A Totally Impractical Expat Interview #2: Connie Hum of Connvoyage

Welcome to the second in my series of interviews with expats, re-pats, un-pats, quarter-pats and half-pats.

For this one, I bring you Connie Hum of  Connvoyage. Once upon a time, not too long ago in a parallel universe, Connie had an awesome apartment in New York and a job at an international consulting firm. She left both in 2009. She had decided that, well, she’d rather do other things. And she has. Let me quote you a snippet from her bio:

Since that time, she has lived in Istanbul, sailed in the Mediterranean, slept in a Bedouin cave in the mountains of Petra, belly-danced her way through Cairo, danced with young Buddhist monks in Burma, learned the art of Vipassana meditation in an ashram in India, trekked the Himalayan mountain range in Nepal and sunbathed in the gorgeous beaches of Thailand.

I think that’s a fair trade.

One of the interesting things I’ve found so far in reading all the submissions for this series is a shared sense of insatiable curiosity and restlessness in spite of that nagging little voice in our head that says we really ought to/want to settle down and do something stable and sensible. The difference, it seems, comes when we try to figure out how to reconcile these two conflicting voices.  In spite of the many challenges presented by moving to Hong Kong, Connie is enviably positive about her choices and her path so far. There doesn’t seem to be any second guessing going on in her head (correct me if I’m wrong, Connie!). I admire that. I’m still banging my head against hard surfaces at regular intervals, trying to keep my feelings about my choices straight.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Miss Connie Hum.

This is Connie Hum

All photos (and the photo captions below) courtesy of Connie Hum


Tasting the local cuisine in Hong Kong

I am currently living in Hong Kong with my English boyfriend. When I think about how we ended up here in Hong Kong, I really have no direct answer for you. I have been traveling for over a year when I came out to Asia in January 2010. I met Matt (my now boyfriend) when we were both traveling in India. As it were, we fell in love along the way and made arrangements to continue traveling together. Throughout the year we traveled in Asia together, Matt and I never had an end destination in mind.

When we finally arrived into Hong Kong, we were house-sitting for a friend of mine during the Christmas holiday. We barely left the apartment because it was the first time where we had something that resembled a home to us. I think that was when Matt and I started playing with the idea of settling down somewhere for awhile. The longer we stayed in Hong Kong, the more things just fell into place for us. Now, Matt and I are both working full time, making our new home feel even more like home and enjoying this exciting new city!

Making new friends in Istanbul

I lived abroad in Istanbul for seven months in 2009. It was an amazing experience, perhaps one of the best summers of my life though moving to Istanbul was nothing like moving to Hong Kong.

For the Istanbul period, I was in contact with a rather wealthy family in Istanbul who was looking for a native English teacher to teach their two young children private lessons in their home for six months. The family covered my RT airfare, gave me the upper apartment to their harbor side home in an affluent neighborhood in Istanbul, paid for my living expenses and took me on family holidays in the Mediterranean aboard their yacht. In spite of all the ease and luxury that I had with the move to Istanbul, there were still culture shocks to living in a new place.

I slowly learned to speak Turkish so that I could communicate with the locals and I got lost so much during my explorations of the city that I came to know it better than some of my Turkish friends who had been born and raised in Istanbul! That was probably one of the best feelings of accomplishment and unexpected joy that I had from my time in Istanbul, being able to finally communicate (for the most part) with everyone around me AND that I got to find little places all on my own that became favorite hangouts for me and my friends.

On the family yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean

With my move to Hong Kong, I was scraping the barrel just to afford the initial cost of moving into a new apartment, it was difficult for me to find a job that would sponsor a working visa for me and I didn’t really have anyone to help get me acclimated to all the cultural changes. Although I’m ethnically Chinese and can moderately speak Cantonese, things are still new and strange and challenging, but at the same time, it’s very exciting!

I’ve been in and out of Hong Kong for the last three months, only staying permanently in my new home this last month. I’m slowly making new friends, getting into a routine, finding out where my “favorite” restaurants, cafes, shops, etc. are and I’m happy to say that I’m just now started to feel a bit more settled here in Hong Kong. In fact, just last weekend, I took a couple of friends to a dim sum restaurant that Matt and I had found and they loved it too! There are little joys to be had in such things when you move abroad and I’m looking forward to more of those moments as I get to know Hong Kong better!

I was actually quite surprised by how both easy and hard it was to move to a new country. It’s hard because everything is new and you may not have the support system that you had back home to help you through it. Everything is different, strange, maybe even a bit scary. But those things are also the same reasons why it becomes easy to move to a new country. It’s like our bodies and brains just switch to survival mode and you somehow manage. You adapt and build a new support system. Things slowly stop feeling so different and strange.


Successfully navigating the Hong Kong metro

I’ve currently been traveling in and out of Hong Kong for the last three months, while only staying permanently from one month ago. My boyfriend and I haven’t quite decided how long we plan to stay in Hong Kong, though it’s safe to say that with our apartment lease, we’re contracted to be here for at least a year.

My mother is Chinese so I grew up speaking a slightly different dialect than the Cantonese dialect spoken in Hong Kong. I’m not quite fluent but I would say that I could carry an in depth conversation, depending on the conversation! One of the reasons that Hong Kong appealed to me was so that I could practice my Cantonese more and become better at it. There’s no better way to improve your language skills than to put it to practice in real life!

Sometimes I feel that experiencing depression and other emotional problems is part of the moving abroad experience. As I mentioned before, I didn’t have much money when I decided to stay in Hong Kong and I didn’t have a job. I was literally here empty-handed. Matt and I were staying with a friend of a friend who had been kind enough to let us stay with him while we tried to sort ourselves out in terms of jobs and apartment. All of this was a major stress for me. I had difficulty finding a job teaching English and that further exacerbated the stress, which made me feel more and more depressed each day. Eventually, things slowly fell into place. We found our apartment, I found a job and now things are slowly moving toward all the positives things about living abroad.

Feeling lost among the crowd in Hong Kong

It hasn’t been the easiest so far to build up a new support system in Hong Kong. Mainly because I don’t know too many people here to begin with. I think the first couple of months is hard to find new friends because you’re too absorbed with just surviving in your new place. You can hardly maneuver around a new city without getting lost so it’s near impossible to connect with the people around you when you’re just so focused on getting from A to B. Hopefully as I get more used to living in Hong Kong, I’ll be able to make more connections with the people here and start building up a support network.

Maintaining Stability

To be honest, I don’t know if I ever know that I’m ready to settle down somewhere! I like to go with the flow that life takes me and see how I fare up. If I enjoy my life in a particular place, I’m happy to stay and call it home for however long it may be. I tend to get itchy feet and every few years or so, I like to uproot myself and move to a new place. I’m sure that feeling will eventually subside and I’ll want a more permanent home, but until then, I’m following my life wherever it may take me.

I recently turned 30 years old. I have gained so much from my time abroad that it’s hard to gauge everything positive from those experiences. I know that I certainly would not be the person I am today without those experiences and without the friends and people I’ve met along the way. Obviously with each time that I’ve moved to a new location and met all the unique challenges of relocating, such as getting to know my way around a new city, making new and lasting friendships and gaining cultural awareness , I feel more confident and secure in myself and my own abilities. That’s empowering.

I have absolutely no regrets about my choices living abroad! In fact, I wish I had done it sooner!

The Future

Haha, I have absolutely NO IDEA what the future has in store for me! And you know, I’m okay with that!

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.