F&M Stories

Off-Campus Study: Lillian Cai '17

During the Spring semester of 2016, I embarked on an independent journey to a foreign country thousands of miles from home to study abroad in a foreign university that I knew little about. Growing up, I was taught my whole life to stay within close proximity to home, especially during college. Because California was a college hotspot and home to the University of California systems, it afforded my parents the possibility of anchoring me close to home. Despite their best efforts, I chose F&M. F&M was already far enough for my parents, and the thought of letting me study abroad in Hong Kong was insane. I made it clear that I was firm in my decision to study abroad and I had secured a scholarship to prove it. Hesitantly, they let me go. That was the first time I went to China.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, I grew up as an American-born Chinese. I spoke Cantonese at home, and English was my second language. I learned about the American culture outside my home, but I was raised all my life under Chinese culture. When I saw Hong Kong as an option for study abroad, it hit me. Hong Kong, known for its culturally diverse background, was very similar to me in a way. It owes its British influence to the days it was colonized, but it remained immersed in its rich Cantonese culture and diverse history. Similar to me, Hong Kong students grew up learning two languages: they were educated in English outside their home, but they still remained tied to their cultural roots at home. During my time there, I learned more about what it means to be Chinese. Though China is only one country, the amount of cultures and heritages that encompass the country is extremely immense. Though I spoke Cantonese at home and the main language spoken in Hong Kong was Cantonese, it did not make me feel any less foreign. The Hong Kong slang was slightly different and once I spoke, people became fully aware that I was a foreigner. They often mistook me for being "Chinese" (the political atmosphere around China and HK is intense) and I struggled with which identity I associated myself with. Should I say that my parents are from China or should I say that they were from Hong Kong? In the end, I accepted that I am neither—I am an American-Chinese and I am not limited to the boundaries set by the political atmosphere around China and Hong Kong. In America, the American-Chinese embraces all values of the Chinese culture no matter where the values originate. Today, I know three languages: English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. If my parents were to limit me from knowing other Chinese cultures, then I would not have received the gift of being trilingual. I have never thought of my language skills as a valuable asset, but because of my experience at Hong Kong--I am determined to find a way to harness my language skills in my future career. To my future!

Trust me, the experience of traveling to a country is vastly different from studying and living in a country. Traveling does not offer you the same kind of familiarity and rootedness to the community that is the prime ingredient for all the wonderful feelings felt while studying abroad. Studying and living abroad is not always wonderful. I actually struggled quite a bit in Hong Kong because of my allergies to mosquito bites. I was admitted to the hospital a number of times, and to my dismay, I had to spend nine full hours waiting for a doctor to see my swollen arm. Even if I have to relive those painful memories again, I would go back in time to relive the one hundred and four spectacular days I spent eating, sleeping, studying, learning, hiking, traveling, chatting, and socializing abroad. The list goes on. And yes, I really do miss Hong Kong...dearly.

OCS Profile

Lillian Cai '17

Chinese University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong, China

Term Abroad: Spring 2016

Ware College House

Major: Environmental Studies

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