You’ve read plenty of op-eds, blogs, and letters from the dorm from students flung far across the world. They talk about feeling isolated from their new coursemates, how the weather is stunningly (or terribly) different, and how the food, or the people, aren’t what they used to. As someone who moved from the UK to Hong Kong fifteen months ago, I can tell you it’s the same discombobulating feeling the other way around too.
I’m a proper English northerner. I like my pies swimming in gravy. I’m an expert at dressing for summer - we don’t have one - and I’m surprised my feet aren’t more webbed than they are, with the rain we seem to live in. But I’m also Chinese. And as much as I was raised in a mainly white, working-class town “oop North”, I was also taught to light incense for the dead. I never stick my chopsticks upright in my rice bowl. I try to remember which of my aunties is my ah yee, and which is my kau mo. Please note: try. I’m not always successful.
When circumstances in my life a few years back allowed me to move to Hong Kong and experience first-hand my family’s roots, I took it. I quit my old job, sold or gave away almost everything I had bought for my rented flat in Yorkshire and left, with enough money to tide me over for three months as I looked for a job. Wild, right? I should probably add that I was staying with relatives for the first few months, and I always knew that if nothing else, I’d be able to find a job in the 852 teaching English.
Ten years ago, if you’d asked me whether I imagined I could do something like this - move halfway across the world on a bit of a whim, and leave behind a steady, comfortable (if, let’s be real, a bit of a boring) life - I’d have laughed in your face. I know the sort of person I am. A bit of a stick-in-the-mud. More than a little scared of the world. Terrified of embarrassing myself in front of people, of having them judging me for what I say, or do, or think.
If you ask my family, my friends back home, or my old teachers and classmates, they’d tell you I’m a good, reliable sort. I’m dependable, and responsible. Which is great and all, but no-one actually wants to be known for being … well, any of those things.. “Cool”, “amazing”, and “fun” - that’s what you want to hear. I don’t know about you, but the person I could sort of see myself being, the one in my head, was infinitely cooler. And taller. Definitely taller.
That person in my head has never been anything more than a pipe dream. I’m really, honestly, not the sort of person that even dips their toe outside of their comfort zone. Or I wasn’t, I guess? Here’s the thing. That was me for most of my life. And then suddenly I did something so far left-field, I think my head's still spinning, 15 months later. What happened? Who is this person who booked a plane ticket with no return? Am I even the same person I’ve been for 20-*mumble* years?
The short answer is yes, of course I’m still me. Who else could I be, or want to be? The long answer … well, that might take a little longer to figure out. But maybe I’m both, right? The person I am now - a little braver, a little more willing to take risks - is also the person who would really rather stay in her little old routine back in England. Or maybe I’m looking too far into something that’s not really there. But if there’s one thing to take away from my ramble, make it this: the person you are now is the best version of yourself - for now. Tomorrow, you’ll be even better. No-one actually stops developing - what you can’t fathom doing now, you might be able to do with ease in the future. You might not be comfortable in your skin right now (loads of people aren’t), but tomorrow you might be.
Or, if you’re like me, you’ll understand this revelation 10 years down the line and half a world away. Whatever.
AND I’m still not any taller.