Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong

Picking a Study Abroad Location

Paulina Babiak SEAS'19

My fears were replaced with pure excitement and anticipation of all that I would then see and do over the next six months.

I never intended to study in Hong Kong. When going through the study abroad application process, I only had one country on my mind: Japan, a country whose culture, history and language I had studied. However, after spending a summer looking at different options, I was unable to find a program in Japan that satisfied my major requirements. I was ready to give up on study abroad.

That is when my adviser brought Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) to my attention. At first, I was hesitant; I knew nothing about the culture and history of Hong Kong, and I never even attempted to study Mandarin, much less Cantonese.

All of my doubts, however, dispersed the moment I stepped off the plane. On a bus to HKUST, I was glued to the window, witnessing one of the greatest harmonies of nature and humanity: majestic mountains towering over the skyscrapers, all surrounded by the clearest sea. My fears were replaced with pure excitement and anticipation of all that I would then see and do over the next six months.

And those months proved themselves to be a period of tremendous learning and self-discovery. From Tai Chi class with the enthusiastic Master William, to a Hong Kong Style Milk Tea brewing workshop offered by HKUST, to studying sociology, history and Mandarin Chinese along with my regular STEM courses, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged to think about topics that I had never before come across. I established life-long friendships with people, who despite being born and raised in a different hemisphere, became some of my closest friends. Learning about their interests, experiences, education, as well as points of view on complex topics, enhanced my intellectual experiences. And, of course, traveling to five other countries, including Japan, made the adventure that much more incredible.

To any student considering study abroad: be open minded and don’t hesitate. Even if your dream destination doesn’t work out, keep searching, try something new. In retrospect, I am thankful that my initial plan didn't work out, as I simply cannot imagine my life without Hong Kong, all the people I have met there and all the doors that have opened for me.