New Countries, New Environments and New Perspectives

Wong Siu Ying (’13 S4)

Upon finishing my Secondary 4 studies in Ying Wa, I spent six years in England, completing my A-level studies in Brighton and undergraduate studies in Chemistry in Oxford.  After failing to secure funding for my PhD study in Oxford, I am currently a PhD student in Physical Chemistry, based in Oldenburg, Germany but is remotely supervised by an Oxford professor.

Things I have learnt

It’s been seven years since my first day at high school, and I still remember being dumbfounded by how quickly the native English students spoke.  I had to strain to catch all their words.  I did not take long to get used to that, along with all the daily life differences such as tap water being drinkable.  However, looking back, there were so many things I didn’t know or appreciate back then.  For example, my mother (Fanny Wong, ’81), a light sleeper, would switch on the radio whenever she woke up at night.  I was oblivious however to the fact that ever since my departure, she developed the habit of checking for texts from me before turning to the radio. 

I also did not know how little I knew about race and unconscious bias.  I luckily only ever encountered one outright racist person in England, but there were a few memorable moments.  For instance, I randomly realised one day that I had been way more desperate to impress white people when I talked to them, over people of colour.  I also felt uneasy when a black student handed a flyer on racial issues to the white students walking in front of me, and they tossed it into the bin without a second glance.  After a long day of research, I rewarded myself with a comedy gig, only to feel uncomfortable when a white comedian made a joke about how ethnic names were “impossible to pronounce”, in an audience full of white people. 

It was comfortable living in Hong Kong, not just due to all the objective benefits of being familiar with how things worked, but because I was part of the majority.  I am sure the uneasiness I described might be relatable to some minority groups living in Hong Kong - but I would not have been aware of that at all.  How it is like to internally combat feeling like an outsider is something I understood only after first-hand experience.

The other side of the coin

Every coin has two sides, however!  My friendship groups in both England and Germany are quite international.  At our (online) Christmas party, all the Germans had to guess German words explained by the “internationals” in their mother tongue.  And, they fared extremely well against Hindi, Russian, Mandarin, Tamil, Italian … and of course, my Cantonese!  This was a game that only worked because we were foreigners, and I found it a precious experience.

Friday lunch with my colleagues in Oldenburg. None of us are from the same country - can you guess who the German, Dane and Croatian are respectively?
My second-year housemates and I, on the day before we moved out

As I have spent six years in England, a sense of belonging developed and started to replace my anxieties.  There is always comfort in familiarity.  Last year I had a very pleasant conversation with a UK border agent on my way from Oldenburg to Oxford, which left me feeling not unlike how I felt whenever I landed in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong will always be my home, but I love England too!  I am still a novice at German, but Germans appreciate foreigners’ attempts at their very complicated language and many have kindly been willing to switch to English for me.  I can’t help but feel like I will grow very fond of this country as well.

An article written by the author for the Feb 2017 issue of our newsletter can be accessed here

My friends and I once ran around Oxford to visit every single college as a post-exam day out. This was when we reached the final college on our route!