返香港

finding my place in an unfamiliar home

Month: November 2017

Finding community

Everyone needs their “group” in university.

Sure, I identify as an introvert, but ultimately human beings are social creatures who crave to be understood and to understand.

It took me about half a year at Cornell to finally find solid communities that I love to be a part of. I found community in student organizations such as AguaClara, Jazz Voices, Cru, and Chinese Bible Study, as well as in my church First Ithaca Chinese Christian Church (FICCC). As I’ve hinted at before, part of the reason why it was hard for me to adjust to Hong Kong at the beginning was because of that loss in community in my school environment. At the beginning of September, I embarked on a journey to find my community in Hong Kong.

Now, three months later, I can say that I have found that community in Agape, an English-speaking Christian fellowship at HKUST. I met two of the leaders of Agape (Andrea and Elijah) while they were tabling in one of the atriums at school. At that time, I was worrying about how I would get plugged into a Christian community here in Hong Kong. I wasn’t sure if there were any Christian fellowships at HKUST to join or even where to start on my search for a church to attend. Just as my mind was wandering to these topics and I was starting to get a little stressed, I spotted Andrea and Elijah’s little table setup for Agape.

To me, it was a great instance of God answering my anxieties and leading me to an answer. I went to them and asked “Are you guys tabling?” I remember them giving me confused looks because they didn’t know what “tabling” meant, which I assume is probably a term that is used mainly in US universities. It was a funny start to our conversation! I talked with them a little bit, asked how I can get involved, and ended up filling out a Google form to get notifications about future activities and the upcoming orientation event.

Over the course of semester, I have gotten to know some of the members of Agape through small group meetings where we discussed God’s Word, in the churches I visited and the church I eventually joined International Christian Assembly (ICA), and through various formal and informal events. We’ve gone kayaking together in Sai Kung, hiking together on the MacLehose Trail, and bonded with each other over dessert at the famous Honeymoon Dessert shop. We’ve gone to the movie theater in Po Lam to have dinner together and watch Justice League. These are the brothers and sisters that I have gotten to know through both intense conversations about serious topics such as career plans or politics and the more mundane aspects of life such as how bad the food in the LG7 canteen is.

Agape helped me find a community in a foreign country. Although I am excited to make my way back to Cornell and enjoy all the little things I have missed about my beloved home in Ithaca (naps on the plush couches and armchairs in Willard Straight Hall, bagels for breakfast from Goldie’s, all-nighters in the Engineering Library), my upcoming departure feels bittersweet when I think that I may not see my new friends for a very long time, if at all. Just when I thought I was beginning to get to know them better, I realized that it is almost time for me to go. But I believe that I am extremely blessed to have been able to meet such wonderful friends and fumble our way together through school, life, and our continual struggle to grow closer and closer to God.

Shout out to everyone at Agape for adopting me to their little family in Christ this semester and for teaching me so much about living life in Christ’s name!

Joining a community at my host school that I could identify strongly with added a dimension to my study abroad experience that I have come to value the most and never even expected in the first place. The diverse population of Agape allowed me to get to know people from all over the world gathered in Hong Kong for university; I got to know people who grew up in Taiwan, Mauritius, United Arab Emirates, and El Salvador to name a few. All throughout my semester abroad, I noticed that I had abundant opportunities to not only learn about Hong Kong, but also learn about other places all over the world whether it be through traveling or through everyday interactions with my classmates.

I strongly believe that study abroad is what you make of it and even though I know that there was a lot more I could have done and taken advantage of during my time here in Hong Kong, one of the choices I will always be happy about making here is joining this fellowship.

Packing list (looking back at what I should/shouldn’t have brought)

So I’m definitely far enough along in the semester to be able to re-evaluate my packing choices. Looking back, there are definitely things I didn’t need and things that I should have brought. Don’t get me wrong, I did my fair share of research into what other students packed for study abroad, but I have a difference in opinion in some aspects.

Here’s my take on what you should pack for study abroad:

Clothing

I read on a study abroad blog somewhere that you shouldn’t pack a lot of clothes but pack enough to rotate for a week. I did not and I disagree. I’m not saying pack your entire wardrobe, but definitely pack at least 2 weeks worth of outfits. I found myself running out of clothing periodically and having to do my laundry often at the beginning of the semester. That made me actually go out and buy clothes and I even had my mom send me clothes we had ordered from Uniqlo before I left. I ended up over compensating for my lack of clothing in the first few weeks. If you do want to do a lot of shopping then maybe don’t follow my advice, but if you’re like me and your heart bleeds a little when you have to spend money then it might be a good idea to pack a little more! Another tip: pack more tops than bottoms. Bottoms are usually heavier than tops so they can withstand more than one day’s worth of wear and can be matched with a variety of tops to create a new look.

