By Gemma Dignam, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Having been back in the UK for about a month now, I think I’m able to really look back and reflect on my time abroad. What I loved the most, what I’ll miss, what I learnt, what I would do if I had to do it all over again- and I really wish I could! For me, the cliché came true, my year abroad really did become the best year of my life. Going back to how I felt a year ago, I was so excited. I had been looking forward to my year abroad throughout my whole degree and had so many expectations for the year so it’s sad that it’s all come to an end. But I can definitely say I made the most of it and that I can look back on this year with a lot of positivity, new skills and new friends.
One of the biggest things for me was that it’s made me a lot more comfortable with dealing with uncertainty and new environments. Being thrust into a new city, making new friends, navigating a new University- it’s something that would have made me a lot more nervous before. However, after arriving in Hong Kong with no permanent accommodation, navigating busy public transport on my first day out of quarantine, attending events knowing absolutely no one and somehow making it out- I’ve come out a lot more confident and independent which I’m really proud of.
My cultural awareness and communication with others has also improved. Not only with students, but also in the city itself. Often there may be times that someone doesn’t speak English or understand you and communication becomes challenging- but it’s all part of the experience. And just learning a few words of the native language can go a long way! I was also able to make friends with people from so many other countries such as Japan, France, Germany and China. You learn so much about their culture and now have friends all over the world to go and visit!
However, I don’t want to sugar coat my experience as it didn’t come without its challenges. Moving to a new city for a year will inevitably bring this but don’t let this put you off. It pushes you to adapt to new situations out of your comfort zone which I think really encompasses the year abroad experience. I encountered a lot of uncertainty about whether I would be able to carry out my placement due to Covid and flight bans from the UK to Hong Kong which was really stressful. However, it made me even more grateful when I managed to arrive- I don’t think I ever fully relaxed until I stepped foot in my quarantine hotel! Covid even brought my time in Hong Kong to a close earlier than expected, due to stricter restrictions coming into force in January. It led me to decide to leave which was so disappointing as I was really enjoying my time there. However, it wasn’t all bad as I continued the rest of the semester remotely, and went travelling with friends I had made throughout the year, across Southeast Asia. Although it wasn’t in my plan, I have even more great memories and continued my time abroad which was the main thing!
This leads onto my next reflection- how invaluable these travel opportunities were and how much I learnt from them. I wasn’t the most ambitious traveller before coming to Hong Kong- I would never have imagined being able to spend two months in Thailand for a start. Next thing I know I’m in Phuket living with all of my friends from exchange- and I have no regrets! Now, I can’t wait to plan my next trip and explore new places I didn’t get to go to this time around. I have a lot more confidence travelling now and a new appreciation for all of the new places I’ve visited. Getting to do it with a lot of other exchange students I made friends with made it an even better experience and a unique opportunity!
Overall, my year abroad has made me a lot more open and confident going forward, finding myself saying yes to things I wouldn’t have done a year ago, going into final year a lot clearer with what I want to do and how I am as a person. Although, even after such a good year, I’ve also been missing Manchester and now I’m ready to go into my final year and cherish the time I have left at University! And if anyone is still unsure about doing a year abroad- then I would definitely say go for it, it’s such a unique experience!