Letters from the Dorm: How being an outsider in London preps me for the real world in HK

Henry Lui

If you ever face hostility abroad, it’s best to smile and forget about it. At the end of the day, you’re there to study and develop as a person, and a taste of the “real world” is not a bad thing

Henry Lui |

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Settling into a new place is often the most difficult thing for Hongkongers studying abroad. Though I’m now into my second year in London, there are still a few things that remain quite foreign to me. But, with a bit of help and some confidence, everything will be all “swole” and “lit” (as people my age are supposed to say, apparently).

The first difficulty that most of us have to get past is the feeling of being an outsider. No matter how good your English is, your appearance often dictates how people treat you. Though I am lucky enough to not have experienced any overt racism in London, you can feel some underlying hostility from the odd glare you get on the train or the patronising tone of immigration officials. This became even more apparent after I returned from a month-long internship in Beijing: my rusty Mandarin did not stop me from having decent interactions with even the most stern-faced security personnel, while even the most perfect English (my first language) would not please your average shopkeeper in London. Implicit racism is still something that we have to deal with abroad.

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While Hong Kong has a bad reputation for its sky-high property prices, it’s only when you’re abroad that you truly appreciate how little it costs to get by as an average Joe back home. You’ll never go to McDonald’s in London because a burger will now cost you an arm, a leg, and maybe a kidney; and there’s no equivalent to Cafe de Coral that can satisfy your appetite for low-budget Chinese cuisine. Now, you’ll just have to make do with a £3 (HK$30.70) meal that contains the saddest looking bits of bread and fruit you’ll ever see. Prepare to pay more for less.

It’s not all bad, however. Having just moved into a self-catered hall, I can now cook my own food for roughly the same price as you would expect in Hong Kong. Although there’s no way to hide your real appearance, the only thing you can do in response to sly digs against you is smile and forget about it. At the end of the day, you’re really here to study and develop as a person, and thick skin is something you need to have when you enter the “real world”.

As the second part of my degree will take place at the University of Hong Kong, I will be able to get away from London quite soon. This is not to say that I regret the choice to begin my studies here – it is a better place to study law and there are many experiences here that aren’t accessible back home. One just needs to be aware of the odd quirks that occur around here, and remain optimistic for the future.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne