“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ~Neale Donald Walsch
“Why can’t you just be a normal girl and go to Italy??!!”
My parents didn’t understand why I chose Asia. They may never fully come to understand.
However, they supported me in every way possible. Visas, credit cards, medical insurance, 5 months’ worth of toiletries (as if Hong Kong has no toothpaste), malaria pills (just in case) — you name it, they were there helping me. Would they have been happier helping me prepare for my semester abroad in London, Paris, or Florence? Probably. But they knew their daughter and they knew she wasn’t about to flip her dream upside down.
For the entire summer before the semester that I had to start planning my time abroad, the only question that dominated my whole life was Europe or Asia. Originally, I planned to spend 5 months in Shanghai, China beginning in February 2017, but I found a backup option I thought I could be happy with in Barcelona.
I truly took the time to think about what I wanted out of this experience. I read just about every online public blog out there on studying abroad in China and Hong Kong, as well as Barcelona. Every time I closed my eyes and pictured touring around Europe, it just didn’t feel right to me. Something about spending my time in a place that I actually couldn’t close my eyes and imagine felt much more thrilling.
It wasn’t until the end of summer when I finally stumbled upon some clarity, after a confusing and exhausting summer of research. It was one of my last weekends at home before beginning Junior year when my family did what we love to do best on some Sunday’s when we don’t know what to eat for dinner: go to the local Chinese restaurant. As I am a huge believer in fate, my fortune cookies’ message that night spoke to me in a way that no friend, parent or blog could.
The fortune certainly made me pull my feelings and thoughts together, but it wasn’t the only thing that pushed me to finally choose Asia. Another moment of clarity came from a close friend, who helped me to truly consider what city within Asia I would feel most comfortable living in, taking into consideration everything I know about myself and my own ability to adapt and feel comfortable. It’s one thing to push yourself outside of your normal boundaries, but another to try to change your entire lifestyle and adapt to a place that you have a feeling isn’t right for you. Hong Kong seemed like the perfect balance of Asia and the West that I needed to feel comfortable, and is super accessible from many different major cities in Asia that I could still get to experience.
Almost 2 months into this experience, I share this reflection and I absolutely couldn’t be happier. I’m so glad I followed my heart to Asia, a once “scary” unknown continent that I now know is one of the most welcoming places to foreigners on this Earth. Every aspect of life here has been a learning experience in the best way possible. Experiencing the rich culture, totally different food and everything in between has been truly great and eye-opening in so many ways I cannot even begin to describe in a short blog. Now, I am forever grateful for the confusion, hours of research and other students my age whom I spoke to along the way before making my decision that led me to Hong Kong.
Yes, you could say I am missing out on some pretty amazing Instagram pictures, like the Eiffel Tower, the amazing pizza and pasta in Italy (which I would much prefer everyday to rice), Park Güell in Barcelona and sights that I only hope I can be fortunate enough to make it to one day. However, you must remind yourself that going abroad isn’t just about the great things it will do to your social media profile (although the likes are nice) or about pleasing others — YOU have to be happy, comfortable and satisfied where you are and where you chose to be, whether other people understand your decision or not.
This reflection is by no means meant to undermine the value that can come out of studying abroad in Europe or any other continent, because I recognize, for the right person, that experience is life-changing. This is solely a collection of my own thoughts on why I knew it wasn’t right for me at this time in my life, knowing where my own interests and passions lie.
So why did I trade chocolate croissants, beautiful European architecture and weekend getaways to nearly every European city for Buddhist temples, overcrowded streets and trains, rice and dumplings? Because this is exactly the type of experience I wanted. Something that would force me to adapt, grow, learn, see, taste and do things all far outside of my comfort zone.
If you too are struggling where to study abroad, or plan to spend a long period of time in a new place far from home, find comfort in knowing that through this whole experience, you will learn a lot about yourself and the world outside of your comfortable “bubble,” whether that is a small town you grew up in or the comfort of your city’s streets.
It’s not for everyone else to understand why you’ve chosen a place, it’s only you who will be the one looking back on these memories fifty years from now and knowing that you lived 4- 5 months exactly where you wanted to be.