This past month I had a few different opportunities to travel, and of course, I hopped right on those planes. We’ve been to Thailand, China, and South Korea in the course of one month. Although I’ve learned many different things about each culture, I’ve also learned a lot about myself.
Things I’ve learned:
I do things differently when I travel compared to how I live my everyday life.
If you know me, you know I am a planner and extremely Type A. I literally lived my days minute-to-minute back at home. Being abroad has taught me to embrace flexibility and the unknown. The challenge, not getting lazy and procrastinating. Back at home I was constantly on the go, and I have incorporated that a bit in my life here and when I travel, but to a lesser extent. I also plan way less when I travel places, I have more of a “go with the flow” mentality and have rather low expectations, possibly to avoid let down.
I not only get hangry, but impatient as well.
Okay, this is a bit of a character flaw and I’m working on it. You see, I shouldn’t even get impatient with others because I let them do the planning, but I get incredibly annoyed and impatient when time is wasted and decisions aren’t made on trips. I will say, since I’ve recognized this, I’m trying to be more self-aware especially regarding the way I respond to others in these different settings.
Everything is relative.
When I say everything is relative I’m mainly referring to the things we use to identify ourselves. This is something that should be learned without going to another country, but traveling abroad helps put it into perspective. I feel like back at home we put such an emphasis on what we do and the things we are involved in. The reality is, what we do and what we are involved in only have value in your life if you allow it to and if you get something out of it. Titles aren’t important, but the experience is. If you aren’t able to explain what you do or what you’ve been involved in, you might not be in it for the right reasons. In all honesty, being abroad has shown me even more that people don’t care about names, positions, or titles, but rather who you are as a person and the ways you communicate what you have gained from your experiences.
Another relative thing is distance. In Hong Kong, traveling 45 minutes to 2 hours to get somewhere is normal. Students actually travel 1 to 2 hours a day to get to university. So next time I need to drive to Oaks Mall or even St. Augustine I will likely compare it to the time it took me to get to the MTR Station or riding a bus to the airport.
As far as the classroom goes, even your marks in class are relative to the performance of the other students. I officially know I’ve scored the mean or above on each of my midterms, but I have no idea what that translates to. All I know is that I’ve done my best and I am going to continue to work hard.
People appreciate when you try to learn their language and culture.
From living in Hong Kong to visiting Thailand, China, and South Korea, I can confidently say that people appreciate when you try to learn their language and traditions. Something as simple as learning their hand gestures and how to say “thank you” in their mother tongue brings such a beautiful smile to their faces – even when it sounds incredibly unnatural.
You never know who you will meet or how you impact people.
On my way to and from Korea I had an 18 hour layover in Xiamen, China. I had no clue how I was going to spend this time. I went with the intention of staying in the hostel until I needed to go to the airport, but the Lord always has a plan. A few weeks ago I met someone in the young adults group at my church. When I found out I had a layover in China, I literally asked everyone I knew if they knew anyone who lived in Xiamen. My friend from church started asking her friends and she found someone who knew someone from HKUST. The girl then reached out to me and told me about Xiamen and how she knew another HKUST student who was on exchange in Xiamen. Yes, I realize how incredibly removed this is. The exchange student actually met me at a temple that was 5 minutes from my hostel and we checked out the temple together and then we walked around Xiamen University and saw the beach. I know this put my parents at ease because they were a bit concerned about me being somewhere alone.
On my way back from Korea, I stayed at a different hostel. I was sitting in the common area working on some school work and met a guy who only spoke Chinese so we didn’t have much of a conversation, but we attempted to communicate. Then, shortly after a girl had walked in. She came out to the common area and I had asked her where she was from and about herself. We decided to grab dinner together and then spontaneously decided to get our nails done. She had told me this is her 8th month traveling, she was just with some friends, and she hitting the “I’m ready to be home now” stage. As she walked into the hostel she prayed someone would be at the hostel she could just talk to. It was quite wonderful meeting a new friend and I was glad to be there to offer her a bit of company and encouragement before she finished the end of her adventures in Asia.
Even when traveling on a budget I spend a lot of money.
Just because the US Dollar is stronger than most of the currencies I’ve been using does not mean I’m not spending money. Thankfully, I’m still within my intended study abroad budget, but there are other costs that come up for back at home that also need to be paid. Also, there is so much good food I just want to try it all.
Inside of the classroom my perspectives have also been expanded.
This semester might actually be the most memorable of my college experience as far as the classroom setting goes. Although I’m still not certain about what I want to make of my finance degree, my professor has shown me a side of finance I never knew about – Behavioral Finance. Dr. Mukherjee might be one of the most engaging professors I’ve had in such a subject. He not only relates finance topics to things we face on a daily basis, but he explains the intuition behind the concepts. Our classes are an hour and 20 minutes, yet I feel like his class always flies by. I’ve also enjoyed my other 3 courses as well. My marketing professor brings so much joy to the classroom and uses interesting cases to connect the theory and the real world. My operations management professor is continually showing us how to apply what we are learning in the classroom to industry. My leadership professors have created an environment for us to discover what type of leaders we are and how to work on cross cultural teams. This semester I’ve also become more and more interested in becoming a professor. I’m not sure if I will pursue that quite yet, but I’ve been doing more research on it. One day I would love to bring my experiences back to a classroom setting.
The toughest thing I’ve learned, it’s rather stressful and draining to have a life back at home AND here in Asia.
Something I’ve always been passionate about is leadership and service, but it is quite difficult to keep up even with people 12 hours apart even with technology. I have gotten up at 4:30 AM for a FaceTime interview and stayed up until midnight for a meeting (not too bad as a college student). I’ve spent time on applications for scholarships and leadership opportunities. I don’t regret any of it, but it takes a bit of a toll physically, mentally, and emotionally.
As I enter into my final 4 weeks of being in Hong Kong one of my goals is to be fully present. I’m uncertain if I will get one more trip in, but regardless I am going to soak up as much of the culture and experience all I can before going back. I don’t want to leave, but I know I have to. I am excited to see family and friends, but I will miss the people I’ve met while being abroad.