you should print and show upon arrival. You will need to attend the event to be eligible for the voucher. Please only sign up once!

Susie Bradley

Hi, my name is Susie Bradley and I’m from Edinburgh. I study Biological Sciences and I’m at St Mary’s College. In 2019/20 I’m on a year abroad at the University of Hong Kong. I love volunteering, travelling and learning about other cultures! Check out my Instagram.
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