By Hayley Wong

//Unlike many others, I entered CUHK with no specific dreams.//

“University is meant to be a place for you to explore.” This is something I always remind myself of. But it could be hard to be convinced all the time. There were times I feel lost, frustrated, if not depressed. Because when you see many other chasing after their dreams purposefully while you cannot even identify yours, it is hard to not compare. But all my experiences convinced me, and hopefully you, that it’s okay. It really is.

I transferred major, founded a student organization, joined three exchange programs, and traveled to Taiwan, India, Bali, Germany, the Netherlands, and the States with CUHK’s support. It took me some time until I finally discovered no one, except yourself would bring you to cool people and exciting opportunities. In university, it is all up to us to decide what to learn and experience.

In my first year, I majored in Global Studies. Everything sounded thrilling! Learning a new language, going on exchange, learning about the world… Unfortunately, what I learned in class did not satisfy me. I thought going to the library, reviewing notes, and reading more would be the solution. But it is not. Eventually, I realize I could not paint university with the same brush that used to work in my preparation for HKDSE, so I started exploring alternative ways to learn and this became the start of something new.

It was a program I learned about in the CUHK mass mail. I have to tell you the mass mail is a cool thing because it introduced me to the Global Leadership Experience Program. The program itself is not phenomenal. But the experience of discussing on our personal goal and development, as well as the society, speaking to NGO and social enterprise leaders directly and being creative to design ways to solve social problems in teams dawned on me that there are so many more fun ways to learn, so many other doors waiting for me to open.

I became more attentive to all sorts of opportunities because I did not really know what I want. I knew I want to do something for society but did not know what exactly and how. One day, I saw an award for social innovation projects opening for application. It was almost impossible for a first-year to believe that someone would give them money to execute their own idea so I posted it on Instagram with the caption “anyone wanna join together?” On the same night, an unfamiliar name appeared with a reply of “me!”. She was a girl I barely know from Global Leadership Experience Program, a thinker who holds onto her beliefs, a teammate who moves me forward, and now a wonderful companion who I traveled, pitched, interned, and worked a lot with until now. You will never know where destiny brings you to!

We spent half a year exploring social innovation, a term that seemed vague to us at first. We attend events almost every week to learn from various stakeholders in the field and take initiatives to create different kinds of content on social media. It was a non-stop trial and error process.

In my second year, we founded a student organization to interview successful social entrepreneurs, connect with organizations with social impact, and organize events to empower youth and social enterprises. I would not say the organization is successful, but the process from exploring to researching, sourcing support, executing, and evaluating is more fruitful than any lectures I had at CUHK. I feel really grateful for all the people and institutions I have met throughout the journey. If I had not reached out, none of these blessings would come to me. Be courageous, reach out, and take actions are what I learned from the first two years of my university life.

One thing I did expect and came true was an overseas exchange. I have always loved to travel and meet people from all over the world so before entering the university, I was already determined to spend a year abroad. But what I did not expect was the many more opportunities that universities possess. The maximum exchange period of a student at CUHK is a summer and two semesters. So, apart from my year exchange, I participated in a summer exchange program after my first year and joined an exchange program between New Asia College and Yale University in my second year. Overseas experience definitely opened my eye to the world. It took me so much courage to be used to starting conversations and changing cultures. But they are all worth it and I became more and more fond of hearing personal stories of people from all over the world while their sense of identity became an aspect I am particularly interested in. As a local Hong Kong girl, I have never doubted my sense of identity as a Hongkonger. However, due to high mobility, people from the West usually have a complex background, which I find really fascinating. If it has not been for these opportunities, I would not have viewed the world in the same way I do right now and noticed how unique every single person with their distinct background is. Although I have not found how these explorations impact my life yet, they definitely added so much color to my university life, and I am sure someday all the dots will connect.

Due to COVID, I returned to Hong Kong earlier than I planned. This was definitely not expected but the only thing we could do is to make the most out of the position we are in. Alongside my internship, my partner and I are preparing the start of a new initiative with our accumulated knowledge and experience — starting a branch of 180 Degrees Consulting, a global student-led consultancy for non-profits & social enterprises at CUHK. It is hoped that we can contribute to the real world by solving problems faced by purposeful non-profits & social enterprises with our, and possibly your strength and talent. We are excited about more people joining to make this come true!

As I am writing this article, counting all I have been through, I cannot believe how blessed I am. I have never expected my university life to go this way. Before entering the university, I was indeed told about so many expectations on “university students” and so many more norms and standards of freshmen. But hey, you only live once, so I would really love to encourage you to explore beyond what you are told because there is a multitude of hidden golden opportunities waiting for all of us. We do not need a dream if we do not have yet. But we do need the courage to search and kick into gear to walk it through. Do not underestimate yourself because I am just a very ordinary student, born and raised, studies in Hong Kong. If I can achieve all these, you could achieve even more.