One of the most challenging tasks for me, while I was on my International Co-op work term in Hong Kong, was to embrace the cultural difference. Growing up in Vancouver, a city blessed with top-notch air quality and spacious surroundings, adjusting to the "small world" of Hong Kong challenged what I was used to. In a densely populated city where it houses seven-million people, it was an eye-opener when I saw how crowded the streets were in Hong Kong.
I have to admit, it was tough to go from having my own bedroom in Vancouver to sleeping on a small corner of a small-sized public housing apartment. My bedroom in Hong Kong was about the size of the backseat of a 5-door sedan. Despite this, I would never trade the experiences that I gained in Hong Kong for anything else. At a time when I was eager to work abroad to expand my horizons and seek out new opportunities, working in Hong Kong was the golden opportunity. At the time, I was excited and greeted with great optimism.
Hong Kong is special in many ways. It boasts one of the best culinary options in the world with over thousands of eateries. Hong Kong's culinary offerings are like Chinese opera – rich, colourful, and hypnotic. Hong Kong also boasts a sophisticated mass transit railway system that offers efficiency and affordability. According to my colleagues, over four million trips are made on an average weekday. Lastly, Hong Kong is special because it is home to a historic hotel in The Peninsula Hong Kong. And that is where I worked during my Co-op term.
My work-term at the hotel was a memorable learning experience. The working culture and environment were vastly different than what I was accustomed to. Office space was tight and the working area was small. Much like the "small world" of Hong Kong, everything in this city seems to be smaller, tighter and crowded in every way. However, there are merits with a small office. It made for good office chats, and discussions about work were made easy without having to walk across a large office to find someone.
The workplace culture in Hong Kong was definitely different from what is considered the norm in Vancouver. Unspoken cultural norms drive operations, and one of the biggest cultural differences working in Hong Kong was the working hours. Large numbers of staff were regularly working past office hours and some even staying after 10 PM. While I was only the intern, I felt uncomfortable leaving the office at 5 PM, which was the usual practice in Vancouver. I certainly didn't want to leave early and appear that I didn't care about the job. I wanted to fit into the local culture and to build a rapport with the staff. As a result, most days ended after 6 PM with the occasional workdays ending after 7 PM. Office hours and the differences in workplace culture were one of the things I had to adapt to while working internationally.
Outside of work hours, I spent most of my time indulging many great eateries and attractions. One of my most memorable eateries in Hong Kong was Tsui Wah Restaurant. It is a Hong Kong style restaurant that serves high quality Chinese Fast Food at very reasonable prices. There are plenty of food selections and fast services. Albeit the ambience may not be the best, I could not get enough of their infamous toast with condensed milk. The photo says it all. Simply delicious. Another notable cultural difference in Hong Kong is often times during rush hour, Hong Kong style restaurants may ask customers to share a table with other guests. They do it to maximize their business given the small space that they have to operate with.
Culture and heritage are what sets Hong Kong apart from the rest of Asia largely because of its unique fusion of Western and Eastern culture. It is not uncommon to see temples and unique buildings next to modern, glass-and-steel buildings because space is so limited. You wouldn't be able to see the drastic difference in Vancouver because buildings and houses are carefully and uniquely segregated.
Hong Kong is a vibrant city that has plenty to offer for tourists. If you are looking for work in Hong Kong, it will be an exciting adventure that will keep you on your toes with the fast-paced environment. For me, in addition to honing my professional skills, I had the opportunity to observe how business was operated in Hong Kong. If you are looking for work in Hong Kong or any other international city, I highly advise you to try exposing yourself and adapting to the culture. I didn't do this early on during my internship and it became a setback, preventing me to work up to my potential. That would be the only thing I'd do differently the next time.
Beyond the Blog
- Visit the International Co-op website to learn more about how you can work in Hong Kong.