One of the best things about university is meeting new people. When it came down to confirming my choices, I chose the University of Nottingham not only because of its study abroad programme, but also due to its many international links. With campuses in China (Ningbo) and Malaysia (Semenyih), not to mention the vast amount of students either exchange or full-time coming from all over the globe to study, your once limited worldview is fantastically broadened.
Of course, it is easy to research and keep informed about major international events, but speaking to individuals native to a particular country makes a larger impact on oneself than expected. You can read about shocking laws, such as the now eradicated one child policy in China, but for me, it didn’t seem real until talking about the topic with my friends from mainland China. Naively I thought it was something blown out of proportion by the media, a hazy rumour serving only to stir up xenophobic feelings in the western world. Thus, it was startling to me hearing their experiences and opinions, of growing up without siblings, of distrust towards their government and of confusion as to what to believe (i.e. the self-immolation incident in Tiananmen Square).
Studying in Hong Kong is no different. Through lectures and meeting locals, I have learnt about Hong Kong’s national identity crisis, more about the umbrella movement of last year as well as political controversies within the school. Conversing with other international students, I was so surprised to discover that South Korea still enforces conscription on its citizens, (further chats with friends told me that the existence of conscription is still quite common). Learning about these topics definitely makes me more conscious of the world outside my little localised bubble, as well as making me more active in seeking news not just pertaining to the UK, (after all, there’s only so much of David Cameron’s antics a person can take).
While making friends from other countries can make you more mindful of political issues, it also brings to the table many hilarious and amusing differences. In casual conversation with friends you might notice minute differences, which can lead to furious debates on what is ‘correct’ and what is not. (Bell pepper or capsicum?? Australians. Queue or line?? Americans.) Even well established holidays can be a topic for debate – you thought Christmas Day is safely on the 25th? Prepared to be challenged by the Germans who regularly celebrate the 24th instead! So, from friendly chats to late night conversations, there is a wealth of information to be learned about a person as well their culture. Being much more of a listener than a talker, this suits me just fine.