Jessica Leung14 December 2020
Cardiff Business School
International Exchange / Erasmus+ Study Placement
Where did you go?
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong and Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
What motivated you to take up a year abroad?
Having lived in the UK my whole life and with the additional pressure of graduating soon, I felt I had lived too comfortably within my bubble and wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone, experience the world in a different perspective and gain life skills that would add to both my personal and professional development. I also love travelling so I felt a year abroad was also the perfect opportunity to travel as part of my studies. In addition, I always felt I had an identity crisis as a British-born Chinese and I wanted to use this opportunity to discover more about myself and my own culture.
What were your top 3 highlights from your time abroad?
My experience abroad would have been completely different if it was not for the people! I met other exchange students from across the world, travelled and explored with them. Local students also showed, taught and pushed me to experience things that I would never have had the opportunity or been willing to try. As cliché as it sounds, you really do make life-long friends and valuable memories from studying abroad.
In addition, I managed to visit 6 countries within my year abroad. It was by far one of the greatest experiences! Hong Kong and Copenhagen were travel hubs that allowed easy access to other destinations within a few hours. I remember spontaneous trips to Malmo, Sweden one weekend then Hamburg, Germany the next!
One of my top highlights have to be the food. Hong Kong is home to great Cantonese cuisine like dimsum and some of the best dessert shops. It was also affordable to eat out almost every day which is great because I was so spoilt with choice of foods from across the world and wanted to try everything. And, obviously, the best place to get your Danish pastries have to be in Denmark!
What was your biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I probably faced on my year abroad was trying to integrate with the different cultures and lifestyles. On my year abroad, I wanted to fully immerse myself into the cultures of the countries that I had chosen to visit in order to receive the whole experience. I did not want to be seen as disrespectful or have any cultural misunderstandings so I made sure to research the traditions and customs. I signed up to optional crash courses in Danish at my host university so I could learn some basic phrases and I made sure to engage with local students as well as other exchange students. This way, I could practise and I managed to pick up more key phrases in Cantonese and Danish even though English would have been enough to get around. Initially, the humidity and heat in Hong Kong was also unbearable (it was almost 40 degrees Celsius everyday) so this definitely took some time to get used to. Local food was also very different to what I was used to but I wanted to be open-minded and try everything at least once before I judged!
How has your placement been beneficial to your studies at Cardiff University or your future career?
Over the course of the year, I studied modules that I would usually not have the opportunity to study but I believe my learning took a greater form beyond the classroom environment. Looking back at who I was versus now, I would say I have come to realise that I am much more self-reliant and independent than I thought I was. My year abroad was not the smoothest and I came across many diverse and challenging situations which put hurdles in my plans. In a way, this helped me become more flexible, adaptable and required me to develop problem solving skills. In addition, I became more aware of myself, my strengths and weaknesses through the entire process. Interactions on my exchange also helped me to develop social skills as well as expand my international outlook through working in international teams and meeting a variety of people. I believe my exchange has added an enormous value to my personality and has built a strong foundation for my career goals.
What is the one thing you wish you’d known before you left?
Worry less! There were many aspects that scared me initially. I was worried about all sorts from supporting myself financially, to language barriers, to culture shock, to homesickness, to meeting people and so on. However, with continuous support from the university and the right amount of preparation beforehand, such as researching the country and its customs, preparing basic language skills and organising myself to keep on top of paperwork, everything fell into place once I got there. All the worries that I had built up inside my head disappeared and I was just ready to have fun. Other exchange students in a similar position as myself and assigned buddies from the host institution also made settling in a lot smoother.
What would you say to a student that was unsure about spending a period abroad?
The opportunity to study and travel whilst being partially funded through a bursary sounds great but of course, there are many barriers that may prevent you from taking that step and make the whole experience seem scary. Personally, I would encourage any of those who have doubts or who are interested to reach out to us students who can walk you through the whole experience and give you a deep insight into what this opportunity may be like. As easy as it is for us to persuade people to grasp this once in a lifetime opportunity, it’s also important to think about your own motivations to go abroad and which countries may be most suitable in line with that. It’s important to research which countries you would genuinely be interested to visit or culture you would want to integrate yourself into. After all, you could be spending possibly up to 12 months in a foreign country you may have never even visited. Speaking to others who have been in the same position and doing prior research can give you a real sense of whether spending time abroad is right for you. All in all, most problems like culture shock or homesickness or language barriers are very unlikely to outweigh what you get out of the experience. Just remember to be brave and seize every opportunity!
What are 3 things to do in Hong Kong and Copenhagen?
There are so many things to do in both Hong Kong and Copenhagen. But my top three have to be:
- Hiking – Some of the best free views outside of the city and be sure to check out some of the surrounding islands as well.
- Festivities – Hong Kong celebrated the dragon boat festival, mid-autumn festival and Chinese New Year whilst I was there. It was very interesting to experience the atmosphere, culture and learn about their different traditions.
- Street and night markets – In most stalls, they were willing to haggle. You can get some great deals here.
- Food markets selling Danish staples like open-faced sandwiches, Danish hot dogs and Danish meat balls.
- Nyhavn – a great spot in the city to take a walk and take pictures.
- The Little Mermaid – it was just funny to see how overrated this landmark really was. There were always piles of tourists…
Please sum up your experience abroad in one sentence.
An enriching and unforgettable experience.
What are you looking for?
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