Before I left for my study abroad semester in Hong Kong, everyone told me that it was going to be the best experience of my life. This made me excited and very nervous. I’m only 21 years old and hopefully have many more years left to live. I don’t want to think that I’ve already had the best I’m going to get.
That being said, I went into my study abroad experience knowing that I had been granted a special, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that wouldn’t last long and I wanted to make the most of it. I definitely tried my best to do so.
Looking back on my time abroad, it can be summed up as a series of moments. Some are big moments, like walking on the Great Wall of China or riding an elephant in Thailand, but the vast majority are small everyday moments. It’s these moments that can teach you the most and make you realize most acutely how far away you are from home. However, it’s also these moments that can show you how some things are the same the world over and adapting isn’t as hard as it may seem.
I like to tell the story of that time that I was sitting in a hallway at my school in Hong Kong doing work between classes. Across from me was a billboard advertising club meetings and other school events, the likes of which I have seen at every American college and university. However on this particular billboard, there was a poster advertising a trip to North Korea. Needless to say, I’ve never seen that poster in the US.
Another “little moment” happened when I saw a boy digging a hole on a beach in Thailand. When I visited the beach growing up in the US, I used to try and dig holes straight through the Earth to China. When I saw this boy it hit me that he could be trying to dig all the way to the US. I was literally on the opposite side of the world from my home.
One of my favorite things to do while I was in Hong Kong was to go for runs along the harbor. It was great because it was an activity that I would be doing anyway and have done countless times at home and at school. However, because I was abroad the view was better and the experience was very different.
In fact, everything was different at first. I had to learn how to do simple everyday things like going grocery shopping, navigating public transportation, and mailing post cards. After some time, these things became routine. One day on the train on my way to school, I realized that I wasn’t looking out the windows in awe anymore like I had in my early days in the city. Like other commuters, I was staring at my phone. Of all the little moments, this one was probably my favorite. It meant that I had adapted, that I was comfortable in my new setting. Some of the most valuable parts of a semester abroad are the moments that make you think about what’s different. However, the moments when you realize you that you share things in common with everyone else are even more important.