Tomorrow morning I board my last flight out of Hong Kong. I just spoke to the office that runs our flats to inform them of my imminent departure. They instructed me to put my key in an envelope and drop it in the mailbox on my way out.
So that’s that, then. Tests taken, papers submitted, farewells already begun.
I’m sitting in our campus Starbucks for the last time. It is actually one of two, but it is OUR campus Starbucks. The smaller, more intimate one. The one that we saw back on that first day of exploring campus, melting as we waded through sticky air. The one that we ran to, suddenly desperate for something cold and filled with caffeine and the taste of something familiar. Even on that day, we sipped our iced coffees and thought they tasted thicker than they did back home.
And yet we kept coming back. It became our motivation for daily trips to the library, the fuel that sustained us through tedious lectures, and always, always, it was a refuge, a place where we knew exactly what was going to happen.
The thing about going abroad is that it’s not just about new sights and smells, new tastes and new people – it’s about entirely new systems, new ways of life, new norms. It is a curve ball thrown at your every expectation. It is setting out in the morning with five simple tasks on your To Do list, and returning home, exhausted, having figured out just one.
It’s not different items on a menu – there is no menu, and you’re expected to know exactly what you want and have exact change ready instantly (here I am speaking both metaphorically, and literally).
And yet, this is how going abroad changes you. Each challenge is a lesson, and you will learn.
You will learn that the stickers they give you at the grocery checkout are absolutely useless, and yet you should still collect them and give them to someone else because it will make their day. You will learn that speed boat ferries may technically be illegal, but you’re a fool not to use them. You will learn that the 96R only runs on Sundays and that the 970X is way too expensive, except late at night in the Western direction, and that there is no indication that the 9 stops running from Big Wave Bay in the afternoons, but it absolutely does.
You will learn that the roommate you don’t get along with at first is actually one of the most intelligent and fun people you have ever met, and that sometimes the first friends you make will not be the best. And that’s okay.
You will learn that there is hardly a meal that can’t be consumed out of the one bowl that you own.
You will learn that Disneyland is always a good idea.
You will learn that hiking does not always involve reclusive treks through quiet forest, and that sun-scorched trails filled with crowds can still yield some of the most breathtaking and thought-provoking moments of your life.
You will learn that coincidence runs rampant in the most crowded of cities, and that you will run into the people you least expect every single day.
You will learn that no matter how much time has passed, there is always a new corner to be explored, and it is almost always worth it.
You will learn that some of the ways you see the world are purely products of where you grew up, and you will learn to listen.
Mostly, you will learn how little you truly know. Confident, flush with your months of experience, you will step out into the night with your visiting friend, and promptly alight at the wrong bus stop. Baffled and stuck (because you knew where you were, this just didn’t make any sense!) she will be the one to figure out where to go.
Hong Kong, you wild jungle city, you island of contradictions, thank you for kicking my ass and then offering me a hand every single day for the past three and a half months. I have had the most magical, difficult, eye-opening semester of my entire life. I am stronger now for having known you, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in these few months, it’s that I don’t really know you at all.
No, that would take a lifetime.