Karan Sandhu in Hong Kong: Getting the Most out of Studying Abroad

Karan Sandhu is a Central Michigan University junior studying abroad for a semester in Hong Kong. This is the second article in a biweekly series that documents her journey and new life overseas.

It’s been exactly 26 days since I arrived in Hong Kong – a four hour flight to Seattle, a four hour layover and then a straight 12 hour flight to southeast Asia – and what a ride it was.

After almost a month here in Hong Kong, I have learned quite a lot.

Drawing from the things I’ve experienced so far, I think there are a few things every student who chooses to study abroad should appreciate.

1. The locals

I encourage students to make friends with not just students from other countries, but with the locals as well. The locals in Hong Kong know the country like the back of their hand. It’s like international students coming to study abroad in Mount Pleasant – so consult locals for directions and guidance.

Since the day I arrived at Lingnan University, a local student has always been willing to help me find any place I’ve been looking for. This is also a great way to get to know people in your host country. One time, I was with a couple of German and British students and we wanted to go to Victoria Harbour to see the Hong Kong skyline at night. Seeing as we had just arrived in Hong Kong and weren’t sure how to get there, one of my local friends helped us get familiar with the MTR – Hong Kong’s mass transit system.

2. The variety of activities

I encourage students to pursue activities you normally wouldn’t in America. It’s not every day you can hike, zip-line or climb mountains. Be adventurous. Here in Hong Kong, I’ve been to the beach in the middle of January – and that’s not something many people can say they’ve done, especially those in Mount Pleasant.

It’s the constant adventures here in Hong Kong that are making my study abroad experience so memorable.

3. The differences in culture

I encourage you to learn how to communicate with people of different cultures. You will appreciate the differences between your home country and your exchange country when you discover the beauty in the way people communicate.

For example, in Hong Kong, the party scene is not as prevalent as it is in the United States, and more students focus on their education. Hong Kong natives also eat a lot of seafood and rice, and overall are very healthy – and it shows in the way they carry themselves. I’ve had some trouble with no Mexican food nearby, but I’m adjusting to the local rice and dim sum slowly, but surely.

4. Becoming more independent

Since you’re miles away from home, you don’t have your normal support system to fall back on. This allows you to take responsibility for your actions and learn to be extra cautious. When you’re miles away from your parents and friends, no one is going to be there to help you if you fall behind in your classes or become ill.

Bear in mind that people in your exchange country will typically be friendly and eager to help you in any way that they can, but you are ultimately responsible for taking care of yourself.

5. Understanding the language

For most people, it is difficult to learn a whole new language in five months (or any length of time you choose to study abroad). Try to learn the basics, as you can take these words and phrases back home to have something to show for your time spent in another country. In Hong Kong, people speak Cantonese, which has nine different tones, while people in Mainland China speak Mandarin, which has four different tones. Understanding even a small percentage of the language in your host country can be beneficial down the road.