Asia Connect Dispatches: SFU Students Winnie and Derek Share Their Experiences in Fast-Paced Hong Kong

Winnie Wong and Derek Woo, students at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, spent the fall 2017 term in Hong Kong on a study-abroad program and an internship, respectively. Their travel to and from Hong Kong was provided by Hong Kong Airlines, which in partnership with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada is supporting Canadian youth in experiencing the richness and diversity of Hong Kong’s culture and people.

We sat down recently with Derek and Winnie to ask them to reflect on what they lived, learned, and loved about Hong Kong, and how their experiences helped support the airline’s commitment to “embrace the world.”

Tell us a bit about yourselves and what you were doing in Hong Kong.

Derek: I’m a marketing major, and did an internship at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. My work there mostly focused on lead generation and member retention, but I also had the opportunity to do some marketing and communications work.

Winnie: And I’m finishing my degree in Health Sciences, with a minor in Kinesiology, and have just started a nursing program. I was doing a study-abroad semester at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where I studied public health, economics, and Chinese culture. I was also able to immerse myself in the social and cultural environment by living on campus with a local student (below, left).   

Now that you’ve been back in Canada for a few months and have had time to reflect on your experience, what is your main impression Hong Kong?

Winnie: That it was a very stimulating environment. It always felt like there was so much going on around me – people in motion, always someplace open to get something to eat, and so on. But despite all the activity and movement, it also felt like such an efficient place. I think sometimes people who are not from Hong Kong could interpret the efficiency as rudeness, but it seems like it was really more that if you stopped or slowed down for too many pleasantries, you might not be able to keep up.

Derek: I got a similar impression. The pace of life and work was something that really stood out for me. As I mentioned, I was working in Hong Kong’s commercial district, where the pace was especially intense. It felt like everyone and everything had a purpose, and the office was one of the hardest-working places I've ever experienced.

Related to that, Hong Kong is known for its huge economic success and for having a strong work ethic, which people might experience as pressure and competitiveness. What was your sense of this?

Derek: I think that's true! Hong Kong felt like an extremely competitive place all-around, even down to everyday things like boarding the train and ordering food. There is definitely a certain pressure that comes from this kind of environment because if you are not keeping up, you will be left behind pretty quickly (literally – the trains are packed during rush hour).

Winnie: People there seemed to be so on top of their game – professors, students, pretty much everyone. I spent a lot of time with other students, and they all seemed to be very focused on doing well in class in hopes of getting a good job after graduation. The sense I got from them was: no one is going to hand you your success – you need to go out and get it for yourself.

Hong Kong Airlines’ motto is to “embrace the world.” Both of you are from families that came to Canada from Hong Kong. But you also noted that this recent experience gave you a new and different type of connection than what you’d experienced before. Can you tell us about that?

Winnie: My family has been in Canada for many years now, and they have dropped some of the old traditions brought from Hong Kong, such as how to prepare certain Hong Kong dishes. While I was there, I had the chance to learn bits of information here and there that helped to fill in some of the gaps in what I knew about Hong Kong. Being able to re-visit my roots and have these authentic experiences has brought me full-circle.

Derek: For me, too, there were things we did at home that I never really understood before I got to experience Hong Kong on my own. For example, I remember visiting a Buddhist temple once, and was surprised to see young people – people my age, in jeans and hoodies – there praying. Here in Canada, I might go to a temple with my family, but would mostly just be going through the motions that I had been taught.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.