Two weeks to go. Near the end of August, most probably bleary-eyed after the long haul flight, for the first time in my life I’ll set eyes upon the Asian continent. Specifically, I’ll be seeing the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of China, my home for the next ten months. The jetlag is sure to be intense, but I’m not worried as seeing that skyline will indubitably make up for it in spades.
Having never visited before, this is a thrilling prospect. The journey till this point has involved a lot of planning but has not been taxing. The process has been easier than I expected, handled smoothly by my home university, Durham, where I study undergraduate Philosophy. Although going further afield than Europe necessitates a lot of paperwork, it’s been mostly fun taking the time to find out about scary things like Visas and accommodation in Hong Kong. (Risk assessments, however, cannot be sugar-coated. They will always be boring.) There have been long periods whilst insurance, official documents and transcripts were mailed back and forth, but the wait is nearly over: I’m almost going!
Before that though, some preamble will help you understand why I’ve chosen to up sticks and leave behind most of my cohort of friends for a year abroad to China. The decision wasn’t taken lightly. But, equally, a year abroad is something I’ve always been set on pursuing. Previously, I’ve moved around with my family in Europe and America. I also don’t feel like it’s time for my university experience to end. Quite simply, I thought that if I was going to do another year of study, I might as well do it properly and really test myself with a serious cultural shock and a complete change of pace. After all, what could be more exciting or life-changing than a year in one of the busiest cities in the world?
Why Hong Kong?
I toyed for a while with a couple of options. Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore all made the shortlist, but after a couple of personal testimonies from family friends who had attended in previous years, HKU emerged as the tentative victor. Standout reasons were:
- HKU’s Buddhist Studies Centre (which is world-leading and offers some fascinating modules to contrast with Durham’s curriculum)
- The perfect central location for travel to wider areas of Asia (I can’t wait to explore the continent!)
- The recent State visit by President Xi Jinping; and
- The funding available, such as the British Council’s Scholarship for Excellence – which I eventually applied for and recently was granted – and Scholarships from my college, Trevelyan.
All of the political signs seemed to point to both governments reinforcing close links between our two countries and their economies, so finding out what Hong Kong is like could only prepare me for the future. More importantly, the East/West intellectual divide manifests itself particularly interestingly in philosophy and, for all of its strengths, Durham’s philosophy department focuses almost entirely on the analytical European tradition. As such, I decided that a university which has strong Eastern modules would best throw into relief the differences in thought and challenge my established philosophical thinking. I really love having my opinions challenged, and defending principles and reasoning is the basis of philosophy, so this seemed a novel way to do that. Equally, as a financial hub on the world stage, Hong Kong simply feels like the place to be at the moment. A lot is changing with old and new economies vying for the future. Finally, even if I never live in Hong Kong again, having experience of living in such a different country to the north of England can’t hurt and it’s a beautiful cityscape to explore and photograph for ten months.
Next week, my post will investigate some of these themes more, explaining why I chose The University of Hong Kong and the city itself.
This post, along with all my other Year Abroad articles, can also be read on the Official Durham Study Abroad Blog.