my experience as a study abroad student | visas, orientation, and the first five weeks

what studying abroad is like...

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.

Visas

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.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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!

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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!

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Orientation

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.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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.)

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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.

-hello ninetyseven

Advertisements

20 thoughts on “my experience as a study abroad student | visas, orientation, and the first five weeks

  1. Great post (as always)! I remember wanting to study abroad when I was in college but never got the chance to. I’m sorry your experience was rough at the start, but I’m sure you’ll look back, like you said, and be grateful for at least being able to experience it. I think a more in-depth post is a great idea. I would love to read more about your experience 😁💖

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What were your study abroad options? Yes in the end I’ll be super grateful, but when it’s three months of just wanting to leave it’s hard physically and mentally! Thank you so much for reading until the end! I’ll definitely have a more in-depth post coming soon!

      Like

  2. Wow, this was so insightful! When I was a freshman I was heavily encouraged by a professor to join a semester abroad program that was going to England. I really, really wanted to do it and had a friend who was willing to go with me, but due to family ish I just didn’t end up going. In hindsight, I’m so glad that I didn’t because I know I would have been too stressed about the course load and exams to really enjoy the city. I can totally relate to the anxiety and panic attacks which is something I suffered from greatly earlier this year. That’s so great though that you finally get to go home in less than a week! Also, you did something that took a lot of courage and bravery that most people would never in a million years have done, so don’t forget that! Long comment, sorry, but thanks for posting this! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No worries about the long comment! It was very sweet. Ironically, my friends and I were just talking about how much more fun it would be if we were in England, because we thought the adjustment would be easier. I’m so glad you made the best decision for you, because yes, when the course load is super heavy, it’s very draining in a foreign country. Thank you for your kind words, and I’m glad someone views studying abroad the same way. Anxiety and panic is never fun, but particularly when you’re away from home. We can get through this! Thanks for stopping by! 💙

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a great post. My best friend went to New York for her year abroad and absolutely loved it. But it’s important to know other peoples stories because it’s not always going to be the amazing experience that it’s made out to be. I’m sorry you’ve had a tough time there, I would love to know more in future blog posts xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is very true! I like your thinking. Actually New York seems appealing right now. Haha! Yes, thank you for reading all the way until the end! I’ll definitely post more of my experience!

      Like

  4. Wow I loved your honesty in this! People do tend to sugar coat things like travelling and studying abroad for extended periods of time, so it was great to get a fresh perspective – also, well done to sticking through it despite your difficulties, and at least you have learned valuable lessons and will look back with gratitude in a few years time. Xx

    Like

  5. This is so strange because everything you described is exactly my experience!! I have currently been in Amsterdam for over 2 months now and I can’t wait to go home. I feel like my orientation wasn’t great as well. There wasn’t much attempt from my uni to get us involved in the student community; in fact I don’t feel like I have a student life here at all! I was thinking, am I the only person who kind of hates their year abroad? But this was refreshing to see that not every experience studying abroad is a good one! I’m sorry you’re having a tough time though, do you go back home for good soon? Sending you luck for the rest of your HK experience xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! This is the crazy! There is not student life here as well, except for drinking at bars!! I return home this Friday and I couldn’t be more happier. When are you going home?

      Like

      1. Yes and it’s so expensive to go out drinking here! The clubs are okay but it’s not affordable to go out a lot, plus we have a big workload! But good that you come home soon! I am home for Christmas in about a month and I don’t finish my year abroad until June 😦

        Like

  6. Thank you for sharing your abroad experience in HK. I know some exchange students from HK at my school and they said everything is kinda expensive there because it’s overcrowded. Loving your blog so far and have a safe trip home 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s