Sometimes, traveling half-way across the world can teach you more about who you are than your own home town. Here's why culture-shock can be the perfect way to grow at any age in life.
Art by Jenine Marquez
When I tell people I lived in Hong Kong for two years, it’s always received with a look of shock and then a glaze of fascination. Ironically, those were the two emotions that I myself started with as I was told I was moving halfway across the world at age 10. What I didn’t feel when I packed up everything—Justice jeans, Aeropostale shirts, and all—was the immense gratitude I’d have for the experiences I’d soon come to see as self-defining.
Landing in Hong Kong, I was like any other 5th grader being told to leave all her friends, teachers, and childhood memories behind for a life of strange mountains and 10x the strangers. I was, safe to say, devastated. I was stubborn about hating the unknowns that the future held for me, and it felt good to be that way. For a while.
Because slowly, without my knowledge, my curiosity seeped through my thoughts and into my fingers and toes, urging me to explore this mysterious land I only heard about in my parents’ late night conversations. My ears began picking up the unique differences between
Cantonese and Mandarin, and my nose wanted to sniff out the many food stands and bakeries in my new city. I began to understand the necessity of travel and exploring: our ability to be ourselves in contrasting environments builds our curiosity to understand the unfamiliar and our appreciation for the beauty residing in every corner of the world. I fell in love with what it meant to be a traveler.
I realized very soon that Hong Kong’s beautiful cultural pride brought upon an unease about my own self. Throughout my life, I had been a little too Asian to be American, yet standing in the busy wet markets of Hong Kong made me feel a little too American to be Asian. Moving made me desperately want to figure out who I was within this new and overwhelming world, but more importantly, who I was within the constructs of my mind.
A month into the move I began documenting my journey into journals: the independence I found riding the metro by myself, the small victory when my piano teacher understood my broken Mandarin, and the different perspectives I gained through my new rugby teammates. When we travel, we strip away any environmental pull our hometowns have on our personality and habits. It gave me the ability to discover who I was when there was nothing to hide behind. I began establishing a character who was happily able to mold into different places and people while still holding onto my core beliefs and values. I was slowly understanding who I was as a growing pre-teen discovering her worlds.
Who I was when I boarded the plane to Hong Kong and who I was when I came back to Florida two years later were two vastly different people. The move sparked my passion for using travel as a tool to self-discover and grow. The people we meet and cultures we interact with help us understand what it means to not only be a citizen of the world, but to be an ally to humans regardless of our differences. My Hong Kong move has induced an ever-present itch to explore the world as I grow. I’ve become inspired to make a big move again one day—sans the Justice and Aero attire—and further discover myself in the beautiful unknown.