It feels weird to say I'm traveling 'back' to Hong Kong after a business trip. I have spent the majority of my time here for the last 2+ years and there's a certain feeling of familiarity. Yet it feels nothing like going back home in Singapore. It's not a bad thing, just different.
Whenever I travel, I often think about what it would be like to live in the visiting city. Not for a few days, but for months, and even years. Universities nowadays offer abundant opportunities for students to do this in the form of student exchange programs. It's an invaluable experience of learning to be independent and making more friends. Yet there is a subtle difference.
With exchange programs, there is always a finish line. Exchange programs are pretty much like extended holidays with a simple commitment to set aside some hours for study, take an exam at the end of it all, and then go back to the comfort of home with an album full of instagram-able stories.
Most who work overseas don't have a clear finish line, unless of course you have been sent there on a secondment with a visible plan of returning after a certain number of years.
Unlike school, there is a commitment to deliver and perform in a largely unfamiliar environment. And if your familial and social support is back at home, there is sometimes also little to look forward to at the end of the day.
The various circumstances, both external and internal, faced by those who venture abroad, are what makes them more tough and resilient, each in their own ways.
People who have been born, bred and work in their home environment, or have assimilated into the indigenous fabric of society with their families may find this difficult to understand.
This year marks my third year in Hong Kong. The experience of relocating in the capacity of a working professional, as I sometimes describe to colleagues and friends, comes down essentially to four things:
Getting used to living apart from loved ones for an extended period of time
Learning to use a second language as the lingua franca
Embracing culture - both in the social and business setting
Adapting to a new corporate environment or business function
Some people adjust very quickly. Young folks and fresh graduates in particular, are almost like sponges, soaking everything up around them when thrown into a foreign place. When you relocate as an experienced hire, the slate is not empty and the "soaking" tends to be a bit slower.
But in any case, anyone who has lived overseas for an extended period of time inevitably goes through at least one or more of the above. Each overlapping the other, each influencing the other. Everyone navigates this differently.
Whether you are a budding professional or a seasoned hand, whether you are living overseas or starting work in a new environment, one of the most effective ways to get the most out of living in any foreign environment is to fully imbue yourself in the local life.
In short: The faster you 'acclimatise' to all aspects of your surroundings, the easier life becomes.
"Comfort of home" is the term most people use to describe the country that they were born in. I might live out of a thirty-square-metre space without a kitchen stove or windows that open, but when traveling back from Beijing, Hong Kong is pretty much as good a home as is Singapore.
PS: This week officially marks two years of me residing in Hong Kong.