Study abroad is the best time of your life. This is when you make memories you will cherish for the rest of your life. Your friends and family are cheering you on from back home. Every day presents new opportunities for adventure, friendship, and self-exploration.
Except, not every day is magical and wonderful. Don’t get me wrong. I’m having a fantastic time here in Hong Kong, but it is impossible to have the best day of your life for 365 straight days. And so, I’m going to present a list of five things I shouldn’t really complain about, and five things that keep me going on the rough days. Interspersed are pictures from a recent hike I took near the Clearwater Bay Park down to Po Tai fishing village.
1. It takes twice as long to get anything done. Administratively, study abroad is complicated. Registering for classes is a multi-week process as I try to build a solid class schedule, get approval to enroll, and register the credits to transfer back to UW Madison. None of this is difficult, but it is time-consuming. Similarly, I’ve spent three days paying for housing, and two weeks trying (unsuccessfully) to get my taxes done. Things get complicated, and its not like I can walk into someone’s office in Madison and ask for help.
On the bright side, people have by and large been very helpful and considerate. Random people on the street help me as I struggle to bag up my groceries, redirect me when I get lost, and professors respond to emails within 24 hours. It is easy to overlook the countless little moments where people go out of their way to help me find my way, but their help is priceless.
2. Air pollution. The air has been particularly foggy/smoggy in the past week, which makes it really difficult to take clear pictures… or you know, breathe.
Still, we’ve had some pretty excellent sunrises and sunsets.
3. Losing important documents. A couple of days ago I lost my wallet in the MTR. Back home, this is bothersome, but not the end of the world. However, my wallet contains my passport, student id(s), room card, octopus card, debit card, cash, and my health insurance card. The process for replacing any single item takes days or weeks. Replacing all of them? I shudder at the thought. Lucky someone had turned my wallet into the MTR authorities, and after two hours of absolute panic, I was on my way back home.
People always warned me about pick pockets and muggers, but I’ve (thankfully) never had anything stolen from me. I can be pretty absent minded, and I can’t tell you the number of times I have had complete strangers run up to me to return a book or some change I had forgotten about. And really, I cannot thank the stranger who turned in my wallet enough. Thank you.
4. I’m cold. I know it is like -20 degrees in Madison right now, but hear me out. I live in a concrete box of a dorm room with leaky windows and no central heating. None of the buildings on campus are heated. Even finding a soft chair to curl up in is difficult. Admittedly, during the afternoon, this isn’t really a problem; throw on a light sweater and you are good to go for a day of adventures. But at night, the wind whips off of the ocean and slices right through the cracks in the windows and chills the entire campus. There is no relief until the sun comes up the next morning.
Fortunately, Hong Kong has excellent tea and snacks to help warm you up on a chilly day. Few things are better than a mug of milk tea and a freshly made waffle dripping with peanut butter and condensed milk.
5. I get sick frequently. Different side of the world, different microbes. Also, in generally having millions of crammed into such a small area is a recipe for disease. While I’ve been lucky and haven’t had any serious injuries or illnesses, I have had dozens of flus, colds, migraines, and mysterious illnesses that have laid me low for a few days. Nothing feels worse than being sick abroad.
I’ve learned to rebound much more quickly. I’ve only got a few months left! I can’t waste time sitting around nursing a mild cold! There are exhibits to see, parks to visit, hikes to complete, pictures to take, and memories to make! Study abroad teaches you dozens of ways to become mentally and physically resilient. Like everything else in life, there are highs and lows. Take time to cherish the highlights, but recall the troubles too. It is not the struggles that define us, but how we react to trials that shape who we are.