This past fall semester (Fall 2016) I had the opportunity to study abroad at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). It was an amazing experience getting to be one of the first students to go exchange with a new partner university and get to call the vibrant city of Hong Kong my home for four months. But that is the catch, especially for students who are studying abroad for only one semester, the location you choose to study at is your home for a limited amount of time so one must balance both being a tourist in their study abroad location and integrating themselves into daily life. I believe that during my semester in Hong Kong I did a good job integrating myself into a routine of daily life as well as experiencing all the “touristy” things that Hong Kong (and Asia for that matter) has to offer.
Finding a routine, much like one has in their daily life back home, really helped me get the most out of my study abroad experience. Being in a city that never sleeps — most of my local peers didn’t go to sleep until 2 or 3 am — one can easily get lost and caught up in it all. By setting out a schedule for a typical week, I was less stressed, didn’t experience much homesickness, and was able to make the most of my limited time.
One of the best things I did to ingrain myself more into a typical Hong Kong life was make an effort to make friends with local students. I asked my local roommates to take me out to places that they enjoy that I would otherwise not know about such as some of the best all you can eat Japanese food. I talked to my peers about what typical Hong Kong students do during the week and joined clubs and participated in activities that provided structure to my week and integrated me more into local life. One of the best things I did was help my peers with their English. I tutored one of the girls that I met from the rock climbing club on campus and in exchange we would go to eat lunch at a restaurant of her choosing or she would take me to her favorite stores or grocery shopping or just show me different aspects of living life in Hong Kong that are definitely not in any guidebook. Through this I was able to find my favorite restaurant, Tam Ji Express, where I soon became a regular slurping down bowls of soup.
But being in Hong Kong for a limited amount of time, I made sure I did many touristy things as well. I set out a goal in the beginning of the semester to visit what my Lonely Planet Guidebook said were the top 16 things to do in Hong Kong. Each weekend I would normally spend my Saturdays doing something “touristy” like visiting a top tourist attraction, lounging at one of Hong Kong’s best beaches, or hiking one of the many trails Hong Kong has. One of the best things I did on my exchange that I believe made for good balance between tourist life and daily life was “Touristy Thursday”. Since I finished my classes for the week, mid-day on Thursday one of my exchange friends Ben and I, along with other friends who would join us, would do one of the most stereotypical things for tourists in Hong Kong. This led us to doing things such as doing a walking tour of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers- and stumbling upon the monetary museum on the 55th floor of the IFC building to riding the Peak Tram to eating green tea ice cream after taking the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor. We even rode the Ferris wheel at Victoria Harbor which, unless you are feeling extra touristy, I would skip because it is rather pricey for the ride.
I believe I made the most out of my exchange by trying my best to integrate myself into Hong Kong life. Living in Asia is a big culture shock from life in sunny Southern California, but by accepting the differences, stepping outside my comfort zone to try new things, and taking time for myself, I truly fell in love with Hong Kong culture. Hong Kong is a bustling, multicultural city and a hub of Asia. It has many sides that I’m glad I took the time to discover and not just be enamored by the shine from its many skyscrapers.