Opinion

How to Handle the Unexpected While Studying Abroad

By Giovanna Brasolin

g.maistrobrasolin@spartans.ut.edu

A few days ago, I found some videos sharing that studying abroad can be dangerous. Coming from Brazil, I’m aware that my country gets a bad reputation from its residents. Furthermore, I have first-hand experiences both in Hong Kong and Shanghai, China.

In 2019, I was interning in Hong Kong amidst the worst protests the city-state has ever seen. At first, I wasn’t scared, even though I knew that participating in those protests could cause some complications with my work visa. When the protests started getting more violent, my friends and I would either stay in or try to go to another island to escape from protestors in Hong Kong Island. Our best friend at those times was the South China Morning Post because they updated the situation every two minutes. 

If the protests weren’t bad enough, it was also typhoon season. One day, I went to the office to find it empty. After talking to my supervisor, who worked from Malaysia, I had to go back to my hotel despite having work to turn in. The problem was that I was stuck at the mall for two hours due to a T8 category typhoon. Upon getting out of the subway, I was confused to see a crowd gathered near the exit of the mall, but then I realized that they were watching the bad weather outside.

However, the scariest occurrence that took place in Hong Kong was when I was stalked by an Arabic man for 10 minutes. On a Friday, I got out of the subway after work and tried a different route back to the hotel. It was time for free wine hour at the hotel and I wanted to get there on time, but the universe had other plans. A man approached me suddenly and no matter how fast I walked, he would still catch up to me. He claimed that I was pretty and cute, so he wanted to be my friend. I wasn’t having it and tried to shut down the interaction many times, but he wouldn’t get the hint.

He kept asking for my name and phone number, which irritated me. Of course, I didn’t want to give him either because I didn’t know him. However, in my flustered state, I ended up telling him my real name instead of a fake one. When uneasiness was getting the best of me, I sent my friends an SOS message. When I was almost at the hotel doors, I heard the guy shouting, “Giovanna, I love you!” and all I felt was disgusted, dirty, and violated.

That same year, I went to Shanghai and didn’t feel unsafe for most of my stay. However, just like in São Paulo, there were parts of town that were a bit sketchy. The thing is that any place has the potential to be dangerous if you don’t know it well. Since I was in Shanghai for a semester, we were placed in an apartment within a 10-minute walk from campus in what could be called a mini college town. For that reason, more foreign students were just as cautious as me and my friends. 

A bit of advice I would give to those interested in studying abroad is to keep in mind that you are going to a different country with a distinct culture. Therefore, learning and accepting it wouldn’t hurt. Sometimes you won’t understand it, but that’s the fun of it. For example, I still don’t like the traffic found within the Fudan University campus and maybe I never will. I lost count of the number of times I almost got run over by vehicles there. It even became a silly joke between me and my mother over FaceTime and audio messages on WhatsApp. Imagine that you are a pedestrian walking on streets within the campus and there are several bicycles, scooters, cars, and other pedestrians walking on the same lane as you. Wouldn’t that scare you?

I don’t mean to discourage anyone from studying abroad by sharing these stories. However, I believe that we need to be honest about the implications of leaving everything behind for a fresh start. Whenever people ask me, I tell them that going on such adventures is both life-changing and eye-opening. It shows life at its best and worst, changing our perspective. Besides, there’s a whole world out there, why not explore it?

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