Last week, I asked if anyone would be interested in reading about my experiences as a study abroad student, so many of you replied that you were excited to read about my ten weeks in Hong Kong! (Each time one of you comments, I am so grateful that you are so engaged and genuinely interested in my travels and experiences!) Thank you for replying.
Let’s jump right into the deep end. Visas are indeed the deep end of the study abroad process. Before you can even register for classes, arrange flights, and explore the land, you have to first get a visa. The visa process is actually very grueling, and it took an entire school semester and the summer after spring semester to get it approved. The visa is the most important aspect of the study abroad experience, though you will only need it when you arrive and leave the country.
Your visa may just seem like a little piece of paper, but it confirms that you are allowed to study in the country. In order to receive a visa, I spent the first few weeks of the spring semester scanning in personal documents (birth certificate, passport, etc.), then emailing the documents and an application to my school, who would then send them to the Hong Kong government. My documents got rejected twice, just because my passport photo hung over the edge of the application! All of the other information was correct, it was just the passport photo. Passport photos have to be current, the exact measurements, and against a white background, or else your visa will not be accepted at all. Luckily, the photo was my only error. I would recommend reviewing your visa with an advisor before you send it to your school’s administration, so that it’s perfect on the first try! The application that has to be filled out is just basic information about yourself, income, and reasoning for getting the visa. It’s pretty simple, but it was the scanning of the documents that gave me the most trouble!
For the fall quarter, there was an influx of students transferring from the American campuses to the Hong Kong campus, so my visa was put on hold literally a week before I left for Hong Kong. It was nerve-racking waiting months and months for something that determined whether or not I would even be able to enter Hong Kong. Yet, when it finally arrived, I was relieved. The visa usually arrives in the mailbox, yet since it is a classified document, there is also a possibility the visa will be at a mail center if you are unable to sign for it when it is delivered the first time. This happened to me, and we had to drive to a random mail center in the middle of nowhere!
Awesomeness, so now the visa has arrived, the bags have been packed, and the 16-hour flight has been endured. (Yes, sixteen hours. I was extremely grateful that there was plenty of movies and time to sleep during the long flight. I watched The Devil Wears Prada, Everything Everything, and many Pixar movies in those sixteen hours.) My mom and I arrived in Hong Kong about a week and a half before school started, and that’s where these photos are from. I was surprised I never posted them, but found them to be perfect for this recap post.
As I stated in my last post, the cutest brunch date, I always want to be honest. I never want to sugar-coat my life or give my readers false ideas about who I am. So, I will admit that Hong Kong didn’t set well with me upon arriving. It’s very fast-paced here. It’s extremely over-crowded. The people are unforgiving, if they bump into you. I was told back in the States, Hong Kong was a English-friendly location. That is far from true. It is extremely difficult to communicate with the locals here, and finding things to eat and do is even harder, if you haven’t researched beforehand.
But after spending the week and a half here, I thought I would breeze right through orientation. That was not the case. Orientation didn’t set well with me. I felt as if our guides threw us out into the city, told us to come back at a certain time, and meet on a random street corner. We spent about three days running around the city, not really seeing much, and scurrying through the chaos that is Hong Kong. We travelled to the Peak, an art store, and then back to school. Orientation didn’t really have a lot of activities, and I felt as if I had done more when I was starting out a freshmen in the States. My mom and I had already covered the tourist stops, so those three days were repetitive. Also in any new situation, it is very awkward when there are already cliques forming, and you’re just a lost fish in the sea. Yet, I would soon come to realize, my entire ten weeks here in Hong Kong would feel as if I was just a lost fish in the sea.
The First Five Weeks
Looking back on these pictures, they feel like distant memories. I can’t believe that this was in early September. This whole semester, I’ve been in this limbo of wanting time to go fast, yet not believing how fast that it’s gone. My time here has been rough, and I knew that I would struggle when I was taking these pictures, but I tried to stay optimistic. From orientation until midterms, I was anxious. I had about one or two panic attacks a day (in the first week), and about one panic attack a week up until midterms. I felt I was just swirling in this storm of anxiety and confusion, unable to regain the confidence I had back before I left the States.
One of the biggest things I struggled with was adjusting to a new campus. I’d transferred campuses before this year (same school, different city), and had done well. My experiences after my transfer sophomore year exceeded my expectations. I’d met so many new people, who would later become my best friends. I felt as if I belonged. Everything was happy and comfortable. But once I got here, things became scary and difficult. Basic necessities, like eating, became a struggle because places wouldn’t have English menus. Or places wouldn’t service me. Getting from the dorms to campus is a struggle because there’s only a few shuttles running every few hours. The dorms we live in are residential, so our neighbors are HK citizens. Campus life also isn’t that satisfying here, and there’s not many school-run events. At this campus, you have to create your own fun…which is not a problem. But when you’re in a foreign country, it’s basically like you’re living here without knowing anything about it.
Around week three and beyond, I started getting a little bit more comfortable. I started hanging out with people more. I even took a trip to Disneyland with a few friends, and had a blast. I thought by week three, my anxiety would calm down, and I could tackle it. But when it came to going out on my own or even asking a staff member for help about what to do in and out of the school, the results heightened my anxiety, because I could never actually get help. Even today, I still feel lost in Hong Kong. At around week five, I caught a viral illness that put a damper on my midterms, and sent my anxiety into another spiral. Flash forward two weeks later, and at week seven and eight, I’d caught the same illness. But this time, it wasn’t as debilitating. From week eight until now, I still have that countdown until home going off in my head. When I think back on my time here, I get really sad, because for almost three months, I have been yearning to go home. (Also, studying abroad has actually caused me to miss some pretty rad career opportunities that were right at my fingertips, if I hadn’t transferred, which also made me upset.)
This is pretty much how the first five weeks (and the other five) have been, I would like to do another in-depth post about what it has been like in the five weeks after midterms. I gave a little overview above, but I wouldn’t mind speaking more about this.
My advice for anyone wanting to study abroad is: know what you’re getting into, before you get into it. Make sure that this is something you want to do. I think it is best to study abroad if you don’t really have an attachment to the current campus that you are at. If you’re looking for a change of scenery and willing to be in a different culture, by all means…go ahead! I will admit that I am so grateful for this experience, and when I graduate from college, I will be happy that I have done this. But, as for right now, there’s only five days until I can go back home. Then, only a few months until I can see my friends again…who I miss so so much.
Thank you so much for requesting this post, because it’s something I’ve been wanting to do, but was struggling to find the courage to do so!
get lost. get found.