Sunday, 7 September 2014

Here We Go Again.

Once upon a time when I was 19 and a half, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran an article that featured a full-page photo of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. I can’t recall what the article was about or why it even struck me, but I remember promising myself then that, someday, I would see the Eiffel Tower in person.

The next day, I grew impatient for someday and got applications for scholarships to study abroad and for a passport. When I was 19 years and 364 days old, my passport came in the mail. On my 20th birthday, I got on a plane to Paris, France.

One thing you should know: I am lucky beyond what anyone has a right to be. And I acknowledge this. Through phenomenal work opportunities, scholarships/studentships, and great jobs that allowed me to save up money and happily wish me well on month-long sojourns and that all seemed to just fall in my lap, I have visited 15 foreign countries and now lived in six cities in four countries on as many continents in the past seven years.

When I arrived in England in September of last year, I fell in love with my fine medieval town of Norwich and the people I met there. So much so that I fancied sticking around to do my PhD there – the longest I’d be in one place since leaving my parents’ house at 18. Thanks for all the traveling, World, but I think I’ll just stay here for a while.

And the World laughed and said, You must be mistaken. You said you wanted travel. I’ll help you travel.

Which is how I found myself here, in Hong Kong, preparing to do my PhD in international media development over the next four years.

The Degree

Except that, oh no, I can’t stay in one place for that long. Four years in one place is just too much commitment for me, apparently. Which is why my PhD programme goes like this:

Year 1: Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
Year 2: Haimen Institute of Science and Technology, near Shanghai, China
Years 3&4: University of Westminster, London, with time spent doing research in sub-Saharan Africa

This particular dual-degree programme is a new endeavour by the universities involved. Though HKBU and Westminster are both known for their communication programmes and there are 16 other communication PhD candidates doing their degrees exclusively at HKBU, myself and my three colleagues – from Pakistan, the Philippines and China – are the guinea pigs to this very international and quite well-funded multi-university programme.

View from the top of the HKBU communication building
This programme is described as a hybrid between the American and British PhD systems – the American system being lots of classes and a short thesis, the British system being fewer classes and a long thesis. Which means we get the best of both worlds – lots of classes and a long thesis. This semester, we have 9 hours of classes and 12 hours of working as teaching assistants each week. This will mostly be the case for the next two years in Hong Kong and Haimen. The final two years I’ll be based at the University of Westminster in London focusing on my research and doing field work wherever required. Upon completion, I will have degrees from both Hong Kong Baptist University and the University of Westminster.

The City

My beloved town of Norwich was a small, sleepy community on the banks of the River Wensum, where, in the city centre, you wouldn’t see a soul after 7pm except in a pub, and you’d always carry an umbrella and a jacket because it rarely got above 20C/70F.

Hong Kong is not quite like that. They say it’s incredibly safe, because absolutely everywhere you go, day or night, there will always be hundreds of people with you. EVERYWHERE. My umbrella has now turned into a parasol to ward off the constant sun and a water bottle must be carried at all times to prevent dehydration.

Right now, I’m staying with an AirBNB host, which strangely harkens back to Peace Corps homestay – I’m cheap, so the room is barely larger than my bed, there’s no real designated shower area but just a drain on the floor beside the toilet, conversations with the housekeeper are via pantomime as I don’t speak Cantonese, and instead of chickens running around I keep accidentally tripping over the host’s pet turtle (including, awkwardly, in the shower). But as it’s in the Mong Kok district (ranked the busiest district in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records), I can step outside the building and find funky street food and fresh coconut with sugar cane juice any time of day or night.

This week (fingers crossed) I’ll be moving to my more permanent (read; one year) home, a three-bedroom, two-bath flat on the third floor I’ll be sharing with two local teachers.

Fun Note: I found it strangely difficult to find flats with kitchens. Even now, my future flat has just a sink, a microwave, a small fridge and a hotplate. Why is that, I asked a friend? Because it’s so much cheaper and easier to just buy delicious and healthy food everywhere that no one really bothers to cook. To which I responded, why have I wasted my adult life living anywhere else?!

The fact that a two-course meal with a pile of rice and a lemon tea costs less than $30HK ($4 USD) also proved extremely beneficial this week when my podunk Texas bank decided I didn’t need access to my money for three days and I had to survive off my emergency stash. I’m over that now.

While I'm strangely a bit homesick for Norwich (strange because I don't get homesick. ever.), I also know that getting decent pay to do my PhD research and travel the world more is a greater opportunity than I could have hoped for. So here's to another country, another culture, and another four years of putting off getting a 'real job' while getting to know people from across the world and feeling like the darned luckiest person on earth.

1 comment:

  1. James Rossington17 October 2014 at 03:56

    Hey VC, great read once again, thought I'd comment and show my support for what you're doing, it's great to see what you're getting up to, keep it up :)! I have a blog myself (a food blog ;) ) and know how hard it is to motivate yourself to keep posting, especially when you spend most the time wondering how many people actually bother to read your posts :p I'm touched that Norwich is the first place you've ever felt homesick for, believe me I know the feeling!! Talk soon :D