Cultural connection in Hong Kong

While studying in Hong Kong this semester, Haiting Chan, E19, considers the transformative effect of study abroad and the meaning of home.
Landscape photo taken in Hong Kong
Photo courtesy of Haiting Chan.

This spring, Haiting Chan, E19, is studying abroad at the University of Hong Kong. Haiting is a computer engineering major and a scholar in the Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) program. They will be blogging about their experiences in Hong Kong this semester.

By Haiting Chan

It's the end of January, two weeks after classes began at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). I have already spent hours wandering the campus since my arrival, but my knees are getting used to it. Or rather, I'm starting to remember the elevators and escalators better. For one whole semester, I'll be living in between these layers of towering glass, brick, and concrete.

Although I've lived in the U.S. for practically my entire life, I was born in a hospital that is a twenty minute walk from HKU. I was completely unsure of what to expect as a U.S. immigrant returning to a country I never knew, so I was surprised to feel an uncanny cultural connection.

Despite the fact that most people here are fluent in English, I have yet to enter a restaurant and be greeted in English. This is likely because I still look like someone to be addressed in Cantonese. Then, it seems like a surreal coincidence that I can reply in the Cantonese or Mandarin I speak only at home. While the concept of speaking Chinese to someone who is not my mother feels foreign, the names of local dishes roll off my tongue easily. The food is not only delicious, but it makes me feel at home.

An age-old question to a first-generation immigrant: "What is home?" Growing up, home has been an idea lost on me. I often felt the sociocultural differences between the environments inside and outside my physical residence. Although studying abroad usually pushes people outside of their comfort zone, my experiences have offered comforts previously elusive to me. Nonetheless, studying abroad is uniquely transformative for anyone, so I hope more opportunities will arise for low-income engineering students.

As always, I'm grateful for family, friends, and all the support that brought me here.