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Exploring My Chinese Roots Via Study Abroad, Hong Kong

Stepping out of the airport and walking the streets of Hong Kong for the first time felt strange. From university briefings on experiencing culture shock, the only shocking thing was how normal it felt to be here. Having never set foot in Asia for the 21 years I had been alive, yet suddenly surrounded familiar sights, smells and language, it was weird to find a place on the other side of the world feeling comfortingly like home.

From language and food, to just the ability to blend in with the crowds of people around and not be the perceived foreigner was refreshing to feel. On a superficial level at least, I felt a sense of belonging. In a way, Hong Kong was a reflection of myself, a country split between two identities, Chinese and British.

Taking a course in Cantonese was a challenge that highlighted gaps in my language ability. From correcting my foreign sounding pronunciation and bridging the gap between words I had grew up hearing, but never fully grasped was difficult but ultimately rewarding. Putting my rusty language skills to practice was a harder challenge. Aside from joining a weekly language meet, attempting to use Cantonese in restaurants was usually met with a dismissive ‘just speak English’. In a city that’s always on the move and out of time, patience with language learners is not something that is in great abundance.  

Reflecting on my year abroad, I realised that being in Hong Kong made me more accepting and proud of my Chinese identity, fuelling interest in racial dynamics and politics in the media I consume. Coming back to the UK was one of mixed emotions. On one hand, there’s a sense of relief with eliminating the language barrier, on the other, it’s getting readjusted to an old way of living where you’re subconsciously on guard about your ethnicity.

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Written by Karmen T.

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