Header image courtesy of George Pak (via Pexels)
Your first day at a new school is no joke, especially as an international student away from home. More than 36,000 students from Hong Kong’s younger generation head overseas for their education, primarily to Canada, Australia, the UK, and the US. You will have teachers to tell you what to learn, but who will teach you how to live in an unfamiliar city?
Perhaps you’re preparing for boarding school or you are a prospective international university student. You might be going on exchange, or even a parent who’s worried for their child. Assimilating into a new country can be harrowing, so we’re here with a checklist of the must-dos and need-to-knows before relocating in the name of education.
It can be hard to determine what type of clothes you’ll need for a climate that you’ve never experienced yourself, so research the temperatures you’ll encounter year-round, and pack accordingly. Remember that the trick is to strike a balance: Pack too much and you’ll end up going over the luggage allowance; too little and you’ll have to buy a new wardrobe later.
If the climate calls for clothes you don’t have, don’t buy new clothes in Hong Kong—you’ll only know what you’ll need to wear when you step foot in your destination country. Suitable clothing can be also bought at reasonable prices with more designs to choose from.
Tip: Use packing cubes. They compress your clothes so there’s more room for other possessions you’d like to bring along.
Clothes and personal effects will make up the bulk of your luggage. Choose carefully what else you’re going to bring and ditch anything that you can buy over in your destination country, such as toiletries and common household goods. For the bibliophile, invest in an e-reader; it’ll save you a lot of sweat and tears (and baggage weight).
Tip: Double-check that your luggage is within your airline’s baggage weight limit before leaving home by getting a luggage scale. You really don’t want to bust open your suitcases at the check-in gate under the gaze of passengers, especially if you’re pressed for time.
You might be starry-eyed from all the new things you’ll encounter, but eventually, the homesickness will come creeping in. The longing for home will inevitably outweigh your excitement for new experiences, but there’s no way around it: time heals all wounds. Continue spending time familiarising yourself with your surroundings, developing new interests, and curating friendships; the homesickness will fade when you start fitting in.
Tip: Keeping in touch with your friends and family is vital, so schedule regular calls. But if you’re anywhere outside Asia, know that you’ll be calling in the early morning or late at night.
Hong Kong is diverse in its cuisines, but the food is just not the same in a foreign place. There is a slim chance that you’ll find a restaurant that serves the same flavours from home. For those with access to a kitchen, it’s time to refresh your cooking skills. If you’re heading to boarding school, it’ll be a little tougher for you, but most cities nowadays have Asian or Chinese markets, where you can collect a little hoard of your favourite snacks from home.
Tip: Recipes from the Internet are all well and good, but ask your parents for their recipes to replicate home cooking if that’s what missing in your life.
You may be tempted to buy a phone plan ahead of time in Hong Kong for the added layer of assurance that you will have a local number and data as soon as you get off the plane, but hold it! When you don’t have the knowledge of what the best plans are at your destination, committing yourself to one in Hong Kong can end up costing a lot more than it should.
Our recommended course of action is to use an international phone and data plan for several days, then find a local plan that best suits your needs as soon as you get there.
Tip (for boarding students): Some boarding schools may not have Wi-Fi in dormitories, and some may even confiscate your electronic devices at night. You didn’t hear this from us, but if your school has these rules, it might be a good plan to bring along a second phone.
No rice, no life, especially if you’re going somewhere with limited access to the pearly grains. However, the answer to this question depends entirely on your standards for your rice. If you need your rice to be made in a rice cooker and a rice cooker only, go ahead, but you would probably need to take something out from your suitcase to fit one in.
You could also find and purchase a rice cooker when you arrive, but chances are, you won’t be able to find an affordable appliance like the ones we’re used to in Hong Kong. However, the upside is that your new rice cooker is already suited for the country’s supply voltage.
Finally, you may consider purchasing a microwaveable rice cooker—pour in your rice and water, pop it into the microwave for 15 minutes, and you are good to go. It won’t taste as nice, but it’s a cheap alternative for students that are staying overseas for less than a year.
Tip: If you’re bringing a rice cooker, make sure the wattage is within the country’s voltage.
Universities overseas will often have Chinese and Asian student societies, like the Asian American Student Union (AASU) and the Association of British and Chinese University Students (ABACUS) that regularly host events and gatherings. If you want to make friends who come from similar backgrounds, these societies are a good place to start.
Tip: If you want to learn how to navigate your school, head to Facebook—there’s a high chance you can find pages with guidance for freshmen leaving home for the first time.
For university students in a new city, there will be instances where you have no idea where to buy necessary items like household goods. No JHC and ParknShop as far as the eye can see, and you might not even have an Ikea nearby!
Fortunately, if your country has Amazon Prime Student, then amenities can be found at half price. It’s also free for students for the first six months, which is enough reason for you to sign up for a membership. You also get free shipping with Amazon Prime! A humidifier? Make-up case? Clothing rack? Amazon Prime Student has you covered.
Tip: Amazon Prime can feel like a godsend on most days, but don’t rely on it too much—you might be able to find things for cheaper if you get them around town.