Friday, 4 July 2014

“Enter your new surroundings with an open mind” - How to be an expat in Hong Kong, according to Jennifer Greaves

Our latest expat guest blogger, Jennifer Greaves tells us about how her perceptions of Hong Kong changed once she moved there. 

It’s easy to have preconceptions about places, and sometimes it takes some time to diffuse these ideas and see a place for what it really is. I certainly had this experience when I decided to move to Hong Kong almost seven years ago. I’d never lived abroad before, and had just been accepted for a job in the Asian World City. My first thoughts were big city, skyscrapers and rice! The day before I accepted the offer, I took a trip to the bookstore and opened a few Hong Kong guides. I flicked through a few photos of beaches, greenery and dolphins, and decided that I’d be open to exploring this city.

I’ve come across many questions about Hong Kong from people around the world, and friends from home. I was even asked if I spoke Japanese once! I’ve heard tales of people asking if electricity was stable here. From a friend who didn’t like foreign food, her concern for visiting me was “What would I eat?”! Hence, I realised that we all have preconceived ideas about places that might not be true. There is only one way to shatter these…

Personally, I find one of the best ways to explore a new area is on foot, meandering and observing with an open mind and absorbing what’s around. It’s good to go beyond the stereotypes and scope out the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. Anyone else’s opinion is subjective, so form your own opinions and your own impressions. 

Within my first few weeks in Hong Kong I had blown everything I thought it would be out of the water. I’d been lying on a beach, hiking in the verdant hills and spent a day lounging on a boat in the ocean. I hadn’t spent my days walking through corridors of skyscrapers, which is in fact a tiny portion of this city. The day I knew I’d got this city all wrong, and yet the city was so right, was when I went on a trip to see the pink dolphins. They were leaping out of the water and swimming in the wild. 

Hong Kong is a diverse city. If I wanted to live in an expat cocoon and eat Western food everyday, I certainly could. Worldwide brands all put themselves on the map here. How much would you gain from this type of expat experience? With diversity comes opportunity. I’ve eaten street food in night markets, practiced Cantonese, and failed by announcing, “I’m dying” instead of what was intended! I’ve watched ladies celebrate white tiger festival by beating slices of ham with an old shoe in the underpass, and I’ve haggled in the markets.  The random, the weird, the successful and the memorable moments; embrace all that your location has to offer. 

So as an expat, enter your new surroundings with an open mind, and you never know what you may find. Go beyond the stereotypes, and get to know the real country underneath. Not only did I end up learning lots about Hong Kong, I also developed as an individual, expanding my knowledge of different cultures by co-existing with so many different groups of people in this melting pot of a city. The expat world can be a bubble, and that has its uses and its comforts, but remember to go beyond that and make the most of the experience and new opportunities that you have on your new foreign doorstep.

About the Author

Jennifer Greaves came to Hong Kong in August 2007 with the intention of staying for 9 months.....and ended up staying.  She is a keen photographer and writer. You can read more of her posts on The Travel Blog and connect with her on Twitter @GreavesJen

Would you like to guest blog for us? Let us know in the comments section below or by tweeting @expatexplorer!

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