New Doors Open in Hong Kong for Centenary Students

-by Kacie Lopez '07

-For the first time,a Centenary student has traveled to Lingnan University to study abroad in Hong Kong. Junior philosophy major Mindy Diez spent her spring 2007 semester overseas as part of Centenary’s FIRST exchange program.


Of the exchange program participants, many students opt to spend time in Western European countries. Visits to far to Eastern European or Asian programs are less common. When she was considering the road less traveled, Diez said, conversations with with Sue Callaway, director of intercultural affairs, influenced her choice. After considering Hong Kong, Diez said, “I realized that virtually no American students study in Asia and that just fueled my passion to get the word out there. It also helped with funding, as the government is offering lots of financial incentives for students to go to non-traditional study abroad destinations.”

Diez is referring to the fact that many federal and private scholarships show preference to students who travel to non-traditional destinations—such as in Asia, the Middle East, or Africa—or who study less common languages. “The government is offering lots of financial incentives for students to go to non-traditional study abroad destinations outside of Western Europe and Australia. I was able to apply for the Gilman and Freeman-Asia Scholarships, which have been incredible in helping me get the most out of this experience.”

One of the most challenging and rewarding parts of any program exchange can be the sense of being totally taken out of one’s element. When asked about any major challenges she has faced so far, Diez replied, “I guess the biggest thing is the language barrier, mainly though in the fact that I only speak one! I have been to five or six countries here in Asia and have never been at a loss to find someone who speaks English.”

Besides overcoming a difficult language barrier, there are cultural differences to learn from as well. “Hong Kong is just an all-around interesting place. I had no idea a place could simultaneously be so modern and so traditional. For instance, a lot of my local (Hong Kong) friends still live with their parents, and although they’re in their 20s they have to live by the kinds of rules I haven’t had since grade school. Also, only a handful has had the opportunity to travel outside of Hong Kong, because staying home and taking care of your family is a huge part of the culture,” she said.
Studying abroad can be a disorienting experience in any country, but Diez appears to be taking any confusion or frustrations in stride. “I’m forced to see things from a new point of view here, as I am truly a minority (I get stares most places I go.) It is crazy to be in that position. It’s a whole new way of looking at life. .…(My time here so far) has made me feel that for 20 years of my life I was still wearing training wheels. I have a new-found respect for these people, their language, customs and struggles because I am surrounded and integrated into it constantly.”

This immersion in Chinese culture has proved rewarding for Diez. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the religion while I’m here. Lingnan does not have a religion department and the Chinese philosophy classes are taught in Mandarin, so I’m doing the exploring on my own. I was able to visit a temple with some exchange students.”

Not only is she overcoming challenges, but she is using her experiences to learn more about herself as well. “Studying abroad is teaching me that wherever I am, whoever I am with, I still go to bed and wake up with myself. True living has to come from within. I think I’m the kind of person who tends to step back in crowds. I never realized until now how much I look to other people instead of looking to myself. Now here I am, literally as far away as possible from the one place I have spent 20 years of my life, and I feel like this is just the beginning of the me I always knew I was inside.”

Diez cites Centenary’s Office of Intercultural Affairs as the most important factor is making the journey to Hong Kong. “With Sue Callaway’s help I was able to receive scholarship funds from the Freeman Asia and Gilman funds. She also offered me a job as a Peer Study Abroad Advisor where I learned countless things about intercultural education. Honestly without her help I wouldn’t be in Hong Kong, or so close to realizing what I want to do with my future.”

Diez encourages other students to travel abroad, and to explore their options for earning intercultural credit. “I come from a background of no money, I’m not surrounded by world travelers, and I don’t have any super rich uncles or anything. Yet here I am living in one of the top cities in the world and spending my breaks hopping all around Southeast Asia! I feel that especially for American students, not enough is known about the opportunities available to them as far as studying abroad.”

“Through these scholarships,” she said, “I’m getting to start my lifelong dreams. I encourage anyone and everyone to apply to study abroad and for these and other scholarships. There is so much money available for students committed and open to study abroad, seriously all it takes is a gung ho attitude and good essay writing skills. Lack of money should NEVER be an excuse for not getting out there.”

And speaking of future plans, Hong Kong has inspired Diez to create quite a few. “As you can see in my problems with the language barrier, I have experienced first hand why it is so important for me to continue to follow my interests in multi-lingual education. Also, the philosophy department here is great and I have a renewed passion for my first major. My immediate goals start with picking up a second language and applying for an intercultural philosophy program in Denmark. Down the road I see myself living abroad indefinitely and hopefully starting my own school.”

Editor’s note: Mindy Diez contributes to a student blog on the Centenary College website. It can be found at Centenary’s Office of Intercultural Affairs oversees all study abroad programs and strives to help students feel prepared to travel, live and study in foreign cultures. For students seeking a shorter-term intercultural experience, May Modules offer the opportunity to travel overseas.

Top 20 Things I've Learned in Hong Kong

by Mindy Diez

20. That Chinese characters are ridiculously complicated. (It took me two months to learn the one for “female” in order to use the washroom.)

19. That you can function if you drive on the left hand side of the road, walk to the left of the street, write your dates as 31/12/07 instead of 12/31/07 and have eight digits in your phone number.

18. My Chinese name (Dai Ming)

17. How to climb seven flights of stairs six times a day, and how to walk two miles for groceries.

16. That public transportation can be incredibly efficient (I managed to learn #17 just for fun.)

15. That the world can be your playground.

14. That soy milk is good, REALLY good.

13. That chopsticks are just Oh, SO much cooler than a fork and knife.

12. That I really, really like mountains.

11. That everyone has something to teach me.

10. How to act when you have no idea what’s going on, or what anyone is saying.

9. What it is like to have a whole row of people stare at you.

8. How to tell the difference between spoken Mandarin and spoken Cantonese.

7. How to paddle a Dragon Boat.

6. That people here really, really like their cell phones.

5. That paying more than four U.S. dollars for a full course meal is simply ridiculous.

4. That my classmates/teachers are amazing because they can hold conversations in three languages simultaneously.

3. That family is important.

2. That nothing compares to learning Chinese history from a Chines point of view.

1. That I have seen a VERY one-sided view of the world until now.