A few weeks before my final high school exams, I realised that I would soon be granted several months of complete freedom for the first time in twelve years. As much as I loved my home city, Vienna, I yearned to leave Europe and take advantage of this rare space of time. True to the young-adult cliché, I wanted to “find myself”. I fed into the belief that visiting another country would help me discover aspects of myself I hadn’t already found in the past 18 years.
Consequently, within a few days I had written and submitted an application to be an intern for one of the largest and most international internship groups in the world. The location that I had my heart set on was the former British colony and overpopulated territory that is Hong Kong.
When I received a cheerful email informing me that I had been granted an internship at a high-end nutrition company in Hong Kong, I was excited beyond belief and as nervous as I’d ever been. The thought of travelling alone and spending several weeks in a foreign place located halfway across the world made me want to stay in the comfort of my own bed all summer instead.
Nevertheless, I had made a commitment and once the plane tickets were booked there was no plausible way for me to back out, which in hindsight was a very good thing. At the end of July, after travelling for nearly 20 hours, I arrived at the place which would become my home for the weeks to come.
Stepping out of the airport was like walking straight into a sauna. I had never experienced such intense humidity before. My clothes clung to my body and I became conscious of my breathing as the air I was inhaling felt almost wet in my throat. I was relieved to step into a cool cab with the air conditioner blasting.
While we were driving through the busy streets I was astonished at the kaleidoscope of skyscrapers tied together by street lights and contrasted by the green jungle in the background. The endless rows of massive concrete buildings looked out of place against the seemingly never-ending forest and blue ocean.
We pulled up to my apartment complex, about an hour later, where I would be living with other interns. Stepping into my room was a shock to say the least. Cramped inside a room no larger than a shoe closet was a tiny bed and an equally small wardrobe. That night I also discovered that the bed was not made for somebody of my height, as my feet weren’t fortunate enough to fit in it.
This living situation, however, I soon grew to appreciate. After reading articles about people living in so-called “cage-homes” (an apartment filled with actual cages available for illegal rent) I became grateful that I had a proper bed. My room, although modest, became my haven from the noisy streets outside.
My internship was less of a job and more of a treat. Unlike how I had felt during school, I enjoyed waking up early and heading to work. I appreciated my boss, my co-workers, and my responsibilities. Although I wasn’t contributing to life-changing research, I didn’t spend my whole time making coffee either. My job was a delicate balance of significant responsibilities such as preparing a SWOT analysis and more superficial tasks such as making deliveries and proofreading documents.
Working there also gave me an insight into other aspects of having a job, beyond the actual work. I came to appreciate informal networking with important individuals, bonding as a team over lunch, and grew addicted to the satisfaction of completing a task that would benefit the company. My general experience in Hong Kong was complimented greatly by my work experience, and interning for a local company gave me insight into the work ethic of the population.
One of my favorite memories of my time in Hong Kong was leaving the urban area and taking a bus to a place called Sai Wan. From there, a 30-minute hike brought my new friends from work and me to an incredible beach that looked like the backdrop of a travel postcard. Hiking in a heat of 40-degrees and extreme humidity was strenuous and elicited a lot of complaints which were soon silenced once we arrived.
From the beach we hiked further, until we arrived at what I still believe to be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It was a collection of waterfalls crashing into rock pools and all of it was hidden by a mask of massive trees. Although we were not alone, it was free from the massive tourist crowds that usually gather around anything idyllic.
I remember feeling more relaxed than I had in months. Jumping from the cliffs was also memorable (perhaps more so for those of us who landed on our stomachs). How strange to end up in this oasis located only an hour from such a complex maze of skyscrapers and industrial buildings.
The maze of skyscrapers could best be seen from Victoria’s Peak, one of the highest points in all of Hong Kong. A trek of escalators and stairs brought us to a rooftop overlooking the beautiful city we were lucky enough to be visiting.
Seeing things from above put things into perspective for me. At one point, Hong Kong had been nothing but a jungle and now in front of me was the most complex yet fully functioning city I’d ever seen. I saw cranes anticipating the construction of more buildings, next to structures that seemed hundreds of years old.
It made me realise that there was no pressure to find myself anytime soon, that I would be built over my whole life and that I’d never be completely “found” as I was forever going to be growing. I was smiling at over seven million people.