Learning to accept differences

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 1995, 12:00am

HOW many of you have been to a foreign country as an exchange student? Especially under a programme called American Field Service (AFS).

For those who have not, here is my story for you to get an idea of what it is like to live in a strange land.

I came to Hong Kong from a small town in California 31/2 months ago, on the AFS Programme. My only expectations here are to learn the culture and the language, attend school, get along with my host family, and follow some AFS rules - not such a difficult task. Boy, was I in for a surprise of cultural shock! I first came to the MTR station in Mongkok with my host brother and to my amazement, I saw so many people running and rushing to get seats.

People were squeezing themselves into crowded spots inside the train and others were bumping and shoving into people without a single 'Excuse me'. I thought these people were crazy.

When I was standing in line waiting for a bus, I was disgusted to see people casually spitting their saliva onto the street or blowing their 'snot' onto the sidewalks. 'How gross!' I thought.

Despite all that, plus plenty more cultural differences, I have learned to understand and accept the Chinese culture.

One thing I like most about Hong Kong is that everywhere I go and whenever I need help, there are always friendly people to lend me a hand.

I recalled on my first day of going to school, I got lost and I met a girl who was on her way to the University of Hong Kong and she helped me out.

School is different here, I observed. I have to get used to so many things (which was uncomfortable at first) and abiding by all these strict rules set by the school.

However, I enjoy my classmates' friendliness and appreciate all my teachers' help.

I live with a Chinese host family in Ho Man Tin. They are really nice and generous, but living with my host family is different from living with my real family.

I have to be tidy and clean up after myself. I have to be thoughtful and considerate. There is a lack of privacy and I make many sacrifices (that is because I have to share a room with another person).

Learning the language is somewhat frustrating even though English is the second language here. There are many occasions that I desperately need to communicate in Cantonese! Luckily, I have a good friend Pinky who I bring along whenever I go out so she can translate for me.

My duration in Hong Kong is only for one year. As each month passes by, I pick up a little bit of Cantonese, make more friends, and mature a little more. I am in no hurry at all for this exchange experience to end.

Hanh Nguyen is an exchange student (at the Sacred Heart Canossian College; in the US she studies at Seaside High School).

THE views expressed above are those of the writer and they do not necessarily reflect those of Young Post