Who are you?
My name is Hollie, and I am a Native English Teacher from the East Coast of Canada. I love books, writing, music, art and travel. I am a grown woman, yet I harbor an unhealthy obsession for Harry Potter. My husband and I are very proud of our East Coast Canadian roots. I am currently being whipped into shape, courtesy of my Muay Thai boxing instructors! And of course, I love teaching (especially my favourite subject, English).
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
My husband and I decided to make the frightening leap in 2010. It was our first time abroad. He had enjoyed six years of teaching full-time in Canada, but I was struggling to secure a full-time post.Also, we wanted see the world, so it only made sense to apply to the Native English Teacher Scheme in Hong Kong. Our friends had already been living here for one year, so they made it that much easier to say “Why not?” Absolutely no regrets!
What challenges did you face during the move?
Applying to the NET Scheme is a lengthy and expensive process, but worth it, because the benefits of the job are stellar. Knowing this, we fully committed to the process, but suffered the strain and doubt of risk and uncertainty. You can apply, but will you be accepted? The biggest challenges were scraping funds for document fees, and plane tickets to Toronto for interviews. But, our efforts were fruitful! I finally received a job offer at the very last moment. My husband did not, but we took the chance in moving here anyway, and lo and behold, he found employment. Hey, what’s life without risk?
How did you find somewhere to live?
Luckily, our friends had already settled in Hong Kong, and invited us to stay with them until we found a place. Before flat hunting, we had to apply for Hong Kong ID cards, secure job contracts, and get our finances in order. To sign a lease, you must hand over at least three months rent, a damage deposit, and a fee to a realtor. We experienced a major language barrier issue with our realtor, but eventually, we worked through it and found the perfect place.
However, most experiences with realtors go smoothly. It’s worth it to pay for a liaison between you and the flat owner. Just a heads up – renting a flat is usually quite expensive, so expect to shell out (unless you’re willing to compromise certain comforts).
Are there many other expats in your area?
There are a good number of expats where we spend our free time (Hong Kong Island), yes, but not as many where we live (New Territories). The area where I work is mostly expat-less and local. I like this contrast, though, because I’m immersed in the culture. I am slowly learning some Cantonese, and I have definitely come to understand a lot about Hong Kong society. This has broadened my perspective so much, and I’m grateful for that.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
My relationship and general experience with locals is very good. Despite the odd miscommunication or contrast in cultural norms, which one should expect, and try not to take too personally, it’s been great. My coworkers are friendly and kind, and although I can’t really be ‘one of them’, they do include me when they can. It’s tough sometimes, but I’ve adapted. I have a good group of expat friends, and so I find solace in them. I’ve given it time. You can’t just plop yourself into a foreign place and expect to be “A-okay” immediately. It’s going to take a while.
What do you like about life where you are?
So many things! Hong Kong is a vibrant city full of possibility. Its energy is contagious, and I feel inspired by it. Since moving here, I’ve definitely become more open-minded (about everything), adventurous and brave. I am eating different foods, gotten into Muay Thai boxing and have traveled to several Asian countries.
Also, I love the convenience of Hong Kong. What you require and desire is within reach. Whether it’s the great outdoors, crazy shopping or exotic foods – you just have to walk down the street to find it. There is ever a dull moment.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I miss my family and friends, but who doesn’t? Enduring their absence was tough at first, but we’ve adapted. That doesn’t mean we don’t get homesick, but we’ve certainly learned to be more optimistic about expat life. I sometimes feel the weight of being ‘the foreigner’, but rarely. It’s great to be in your comfort zone, without barriers, but Hong Kong makes for a relatively smooth transition. I’ll admit, as someone who grew up in a rural area, it took me a while to adapt to the hustle and bustle. Hong Kong has an ‘in your face’ vibe that I’m learning to embrace.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
For me, it’s the contrast in attitudes and behavioral norms. For example, many Hong Kongers employ a strong work ethic. Of course this is common in all cultures, but from my humble perspective, it seems that Hong Kong takes ‘the grind’ to the next level. This has been my experience.
Also, things that may be considered ‘rude’ or ‘taboo’ in the western world may not be so here, and vice versa. This of course, requires an open mind, which doesn’t evolve overnight. Personal space is something I still grapple with. It seems (physically and figuratively) I have a lot more of it in the western world. Here? Not always available, and therefore, not so crucial. Completely different!
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
Shopping here is amazing (for me, anyway). I know a lot of westerners have a hard time with clothing and shoes, because the sizes are smaller. I’m a bit miniature, so I can wear most Asian fashion, and I definitely take advantage of this. The fashion here is so quirky and original, so for me, it’s hit and miss.
I do miss box stores – the one-stop shop, but there is such a variety of items and goods in Hong Kong! It’s glorious, really. I have become a keen shopper with a much sharper eye, thanks to the variety of goods, and the Hong Kong attitude of wanting bang for the buck. And, although the temptation to shop is smacks me in the face daily, I have become more stringent with my funds. If you can get it cheaper, go for it. I must say, I am addicted to Groupon in HK. There are so many great deals, often on high quality goods, offering free delivery and a wide variety of items and services. Love it! Although I’ll give you some advice: read the fine print.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Hong Kong is renowned for its cuisine, so of course, I think the food here is amazing! We already have a list of our fave restaurants. Hong Kongers are known for being foodies, and I’m beginning to imitate this attitude (it’s fun). I have been introduced to many types of Asian cuisine. I love this, because it challenges me to be adventurous with food. However, this is my choice, and if I wanted to stick to old faithfuls, I could. People often ask me “Can you get western foods in Hong Kong?” Of course! This is Asia’s World City, and everything is at your fingertips. However, I must say there are some HK street foods that make me cringe. For example, stinky tofu (it has earned its name), durian fruit (also quite stinky), and fish balls (extremely popular, but not with my taste buds).
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Save your money. There are a lot of upfront expenses when relocating. Also, be organized and diligent through the process. Most importantly, stay positive. If you won’t take no for an answer, you’re bound to get a yes.
It’s important to be adventurous. Live out loud! It takes time to adjust to the pace of life, different social norms, and expectations at work. Hong Kong life is demanding, but with an open mind and lots of energy, anyone can do it.
Last small piece of advice – be active and stay healthy. The lifestyle here is intense, so unless you take care of yourself, you’ll burn out. Besides, there are so many wonders to behold, you have to get out there and enjoy it. After a severe bout of jetlag and culture shock, I finally started to do this. Ha!
What are your plans for the future?
After a few more years of working in Hong Kong and traveling Asia, My husband and I plan to move back to Canada and firmly plant our roots.
Hollie blogs at HK in HK where she writes about expat life as a Canadian girl in Hong Kong.