Hong Kong is one of the world’s most industrialized cities. It’s the city that never sleeps, with people working up to thirteen hours a day then going out for drinks for another two hours. That is the city I grew up. Now compare that to the town of Well. There is a local pub, a supermarket, a bakery, a everything store and of course, a castle. You get the point. It’s a whole world of a change but it’s been one of the best experiences of my life. Although only two of my classes were necessary towards my degree, everything else about the program makes it worth it.
Before the program started, I remember telling my friends and family I might go crazy because of the small town. They would laugh at me and wish me luck. Knowing my lifestyle in Hong Kong, they had little doubts I’d be calling back to complain about the lack of liveliness. Who knew things would turn out the way they did. It’s funny how God works.
As I took my first steps into the Castle, I knew right away choosing to do this study abroad program is something I’m never going to regret. The first week consisted of making new friends, orientation, and getting the feel of the place. It felt very comfortable. It was as if God had wanted to take me out of the Hong Kong scene for months now. He wanted me to appreciate the beauty of His creation, to slow down and grow with Him without distractions.
I had predicted a lot more of a struggle to get use to Castle life. Although part of what makes it easier is because we are off traveling most weekends, which is one of the best parts of this program. We don’t have Friday classes and we’re allowed to take one cut for each class before and after midterms. Despite the assumption that we’re not in school, we still go to classes, have papers to write and tests to take.
I’ve grown up traveling with my family, yearly visits to relatives in Toronto, and holiday trips to various parts of Asia. I’ve also traveled solo a lot in the last few years but I’ve never traveled so much within a few months. It’s a bit of a strange life to be living. I’ve traveled to Amsterdam, Estonia, Berlin, Venice, Prague, Madrid, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Aalborg and Sardinia.
Europe is fascinating, in so many different ways. Every city in itself has books full of stories to tell. I’ve never been interested in nor paid attention in history classes during high school. Contrary to my young ignorant self, I’ve been a bit of a history nerd the past three months. It’s one thing to learn about history through lectures and power points, but another to walk through the cities and buildings that were once used for battles. It’s quite an incredible feeling to put two and two together… blows my mind! Ralph Trost’s teachings have sparked a newfound interest in me.
My other new found interest this semester is cycling. Renting a bike for three months is one of the best decisions I’ve made thus far. It is only a fifteen-minute walk into town but to jump on my bike and get there in just a few minutes makes things a lot more convenient. When I procrastinate or simply need to be alone, I hop on my bike and go for about an hour in whichever direction I am led to. After this semester, I’m even thinking of getting a bike in the fall in Boston, but whether or not I’ll gain the carefree feeling while biking is debatable. It definitely will not be carefree in Hong Kong. I might end up being squished by double decker buses.
One similarity between my life at the castle and in Hong Kong is the sense of community. Although Hong Kong has a population of seven million people, I still have a group of community I see almost every day. There are sports clubs, bars and restaurants I go to frequently. They’ve become my second family in HK. In comparison, the villagers in Well and the staff at the castle have become my family here. At least two days a week, I will spend a few hours at De Bunn doing homework and conversing with Piet.
It’s comforting knowing that although I don’t speak Dutch nor will I ever be fully accustomed to the Dutch culture, most everyone considers me a friend and will be there for me as needed. Their hospitality is never ending. If it were not for our fantastic teachers, castle staff and everyone I’ve encountered in this town, I would have had a much harder time adjusting. And of course, the swans and the ducks.
As the semester came to an end, I imagined being back in Hong Kong, sitting in my apartment on the 58th floor and wishing I were still in a castle. Home will always be where the heart is, but I think it’s safe to say I left a piece of it in Well, Limburg, Netherlands.
I’ve now lived the best of both worlds. The next time anyone doubts my ability to live in a small town without going crazy, I can confidently and proudly tell them of my experiences from the past three months.