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Marquis Scholar Megan Zaroda ’07 (Easton, Pa.), who has an individualized major in political communication, shares these thoughts on her spring semester at Lingnan University in Hong Kong:

Three months ago I made a decision that, for me, was quite daring: I boarded a plane to Hong Kong to fly away, albeit temporarily, from the life I had fashioned for myself. I liked its order, its familiarity, its security, but the fantasy of something different – of living independently in a foreign country where I neither knew the language nor the customs – was too alluring. So I packed two suitcases with enough pairs of white socks, Hershey bars, and “if Chinese food isn’t kind to you” medicine to last a semester, and embarked on the next part of my life.

My favorite “sites” on this five-month-long sojourn are not the typical tourist traps. Yes, I’ve flashed the Hong Kong salute at Victoria Harbor while waiting for the world’s #1 skyline to burst into its Symphony of Lights. Yes, I’ve been dwarfed by the Giant Buddha’s hand as he gestures over Lantau Island’s hills. Yes, I’ve nearly had my camera stolen by rambunctious primates at Monkey Mountain. Those are the experiences that make for great story-telling and wish-you-were-here photographs.

But the places, the events, the people I’ve enjoyed most are often those moments which are not captured on film, but are indelibly impressed in my mind. It is learning tai chi from a kung fu master on the roof of his apartment that overlooks the harbor. Playing badminton with my roommate’s father, with whom I cannot even converse. Reading a European travelogue on a rock in the middle of the South China Sea. Savoring a cup of mango gelato while sitting on the ferry pier watching the other gwailos (“foreign devils”) exasperatingly point at pocket maps.

It’s true that one’s best learning experience is not in the classroom, but in the culture; yet like any student abroad, my time is split between raw exploration and formal education. I spend 15 hours a week learning about contemporary Chinese government, the historical western perspective on China, Asian authors who write in English, international ethics, and Putonghua – the most common dialect of Chinese Mandarin. Learning Chinese is unlike any other language I’ve attempted. Not only do I learn to speak, but write the Chinese characters and the pinyin version (which is the Anglicized, relatively phonetic spelling). Unlike English, Putonghua has four tones, so often I feel as if I’m back in high school choral classes rather than a language class. It’s frustrating at times, since Cantonese, not Mandarin, is the dialect spoken here in Hong Kong, which presents another set of pinyin and 9 different tones to master. I’m sure I’ve ordered a toilet more often than stir-fried noodles with peppered beef. And while I’d like to think the waitress smiles at me in appreciation of my attempted Cantonese, she’s probably just suppressing the laughter she releases once she’s in the kitchen.

With two months left in the Orient, I sometimes glance at my Hong Kong To-Do list and realize I will not tick off each item. I don’t want to; I like the idea of having unfinished business in the SAR. I intend to return to this place one day, to work among the people who have taught me how to use chopsticks, how to navigate the public transportation, how to bargain in a foreign language. Yet whether I spend my career years in Hong Kong or New York or even Easton, I’ve realized that life is much more fascinating when seen from a different perspective. So, too, the world. It is much more welcoming when approached with optimistic curiosity.

Zaroda used her Marquis Scholar benefit to take a Lafayette interim-session course in Ireland. She has been named to the Dean’s List throughout her time at Lafayette. Before leaving for Hong Kong, she served as news editor of The Lafayette, president of College Republicans, research assistant for Lafayette President Dan Weiss and Special Collections and College Archives, executive committee member for Lafayette Leadership Council, admission representative, career services panelist, and volunteer for the Landis Community Outreach Center. She also is a former member of the crew team.

Those interested in participating in Lafayette’s exchange program with Lingnan University in Hong Kong should contact Roxanne Lalande, director of study abroad programs and professor of French, at x5918 or

Categorized in: Academic News