By Brian Aberle
Both of my older siblings were fortunate enough to study abroad in Italy when I was in high school. Hearing about their great life experiences made me interested in going abroad, not just for a short visit, but for long enough to develop an understanding of local culture no tourist could fully grasp. Consequently, I’ve been interested in studying abroad ever since I came to college. As my junior year approached, there was only one study abroad option for mechanical engineers: The Polytechnic University of Hong Kong. I had been hoping to go to Europe, to travel to historical cornerstones of Western civilization, and, admittedly, have some great European food, but I knew almost nothing about living in Asia. Though hesitant to commit to Hong Kong and leave CUA for a semester, I eventually decided the cultural immersion and chance to see engineering on the far side of the globe was a life experience I couldn’t miss.
There is an old cantonese saying that goes something like: “All that walks, swims, crawls, or flies with it’s back to heaven is edible.” While this is not interpreted literally here, the food has been the spearhead of my ‘culture shock.’ Chicken feet, beef intestine soup, and dried fish skin have all been culinary challenges which I have yet to undertake. That being said, the abundance of bubble teas, desserts I had never heard of, and tons of amazing dumplings have more than compensated for the food most foreign to me. Though I look forward to normal cheese pizza, and I miss Chick- fil-a, I can say that I’m extremely glad to have had the chance to try food so different than what I’ve been used to.
Traveling in Asia has led to some incredible experiences. I’ve happened upon sea turtles while snorkeling off an island in the Philippines, narrowly avoided a monkey attack in Singapore, and walked through old Portuguese forts in Macau. I’ve learned how to surf in Hong Kong, tried cuisine from all over the world, and spoken with students from many different countries and cultures. At the end of this semester, I’ll be traveling through Israel for about a week. Studying abroad has given me a strong desire to explore different countries, and I’m sure I’ll be doing that whenever I get the chance for years to come.
Studying at a school with over 39 thousand students (my dorm is 21 stories tall) had been a valuable experience as well. I’ve come to more thoroughly appreciate CUA’s unique campus, and the high probability of randomly seeing friends throughout each day. Classes of 80+ students have made it harder to form a personal connection with classmates or professors, and making friends is made even more difficult by language barriers. That being said, having access to PolyU’s large assembly of 3D printers and VR equipment has given me experience and knowledge that I can’t wait to share in my work with CUA’s labs.
One of the largest factors on my study abroad cons list was missing Swimming and Track Landmark Conference Championships. Training and competing with the swim and the track teams has been a huge part of my college experience, and it was initially hard to motivate myself to work out alone once I arrived in Hong Kong. Fortunately, I qualified to play on PolyU’’s water polo team. Attending a three hour practice almost entirely directed in cantonese has been really fun and invigorating, as many of the drills we do are entirely foreign to me. It’s also been a great way to make local friends, and I’ve had great times hanging out with the team outside the pool.
Overall, I’m very glad I took the chance to study in Hong Kong. I’ve made friends from all over the world, and had some great life experiences. I even think my experiences here will aid me in my position as a CUA resident minister next year. And I would highly recommend studying abroad to every student that has the chance. Despite my initial misgivings, my time here has truly been very rewarding. Though I am glad I’ll soon be back in the US seeing my friends and eating some long-awaited Chick-fil-a, I will miss living in “Asia’s World City” and plan to return for a visit someday.