When I stepped off the plane in Beijing in May 2004, during my sophomore year of college, I knew that I was destined to live in China someday. That month-long study abroad throughout China and Hong Kong changed my life forever.
Not only did it inspire me to be more globally aware and a worldwide, lifelong traveler, it was the catalyst to me living in Hong Kong. Two college degrees, two elementary teaching positions, and six years later, I stepped off another plane, this time in Hong Kong.
I was carrying a bundle of nerves along with my three giant suitcases. Of course I was nervous about living in this strange world, but I was doing it all alone which increased my worry tenfold. Even though I got lost on innumerable occasions, had a hard time making friends at first, and missed my friends and family back home like crazy, this was an adventure that I had chosen and was excited about.
It took me many months to find my confidence. One month to go to a coffee shop and actually eat there by myself, not just take it and run back to the safety of my tiny apartment. Two months to go a movie alone. Three months to make my first real friend outside of the school where I taught. Four months to stop crying to my parents every week on our weekly Skype dates (this was before smartphones, mind you!).
And yet I found my confidence. For that, I am really grateful. Not only did I survive those first few hard months, I flourished for my nearly two years there. Hong Kong helped me to become a published writer, a certified yoga instructor, a world traveler (country #28 was ticked off in September!), and a confident, brave woman.
At first, I was honestly so worried about doing any single thing alone. “How in the world will I ever meet a friend if I can’t even leave the house?” I often asked myself. Then one day, I grew the gumption. I was gonna do it! I went by myself, of course, to see one of my now all-time favorite sites: Ten Thousand Buddhas. I’d been putting it out into the universe that I wanted to make a new friend, and lo and behold on this day that I’d shoved myself outside of my apartment, I met a friend.
I titled my blog post that day “Ten Thousand Buddhas and One New Friend.” From there, my social life skyrocketed. I have been in a friend from Hong Kong’s wedding, traveled to several countries with others after moving back to Illinois, and have Whatsapped for hours on end. In fact, one friend is even visiting Chicago as I type this!
Not only was I changed during those two years, I often look back at my time in Hong Kong and the difference I made with my students. By profession, I’m an elementary school teacher, so I was able to teach third grade at an American school. When I went back to Hong Kong in 2016 to visit, I went to my school and saw some of my former students.
I wish I had a video camera recording their faces the day when they realized who I was; their faces of surprise and excitement were priceless. It still makes me teary-eyed thinking about the kids whose lives I impacted. On my birthday in September, I received an email from a former student wishing me a “Happy Birthday” from Hong Kong! I hadn’t seen this girl in five years!
Some of my fondest memories of my time in Hong Kong are with my students, first in our tiny, dripping classroom, and then to the new school. Though I am no longer a teacher, I still hope that in my current position at the Girl Scouts planning travel opportunities, I am able to make a difference in the lives of the girls.
I hope that through this work I can inspire these girls to be more globally aware and worldwide, lifelong travelers. Maybe, someday, these girls, too, will take that first step off the plane and just know, “Someday, I’m gonna live here!”
Learn more about the travel programs Ashley plans at girlscoutsgcnwi.org!