This one’s obvious, but research the climate of your study abroad area ahead of time and also take into consideration the climate of areas you may be traveling to. Hong Kong has a tropical climate; it can be described with two words: hot & humid. So logically, I packed a lot of clothing suitable for warm and semi-cool weather, but I also packed some winter clothing because I assumed I would travel to places like Korea (which was cold last week). But I also wouldn’t recommend packing too many winter clothes; there’s such a thing as layering! I, for one, was overly ambitious and packed two winter jackets, a rain jacket, and a denim jacket. Don’t be like me!!!

Pack things you are comfortable wearing, but also pack things that you might neglect back home. Going abroad meant that I had the opportunity to re-invent myself again! It’s been so fun trying different outfit combinations that I simply never tried back home. This has actually made me more confident and dare I say, courageous.

Shoes

Oh my sad, sad running shoes… I did not heed the warning of another study abroad blogger who brought her running shoes and left them to collect dust in her closet the entire semester. It’s been two months and I have worn my running shoes once. Once upon a time, I was a member of the track team in my high school, but it’s been a long time since I have had my last real run. I thought maybe I would get back into it when I am in Hong Kong. Not true. If you were not using running shoes for jogs back home, chances are you won’t use them here. There’s always a chance that you *might* pick it up in your new environment, but there’s just so much to explore and do abroad that it might not be high on your priority list. If you think that might be you, leave them at home! And instead bring hiking boots!!! I cannot live without my hiking boots here. They are awesome especially for Hong Kong. There are hiking trails everywhere and my boots keep me dry, safe, and comfortable whether I am walking along a country park trail or just strolling through the streets of Hong Kong. I say bring one pair of comfortable walking/hiking shoes, one pair of *fancy* shoes, and sandals for the shower.

Business Casual

I’m glad I packed at least one business casual outfit because I actually had chances to meet alumni and go to alumni events during my time here in Hong Kong. I definitely recommend packing a more formal outfit in case you have video interviews or chances to meet alumni. It’s also useful for student presentations!

Camera

I traveled around Honduras with AguaClara with my big DSLR camera and took some wonderful pictures, but I kind of regret bringing my clunky camera here. I don’t have a slimmer option so this was my only choice, but if you have a nice, portable camera you should bring it! It’s harder to get into the mindset of bringing my camera everywhere here because I only had two weeks in Honduras so I felt like I had to take pictures of everything, but here I have 4 months so I’ve been lazy with photographing and my camera has been sitting neglected in my room.

Traveling Essentials

I totally recommend bringing a document organizer to keep all of your travel and school documents in order. It has been a lifesaver for me. I keep my extra passport photos (it’s good to have these handy for any forms you need to fill out in your host country/institution), my passport, health insurance documents, visa documents, and even my AT&T SIM card in my handy document organizer.

I also highly recommend bringing a portable duffel bag with you. I have one from IKEA that folds into a little pouch. It doesn’t take up much space in my luggage and has been great for taking out for those little overnight trips to Vietnam and Korea.

Bring a travel adapter that is suitable for a variety of countries. I have one that has multiple USB slots which is great for charging my phone, iPad, and battery pack all at once. It might be obvious, but I have seen people scrambling to get one once they arrived here. Trust me, it will save you the trouble of looking for an adapter once you get to your host country. You will probably need it right away and it’s going to be hard to find one when you have no idea where to go to get one in an unfamiliar place. It’s also good for trips out of the country!

On a separate note, it might be good to look up local shopping areas nearby to buy essentials like bed sheets, pillows, blankets, etc. It was hard for me to figure out where to get those items once I arrived because I hadn’t packed a pillow or anything like that in my suitcase and I was also not at all familiar with my neighborhood yet to know where to get those items. That night, I just slept with a blanket I got on the airplane and used my sweater as a pillow. I spent the week looking for a reasonably priced pillow. If you know where to get those things before you arrive, then it will make your first night much easier for you!

 

If you’re going abroad soon, then I hope this has been useful. I definitely wouldn’t say that you should follow my advice to a T to have a good experience, but I hope at the very least it would give you an idea of what is right for you! If you have questions about packing or study abroad, feel free to reach out to me. I can’t believe classes are coming to an end in 2 weeks… it feels like just yesterday when I was packing for an experience I will probably remember for the rest of my life.

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