Study Abroad Hong Kong: Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Hong Kong, China isn’t the biggest study abroad program at Syracuse University, but for recent graduate Tyler Newman ’20, his semester living and working in Asia was unforgettable. 

“No matter where you go, you’re going to learn something,” Newman shares. “I think what’s really unique about studying abroad is that you can expand your horizons as much as possible.” 

Newman spent about five months overseas, taking classes and then completing an internship at a local company. The Hong Kong program, Newman explains, is broken up into three modules, or sections. 

Module A consists of the students completing a three-credit class by participating in a travel seminar. “We spent three weeks traveling through mainland China,” he explains. “And then we took a plane over to Taipei, Taiwan, and traveled around Taiwan for a little bit as well, and then back to Hong Kong.”

Module B allows students to stay in apartments in Hong Kong and take classes for eight weeks. Newman took three courses, totaling seven credits: a one-credit Cantonese class and two three-credit courses, one in economics and the other in international relations. 

As for the last five weeks of the semester, students are allowed a choice for Module C: they can either complete an independent study, or do an internship in Hong Kong, which for Whitman students also counts as a business elective. Newman chose the latter option.

“I thought that getting international work experience at a renowned company in Hong Kong would be a tremendous opportunity,” he explains. 

Newman interned with Compass Offices, a company based in Hong Kong that is a service office provider for the Asia Pacific region. He explains, “They operate in 11 countries, and have over 11,000 workspaces, so it’s similar to WeWork.”

Though Newman says the language barrier was challenging at times during his study abroad experience, nearly all businesses in Hong Kong are conducted in English so he was able to communicate with coworkers and clients. 

However, outside of the office communication in Hong Kong and other places in Asia was a challenge for Newman and his peers. “One thing I think that traveling through Asia has versus in Europe is Europe language is pretty uniform,” he says. “Yes, when you go from Italy to Spain the language is different, but a lot of the languages are fairly similar. When you’re traveling through Asia, it’s very different. Even going from Hong Kong to China – Cantonese versus Mandarin, are very different languages.”

The challenge of studying abroad someplace so very different from home or other possible destinations wasn’t lost on Newman’s family. “I was very nervous about Tyler going to Hong Kong since it was unfamiliar to me,” says Randi Newman, Tyler’s mother. “I had never been to Asia so couldn’t picture what his life would be like for him. I also worried about the time difference, how we would stay connected – which worked out perfectly being exactly 12 hours apart – and the language barrier. It was also hard for me not to be able to picture where he would live.”

However, his family was able to visit him during the semester and Mrs. Newman says that in the end, she was very grateful that her son had the experience he did. “Tyler learned so many new things in Hong Kong, and his perspective on so many things was changed,” she explains. “He learned to speak Cantonese and used his new language. He was excited to expose us to many places in Hong Kong when we visited. Grateful for this experience is an understatement. I’m glad I didn’t let my own worries stop Tyler from going abroad to Hong Kong.”

Travel outside around Asia was also a priority for Newman, who ended up visiting 14 countries in total during his time abroad. One of his favorite trips, he says, is when he and a few friends spent about 10 days traveling through the Philippines.

Newman recalls, “There was a day when five of us got to charter a boat and we went on a snorkeling trip. We were in the most beautiful waters and swimming with sea turtles and having so much fun. That was one of the best days of study abroad.”

Such unique experiences were a part of what made Newman’s semester abroad so special. His advice to any fellow students considering study abroad is to not be afraid to go off the beaten path. He also encourages students to embrace the idea that they have their whole lives to go anywhere they want.

However, being able to spend a whole semester abroad is a unique opportunity and Newman advises those considering it to go someplace out of their comfort zone. “You want to go to a place where you don’t think you can be for six months,” he shares. “That place for me was Southeast Asia. I didn’t think that I could spend that much time of my life, apart from study abroad, in Southeast Asia. It made it a no-brainer for me to want to go there.” 

Learn more about other Whitman student’s study abroad experiences.

Due to political developments in the region and ongoing travel restrictions, the Syracuse Hong Kong Center program and options affiliated with the City University of Hong Kong have been suspended as of Fall 2020.

Mallory Carlson
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