Being a Paris-born Japanese who spent the majority of her life growing up in Hong Kong makes me a multicultural individual. (I still don’t know what to answer when people ask me where I'm from!) I am blessed to be given such an unorthodox upbringing, but one day, I came to realize that this multicultural “trait” that I take pride in is merely an outcome of my parents’ lives, and not worldly experiences that I have had on my own. It really is a shame for me to admit that I have been comfortable in my own sort of bubble – the only exposure I have had to different cultures is from people I have met in Hong Kong. In this regard, I was missing the true essence of exposure; I was only passively being exposed to cultures, and never ventured out of my comfort zone.
In the summer of 2012, I realized this needed to change. As a part of my program at the university here, I had to obtain credits through either an internship or a summer institute somewhere outside of Hong Kong. I tend to put on a go-getter, “Adventures? That’s for me!” façade, but in all honesty, I was terrified. I dreaded the very idea of being away from home for not a week, but a month in foreign countries with people I did not know. Quite clearly, I did not have much of a choice but to apply for something if I was serious about getting my degree – so I did it.
I applied for a summer institute program that was organized by my university, which required me to go to Taiwan for 2 weeks, and South Korea for another 2. For most people, applying for something probably is not that big of a deal. All it requires is a scanner or good ol’ Fedex to submit your paperwork, right? Well no, not for me. The mere process of applying took a while, as I was really overwhelmed by the idea of taking flight – quite literally in my case. There were talks of needing to find a roommate and all that circulated in my head was, Roommate?! I finally worked up the courage to leave my bubble and now you’re telling me I have to live with a stranger?! I have heard terrible and unfortunate accounts of roommates not getting along, from questionable music tastes on loudspeaker, to dishes that get piled for weeks on end. Just to reiterate, I REALLY (in bold, italics, underline, and caps) did not want to go.
The day of doom finally came, where I had to drag my suitcases and my sorry self to the trip. I begged my mother to be online every day so that I could be reminded that I was not completely lonely.
When I got to Taiwan, I was awed by the friendly atmosphere and the hustle and bustle of the city life, much like Hong Kong. My classmates and I learned about the Taiwanese political parties by visiting their headquarters, and we got a chance to write our wishes on sky lanterns as well. Similarly in South Korea, I was intrigued by their vibrant culture through my time at the teahouses, and even got to visit the demilitarized zone, which essentially is a border between South and North Korea. They have a ‘safe house’ in the very middle of the border, and it is only in this box where you get to hop freely between the two Koreas – how many people get to say, “I have stood precisely between the North and the South”? Not many!
I was blessed with a program coordinator who organized a memorable curriculum, which had a balance of education (in the forms of lectures), and application as well as exposure (through field visits that complemented the lecture content). And to everyone’s surprise, I was actually having fun.
Did I have to fight for the showers with my roommate? It just so happened that my roommate, Apple (who is now one of my best friends) was also terrified before going on the trip. For the first couple of days, we were very awkward – “You can shower first.” “No you go ahead.” but soon enough, we went from polite (and boring) exchanges to spending literally every waking moment with each other. Apple and I both realized on our last day that we only really called our family once or twice a week, because we were busy enjoying the program, and making the most out of the moment.
My point? Go. Take any opportunity your school offers to go abroad – I promise, it will change your life. Joining this program was the best experience I had in my three years at university. If your school does not offer such programs, adventures do not need to start somewhere in another continent; venture outside of your everyday route, and you would be surprised by what the world outside of your bubble has to offer. In the words of Helen Keller, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” So choose adventure.
About Moeka Komachi
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." - Maya Angelou