My project here in Hong Kong is wrapping up, now; I find it endlessly amusing how fast two-ish months has gone by. Here I am, writing one last reflection before I need to start packing my suitcases to return to the States and deal with the inevitable jetlag.
The time I’ve spent in Hong Kong has been incredibly valuable to me – by spending a significant amount of time fully immersed in a new health care and public policy context and working in a truly collaborative, multidisciplinary team environment, I have been able to think and ask questions about health equity and advocacy in a way that I haven’t done in a long time. It’s been encouraging (and also discouraging in a way, if I think harder) to see the ways in which NGOs are similar no matter where you go – often underfunded, usually understaffed, and always doing work that is super important but overlooked. Being able to contribute my insight and expertise from the United States and learn from the different experiences and backgrounds of my teammates in Hong Kong has been a really productive exercise in cross-cultural exchange – difficult at times, sure, and a process in and of itself, but incredibly worth it. This type of work has allowed me to broaden my understanding of the common threads of health inequity that exist across the globe and the ways in which I can apply my skills and pursue my interests at a truly global scale in the future.
The language barrier here has definitely been a bigger issue than I anticipated, and upon reflection I’d say that’s probably been the biggest challenge for me in Hong Kong. A good portion of the population here prefers to speak in Cantonese when possible, including my coworkers, and although communicating in English or Mandarin is doable, it’s not ideal. Not knowing how to speak fluent Cantonese has definitely made building community and relationships rather difficult for me over the past weeks. The language barrier also raises a number of questions about inclusion and social integration in Hong Kong: ethnic minorities and asylum seekers in Hong Kong, two of my NGO’s target populations, often don’t speak Cantonese. How, then, can a society that is not built around accessibility for these communities better cater to their needs?
Hong Kong is a living, breathing paradox, in so many different ways. I think I’m leaving the city with more questions than answers, which is definitely a good thing – I’m hoping to dive deeper into these questions in the coming months, even after I’ve returned to the States. Whatever small impact that I’ve made on the landscape of health care access in Hong Kong – building capacity for my NGO, writing research grants, and so on – is incomparable to the growth I’ve experienced while there (on the flip side, I also hope that I gave more than I received). My hope is that by thinking critically about the way I contribute to systems of inequality even as I try to change them, I’ll be able to shape my experiences in Hong Kong into continued personal and professional development in the future.