When I landed in Hong Kong International Airport nearly a year ago, everyone who knew me had an on-going bet that I wouldn’t last 6 weeks. My boyfriend and I arrived with little besides the 7 kilos in our backpacks and a great deal of uncertainty about the next year. Travelling has taught me that not only did I not know a whole lot about the big wide world out there (shocker!) but perhaps more importantly, I knew even less about myself.
Call it an attitude problem or an extreme case of naivety, I don’t know, but I just can’t shake the feeling that there is so, so much more to life than what most of us seem to be chasing.
It’s so much easier to take the safer option, whether that’s accepting a job on a graduate scheme or settling in your home town. Believe me, I get the appeal – sometimes I look at my more career driven friends on Facebook and wonder if I made the wrong decision. We constantly have this ideal “path” hammered into us – get a degree, get a job, get married, pop out some kids and die. Maybe these things will make you happy – but I’m staying away from that shit for as long as physically possible. My aversion to real life will probably catch up with me, but right now, my only concern is seeing and doing as much cool stuff as physically possible. But, you know, we have to make our own decisions and choose what’s right for us. Yada yada yada. (I’m already anticipating the hate mail I’m going to get for this blog post).
I have always been terrified of living a mediocre life, but until the age of 22, I was even more terrified of actually doing something about it. We have to let go of our fears, of external expectations, and listen to that little whisper that demands more than what our current situation is offering. For me, that was dropping everything to travel and move abroad.
With that being said, I am not here to add to the insufferable “OMG MY EXPAT LIFE IS SO PERFECT” bullshit narrative that so many travel bloggers perpetuate (me, sometimes, included – whoops).
I’m fully aware that I can be guilty of sugar-coating my life on the Internet. Sometimes I’m all “Let’s hike Dragon’s Back, hire a junk and get dumplings!1!!” as much as the next white girl living in HK. I want to write positive, inspiring posts that make you want to chase your dreams. But I would be lying to you if I said that this experience hasn’t been hard. From trying to master the word “vegetarian” in Cantonese and ending up saying “bracelet” instead, right through to finding an apartment that didn’t make me want to collapse in a fit of tears (I know, First World Problems, right?) – the every day realities of moving abroad can be pretty tough.
But don’t let all the reasons of “why you shouldn’t” hold you back. I honestly believe that anybody can do it. You just need to have the guts and willpower to make it happen. You don’t need to be super cultured, smart, or even that “worldly” – these are all skills that you will pick up on the way (hopefully). It’s not necessarily about money and it’s certainly not about luck. If you’re willing to flip the table on your comfort zone and do something a little crazy, then moving abroad will be the best decision of your life.
I asked you what you wanted to know about living in a foreign country and you sent in a ton of questions. So, here’s what it’s really like to move abroad…
Did you already have jobs? How did you get a visa?
We came over on a graduate scheme to teach English. Of course, if English is your first language, then you have the immense privilege of being able to teach it all over the world. If teaching isn’t for you, there are a lot of job opportunities for foreigners here in Hong Kong. Although you don’t necessarily need to have a job before you move, it is obviously a massive bonus and safety blanket. We were really lucky to have our visas taken care of by our employer and just had to take a trip to Macau to activate them. For more information on how to get a visa in Hong Kong, check this website.
How do you handle being away from your family for so long?
Honestly, the first few months were pretty tough – you’d have to be pretty frosty to not get homesick every now and again. In the time that I’ve been away, I have missed out on so much. My family members have been extremely sick, my dog has died, I’m missing my brother’s graduation and I haven’t been able to be there for my friends when they’ve needed me. Sometimes everything can be made better with a Facetime call, and often times, it can be made a whole lot worse. It’s hard but you have to learn to adapt. Remember, your family and friends will still be there when you get back and this is an experience that will do a lot for you in the long term.
Hong Kong seems so busy, how do you handle living there?
As a girl who grew up in a tiny town in The Lake District, adapting to one of the most densely populated places in the world was pretty comical. And stressful. I think it’s wrong that people are terrified to say anything negative about the country they’ve moved to, especially online. Let me just say that you are perfectly entitled to hate things about where you live! Some things about Hong Kong drive me insane. At first, Hong Kong was a hyperactive scrawl of neon street signs, beeping taxis and a whole host of pungent scents that flipped my tender vegan stomach. Somehow, a country that once felt like an assault on my senses has now grown to feel like home. The things that freak you out about a new place are normally what you end up loving about it the most. I love the chaos of Hong Kong – there is so much life whirling around you and so much to do and see. After all, you can always escape on a hiking trail or hop to an Island if it all starts to weigh on you.
How do you cope with the language barrier?
English isn’t as widely spoken as you might expect. Cantonese is an extremely hard language to master and most people will tell you that unless you were raised speaking it, then you don’t have a chance in hell. It has nine different tones and despite my efforts to have a go at learning some basic vocabulary, I’ve failed pretty hard. If you rock up to a country without speaking its language then it’s just a given that you shouldn’t expect any special treatment. Nothing winds me up as much as impatient tourists getting mad when local people when they can’t make themselves understood. It’s us who don’t speak the national language, so don’t be a complete douche about it.
What do you miss the most about living at home?
Besides the obvious things like my friends and family, I’m not gonna lie, I mostly miss the food. I actually have dreams about buying vegan mac’n’cheese in Sainsbury’s – yep, I do have issues. I just need a god damn soy chicken burger in my life, k?!
Some of my favourite people in the whole wide world. (They will probably vom when they read that).
How do you make friends?
The good thing about a graduate scheme is that it immediately comes with a strong network. The company that I work for has a really close community and I’ve made some of my best friends through it. I haven’t really felt the need to widen my network outside of these guys because 5-6 friends are about all I can deal with. But there are so many ways to make friends! A lot of people use meetup.com where you can find people with similar interests. Join a sport’s team, take gym classes, try a new hobby! Your options are endless.
What’s the hardest part about moving to a far away country?
I think the hardest part, above all, is the uncertainty. When you get on that plane you have no idea what is going to happen or how your life is going to pan out. You might have to end a relationship or walk away from things in your life that are no longer serving you in order to make the move. Honestly, once you’ve done that, most of the hard stuff is already over. My advice is to just make the most of it. Say yes to everything – even if it makes you feel awkward or uncomfortable. Give everyone a chance and don’t judge them. Be open to new cultures and new ways of doing things. As one of my favourite bloggers, Young Adventuress said on her blog, “I don’t know anyone who has regretted moving abroad but I know plenty who have regretted staying behind”.
Have you moved abroad before, or would you like to in the future? Do you have any other questions that you want to ask? Let me know in the comments!