Name: WONG Wai Kwan, Freya
Host Institution: Tallinn University (Estonia)
Term of Exchange: Term 2, 2019-20
It is always uneasy to stay in an area with a bunch of strangers, especially when they all have different hair colors with you. I remembered the day when I first entered the lecture hall of Tallinn University. I thought that I was the only Asian while seeing all the blue, pale green and brown eyes staring at me. But for my trembling feet, I would have fled from this room. “What a bad idea for an introvert to join an exchange programme.” This was the first idea that popped into my mind when I arrived in Estonia. Unexpectedly, those exchange students whom I thought that I could never get along with eventually created many precious moments with me throughout this astonishing journey.
Due to my timid personality, it was rare for me to join any event actively until my friend encouraged me to join the student exchange programme. She described it as a life-changing experience which rekindled my interest of studying abroad for half a year. At first, I was going to give up this opportunity to go to Europe when I realized the high cost. Fortunately, the sponsorships from my home university made my exchange studies in Europe become possible. All the haze was brushed away and an exotic city gradually emerged in front of my eyes.
Large projector screen with “General Psychology” appeared on it, terraced seats and a lecture room with 50-100 students sitting inside, all the settings seemed similar to that of my home university, but I knew that there was something absolutely different. One question raised by the lecturer often provoked discussions and students to raise up their hands. Students in Tallinn University were more interactive with the lesson. They were willing to bring up many insightful questions, which had been rarely seen in my home university. The lucid atmosphere pushed me to have a discussion with my coursemate sitting next to me. Undoubtedly, we were talking in English since we spoke different mother tongues. Although both of us were not used to this, we still tried our best to speak out our minds and listened to each other intently. All of these would hardly happen if I am staying in Hong Kong.
“Did you learn Kung-Fu?” This was the first question that my roommate asked me, who was blinking her large eyes, having the chocolate-colored skin. I had never expected that my roommate was a Nigerian. I was amused by the diversity of exchange students in Tallinn University on my first day in Estonia. Our kitchen was shared by eight people, half of them were boys and half of them were girls. Among them, four of them were Nigerians. They were passionate, cheerful and kind. They laughed out so loud when I told them a joke and comforted me when I was upset confronting the news of infectious virus throughout the world. Even if sometimes I could not understand them because of their accent, they explained to me that they spoke the Nigerian Pidgin and they could teach me later on. It was a great regret for me that I had not made one Chinese dish for them to try before I got back to Hong Kong.
I blew air towards my hands covering by a pair of gloves. With my legs shivering, I could not make a step out to the ice-covered ground. It was my first time skating outdoors with the old town view of Tallinn surrounding me as it was impossible to skate outdoors in Hong Kong with the hot weather. My friends were giggling and teaching me the tricks to skate. They came from different parts of the earth, including Czech, Spain, Poland, Britain, Korea and Mainland China. We spent many nights chatting with each other, watching movies, holding parties and doing assignments. Sadly, the good times did not last long.
The pandemic of virus caused families to separate, borders of countries were closing and people were panic. The night when my friends decided to go back to their home countries, we cried and hugged each other the one last time. We knew that we might not met each other again in the future and our journey ended all of a sudden. We decided to make a cake and play some simple games before our departures. Although it was a short journey, we still kept this deep in our heart and made the memories as perfect as possible. Even now, we keep contacting with each other through social media.
After I got back to Hong Kong, the tutorials continued with the form of online-learning. It was funny seeing the familiar faces through Zoom meetings and I felt less lonely with tutors kept giving lectures to us under this pandemic world. With the quarantine policies announced by the government, I had more time to think of the whole exchange studies. I realized that it was not that scary to step out of my comfort zone. Plucking up the courage to do something different could provide us more insight towards the world. A book called “Small Island” mentioned in the English literature course in Tallinn University resonated me as the protagonists also have chocolate-colored skin. This reminded me of my dear roommate in Estonia. I gained so many precious experiences that it was hard for me to wrote all it down. I met friends from all around the world, had lectures overseas and saw possibilities in my life.
In most of the people’s viewpoint, it seems that experiences of student exchange have negligible impacts on their lives. However, it was equal to a life-changing experience for me. All of the experiences I had in Estonia would not happen on me without the exchange programme. I believe that this experience imposed a positive influence on my life and made me a step nearer the ideal self of confidence, open-mindedness and kindness. This precious opportunity would become the invisible wings for Hong Kong students to fly high in their future.