Sydney Guthrie (she/they) - Stanford at The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Major: International Relations
College year while abroad: Senior
About the photo: First look at the Hong Kong Victoria Harbor.
Why did you choose to study in Hong Kong?
Why not? I had never left North America before going to Hong Kong. I am from a small rural island in Alaska (less than 3,000 people and no stoplights), I knew that going abroad was going to be out of my comfort zone, so I thought might as well lean into it. I wanted to get a better perspective on the world, and I knew Hong Kong was going to widen my horizons in ways that I could not even yet imagine.
What were your expectations before you went and how did they change once you were in Hong Kong?
I am Filipina, going into Hong Kong I didn't expect how much my identity would impact my time there. My family immigrated 3 generations ago and I had little idea what it meant to be Fillipina in Asia. It was distressing how aware I became of being Filipina in Hong Kong. I was surrounded with subconscious bias against Filipinos constantly. Such as the idea that Filipinos were lower class and there to serve others. Despite this I did find a lot of community in the Filipino diaspora there. I realized how salient this identity is for me.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Hong Kong?
I study International Relations, it is deeply important in this field to have a global perspective, which can be hard to have when you are studying in the US with limited chances to leave. Hong Kong is a truly international city, the students and the people were truly from all over, in my opinion there is no better place to gain a global perspective. I am a better scholar from having studied and lived in Hong Kong. I feel as though I am much better prepared to take on International challenges because of my time there.
What did you learn about yourself while studying abroad?
I learned how adaptive I can be. Living in Hong Kong was completely different than where I grew up in Alaska. Yet, I was able to adapt and thrive there. I was able to build community among people with whom on the surface I had very little in common with. I know now that wherever I go from here I will be okay. I am much more confident in my ability to create a space for myself and a life I enjoy.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while abroad and what did you learn from it?
I got a lot of stares in Hong Kong. I am a 5'7", plus sized, American with vibrantly dyed green hair— I stood out. I knew going to Hong Kong that I was likely to get stares and even rude comments, and so I prepared myself the best I could. It doesn't make it much easier though when it happens. Sweet looking little old ladies would stare and laugh with their friends over my looks. It was alienating, dehumanizing, and embarrassing. Especially when the friends I was with could understand what they were saying about me. It was hard. I learned to push past it. I found that the best way to deal with it was to be earnest and bubbly and to pretend as though I didn't notice. I was the foreigner here, nothing that they were doing was meant to be malicious, and I was the one out of place. I had to teach myself not to take things personally and how to move forward confidently.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Using cash. Hong Kong runs almost completely on cash which took a little adjusting to. When we first arrived in Hong Kong we didn't realize how important carrying cash was and there was multiple times in the first couple of days there where we had to really search to find a place to eat where we could pay with card.
What was your favorite part of everyday life?
Getting lunch with friends in between classes. It felt like no matter when or where you ate you were sure to run into a friendly face. The food was always good and the company excellent.
What was the most memorable experience you had while in Hong Kong?
At the end of my time in Hong Kong I became homesick. I was doing my best to push through it, but it was hard when I was in a place so different from home. It was during this time that we had planned a trip to one of the outlying islands of Hong Kong. I was feeling down, yet I decided to go anyways. It turned out to be the right decision. Cheung Chau is a tourist hot spot as well as a small fishing community. It felt just like home. The harbor was packed full of fishing boats, if one viewed it from the right angle it could have been Alaska. The restaurants sold seafood fresh from the boats and everything smelled of fish. It was if I had been transported. I had never expected to find a place so much like home so many miles away.
What 5 words would you use to describe the experience?
Exhilarating, Eye-opening, Humid, Beautiful, & Fun.
What was your favorite food?
I had so much wonderful food in Hong Kong it is hard to pick my absolute favorite. Of all the food that I ate in Hong Kong I think the food that I think about the most is actually the food from my dorm's canteen. I never thought that university provided food could be so good. The Hunan.Fried Pork (湖南小炒肉) from the canteen was one of the first things I ate out of quarantine and it quickly became one of my favorites. I've actually attempted to make it a couple times myself at home, but I don't think it'll ever measure up. If I ever go back to Hong Kong I will 100% be going to CUHK just to eat the Wu Yee Sun canteen food again.
What was the most valuable item you took on the program?
My sneakers. I brought mostly empty suitcases with me to Hong Kong to leave room for all the items I was sure to buy. But I made sure to pack multiple pairs of good walking shoes. I have never walked as much as I did in Hong Kong and a good pair of shoes was invaluable.
What was your favorite music/band you discovered in Hong Kong?