A New Chapter

By Emma Phillips, Singapore Management University, Singapore

I have been in Singapore for just over a month now and time truly has flown. August and the start of September have brought many opportunities. Here is what I’ve done, how I met people and my highlights of Southeast Asia so far.

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Reflecting on my year in Hong Kong

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!

Small ways to make moving home from your year abroad more environmentally friendly

By Gemma Dignam, University of Hong Kong

I left Hong Kong earlier than planned, in March, as Covid restrictions became strict and University moved online for Semester 2. Therefore, I had to pack up my things at quite a short notice and significantly reduce my belongings as I am travelling for a few months before returning to the UK. Here are some tips to reduce your waste when moving back home or if you decide to travel before returning back to the UK:

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Everything you should do on your exchange in Hong Kong

By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

Now I have finished my exchange in Hong Kong, I’ve put together a list of everything I recommend an exchange student to do whilst you’re there- from climbing the tallest peak in Hong Kong, to the best rooftop bars to watch the incredible skyline.

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Goodbye Hong Kong…

My time in Hong Kong ended prematurely, as Covid restrictions became stricter from January onwards and our teaching moved online from Semester 2, I decided it was safest to move out and continue my studies remotely. Whilst I was sad to leave Hong Kong, as I loved spending my exchange there, I was excited for where I would go next. I planned to go travelling with the friends I met at HKU for the rest of the semester and study remotely.

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First things to do in Hong Kong

By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

Hong Kong surprised me with its endless list of things to do. Even though I expected it to be a small, dense city, it also has beaches, hikes and islands to visit to keep you entertained for the whole year. When you first arrive, you’ll probably want to spend time settling into your accommodation, meeting new people and walking around the city which might be a bit overwhelming. Here are some places I recommend visiting in your first weeks, to get started!

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Sustainability at HKU

By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

When I arrived at HKU, I was interested to find out if it was a sustainable campus and what I could get involved in regarding the environment. Here’s what I’ve learnt this year and what you can expect if you decide to go on exchange at HKU.

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Sustainable Eating in Hong Kong

By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

One of my favourite parts of living in Hong Kong was the food, but I quickly realised that the food and eating culture here was not very sustainable. It was quite different to my experience in the UK, where I would cook at home and eat out very little. However, in Hong Kong it’s the opposite! Grocery shopping is quite expensive and the kitchen space is quite small in any accommodation, and this along with a busy schedule would mean that most meals you tend to eat out, as this is quite cheap. However, I did notice it came with some environmental costs.

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Travelling sustainably in Hong Kong

By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

One of the highlights of going on exchange is getting to travel in your spare time, whether that be in your host country, or visiting neighbouring countries or cities. Due to Covid restrictions still being in place in Hong Kong, we are not able to travel abroad without hotel quarantining on our return- which is not an option on our student budget and schedule! Although this was disappointing to most of us exchanges who wished to travel to surrounding countries, we quickly realised the extent of travel options within Hong Kong itself- and most of them can be done in a much more sustainable way than if we had travelled elsewhere by plane. Hong Kong boasts excellent public transport facilities and here are the ways I have used them to visit the must-see sites of Hong Kong so far, there is no need for a car or even a taxi!

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Quarantining in Hong Kong

By Yiannis Kyriacou (University of Hong Kong)

After a 9-hour flight finally landing in Hong Kong, it brought a huge sigh of relief that I had finally made it after all the trouble and work needed to get here. As soon as you get off the plane, it becomes clear that there are still some things that need to be done before you can enjoy what Hong Kong has to offer. That is the two-week quarantine and the covid testing in the airport. It took me four hours of waiting for my covid test at the airport before I could finally be transported to my designated quarantine hotel, which felt like a whole day as the fantastic view you had from the airport only made you want to leave that place more and go outside.

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End of one adventure

When I began this adventure in January, this was not at all how I envisioned it ending. Coronavirus and government recall meant that I had to leave sunny Singapore very quickly. Whilst the government recall, the pain of getting a new plane ticket and, leaving all my new friends behind was not how I envisioned it ending, I can’t say it hasn’t been memorable.

My time abroad has not only allowed me the opportunity to travel and have amazing new adventures, but stretch and challenge myself. I will never forget the amazing views of sunrises in Surabaya, rainforests in Laos, and lanterns in Taiwan. However, for me it was the people who made my experience so amazing. I never thought I would make such important friendships so quickly, and yet we’ve already planned our New Years celebration together! People often joke that you “find yourself in Southeast Asia”, and I definitely found the best group of friends. People who I would quite literally jump off a cliff after, and people who immediately agreed to finish my checklist with me on my very sudden last days in Singapore. I feel extremely lucky to have shared amazing memories with these people, and I know this is the first of many adventures for us!

I also feel that Singapore has made a lasting impact on me. I am more spontaneous and willing to take risks, to plan a trip on Thursday night and leave Friday morning. It has broadened my horizons by allowing me to take risks and grow. I know I can travel alone and live on the other side of the world and it not end in mass disaster. Living abroad has made me more independent and self-sufficient. From organising my own VISA, to navigating boarder crossings at night, it’s safe to say that I definitely learnt a variety of life skills!

Whilst my time in Southeast Asia was cut short, I wouldn’t trade my experience, or the friendships I made! (And don’t worry I’ll be back there next summer for a new adventure!)