Thoughts before a year abroad in Hong Kong

My name is Hannah, and I am a law student about to embark on a year abroad at the University of Hong Kong. I am currently up to my ears in preparations for heading out to Hong Kong (i.e. visa applications, learning agreements, figuring out just how many pairs of socks will be required…). As I write this, thirteen days before departure, my predominant feeling is that of pure excitement. I have known that a year abroad was something I wanted to do during my degree ever since I attended the Edinburgh University open day three years ago. Having a complete passion for travel and a fascination with how other people live meant that when I found out there would be an opportunity to do this alongside my degree, I jumped at the chance.

In terms of weighing up whether or not doing a year abroad would be the best option for me, there has never really been much of a dilemma. As much as I have absolutely loved living in Edinburgh for the last two years, and love being a student here, I really wanted a fresh challenge and I thought that a year abroad would be an opportunity that I could simply not afford to miss. When I graduate I am hoping to do some sort of international humanitarian work so being able to spend a year abroad – and hopefully being able to do some work experience while I’m there – would give me more of an insight into this, and perhaps provide further opportunities for the future.

The educational compromise of a year abroad is that no grade that I attain in Hong Kong will count towards my degree classification (my entire degree will be based on my fourth-year work), and I will miss out on potential courses that could provide the basis for my dissertation. For some, this is too much of a risk and understandably would make people hesitant about embarking on a year abroad. For me, pressure is a huge motivator and working hard tends to be something that comes quite naturally. Therefore, I think coming back and having it “all to play for” in fourth year will be alright (maybe come back and use these words to haunt me when I’m stressed and tearing my hair out upon my return to Edinburgh). However, the benefits and opportunities that go alongside a year abroad are just too great for me to make a decision to stay in Edinburgh.

A key reason why I picked the University of Hong Kong was due to the amazing travel opportunities that come from the location of Hong Kong in Asia. A short train journey opens up many options to travel around China and a short plane ride would allow me to visit Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia… Believe me, my list goes on (I just hope that my bank balance agrees). Because I’m a bit of a nerd, I spent A LOT of time looking at all my options for exchange destinations and weighing up which would suit me best. The city of Hong Kong has fascinated me since I began researching it. The fast-pace of a big city, which at the same time boasts idyllic islands just a ferry ride away seemed like a splendid combination and certainly one that would make for a great exchange destination. Moreover, the University of Hong Kong is one of the best universities in Asia and the courses available looked great. I subsequently bought every guide book under the sun, applied for the University, and was lucky enough to get a place.

I am hesitant to write what I am hoping to get out of my year abroad, just in case it doesn’t live up to my expectation and I end up disappointed. I’m under no illusion that it’s going to be plain sailing or that I’m going to have a good time all the time. A lot of people who have studied in Asia describe a bit of a “culture shock” in the first few weeks. In a strange way, I’m quite looking forward to this. I want to be challenged and to prove to myself that I am capable of moving to a completely different continent and am able to cope alone. Additionally, I am hoping to do lots of travelling and experience places that are completely different from anything I have encountered before. I am also looking forward to meeting people from all across the globe, trying new foods and generally just getting to see the world from another perspective (as corny as that sounds).

Personally, I hope that this experience makes me a bit more pro-active, adventurous and gives me a little more confidence in my ability to survive on my own. Some additional common sense would also not go a miss!

Now that the time for departure is approaching, the nerves are creeping in. There is no part of me that feels like I have made a wrong decision; I just have general feelings of apprehension about what lies ahead.

Will people like me? Will I be able to survive so far away from my friends and family? Will I really be able to go twelve months without cuddling my dog?

You’ll just have to ask me in a year.

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