Along with working as coach for global nomads living around the world, I also post an Interview Series on this website where I share the stories of global nomads who have moved abroad, are traveling the globe, or are transitioning to life back at home.
This week’s interview features Louise (a.k.a. Weeze), whose story has taken her from Hong Kong to London. Born in Hong Kong as a British citizen to an English father and a mother who fled Latvia from the Soviets in 1944, she finds it tough to answer the question ¨where are you from?¨ For the past 13 years she’s been living in London, which she moved to after finishing university, and three years ago she transitioned from the corporate world into working for a human rights charity. Having grown up by the beach she’s a water creature at heart, but also loves to explore new cities and the surrounding countryside either by cycling or walking, regardless of the weather. Her favorite way to spend her time and money is heading to a gig or music festival and tacking on a few days of historical or social exploring to her itinerary. Or eating vegan ice cream. In September she’ll be moving back to Hong Kong to teach English and spend more time writing and working with local NGO’s. Check out her blog at Weeze X Christina
Can you tell us a little about your decision to leave Hong Kong and what your life was like there?
Leaving Hong Kong for the first time wasn’t a choice for me. Like many children of British immigrants, I was sent to an all-girls boarding school, north of London, at age 14, whilst my parents stayed in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong I had attended a normal school with boys and girls, and spent my spare time swimming, playing sports, acting, and generally hanging out with friends in a very safe, vibrant, stimulating city. Before arriving at school in England I’d always viewed it as a very trendy, desirable country and I’d spend two weeks each summer visiting relatives and a few tourist places. For me, the most appealing activity was always shopping, particularly buying the latest magazines (a fifth of the price of what they would cost when they became available in HK a month later), shopping at the clothes shops featured in the magazines, and buying body spray and lip gloss from Boots (a British drugstore). Returning back to school in HK we would show off our purchases from our ‘home’ countries, share holiday stories, and swap new slang words in a mimicked accent that faded after a week or so. Despite loving my trips to England, after being away for a couple of weeks I remember always being so happy to be back in my real home, Hong Kong.
Did you ever think of going back to Hong Kong after school?
My plan after university was to move back there. I wanted to learn Cantonese, and immerse myself more in the local heart of the city. To my great sadness, frustration and perhaps even anger with the colonial curriculum, the only Cantonese I had learned was how to swear. But, I met a guy, got a full time job, and though I travelled extensively (including a 3-month, and 9-month long trips), I grounded myself in London for a while. This September I’m finally moving back home. And the next time I leave Hong Kong, it will be my choice to go.
What did you take away from the experience of going to boarding school so far away from home?
During my first term at boarding school, I realized I had to try and find similarities with people where I initially felt there were none. At first, I gravitated to those with similar circumstances to me, like the other foreign students. But over time I realized that it was personalities and outlooks on life that made true, meaningful friendships. Learning early on to adapt to new surroundings with people I initially felt were very hard to relate to has helped me through some of the tougher times in my life, and without a doubt, has given me the ability to have some of the most amazing adventures. I also learnt to look after myself, and even though I was often scared, anxious and lonely, looking back it helped me become fiercely independent. If I wanted to do something or go somewhere, my parents would give their permission, but they wouldn’t be there to take me. I instilled in myself a desire for self-reliance at all times, and a fighting spirit which, to be truthful has occasionally gotten me into trouble.
Did you experience homesickness? How did you cope with it?
Despite Hong Kong being an (ex) British Colony, my childhood experiences and memories have always been more similar to American and Australian’s as most of our goods from the Western world were imported from there. Even the way of life and thinking is more American and Australian, which separated me even more from my supposed ‘home’ country of Britain.
Whether in a dorm, or my own room, I’ve always made my small space distinctly mine; littered with photos & ornaments to remind me of all that makes me happy. After university, when I chose to live in London, I didn’t really know anyone so music brought me my new friend group. Hardcore, (most easily described as similar to punk/metal for those that don’t know) introduced me to like-minded people who were passionate about similar things, and was a place that I felt I belonged. I went on a London music forum, and pretty much said ‘Hey I don’t know anyone! Anyone I can say hi to at a show?’ and met a few friendly people, and it went from there. My hardcore family now spreads worldwide – friends of friends I’ve met whilst travelling, or even just getting in touch on Facebook via local pages. You may feel embarrassed or awkward, but you just have to put yourself out there. Even back at school I put an advert in a Metal Music magazine for pen pals, to be able to share my passion for music, and to meet people outside of the very enclosed world I was living in. Twenty years later, this would probably be unthinkable to teenagers now! I’ve even been to one of my pen pal´s weddings, and am still in touch with a few others.
Any other advice you’d give for meeting friends in a new country?
I’d recommend, especially in a big city, to avoid just socializing with work colleagues and other convenient opportunities. Instead, seek out a way to continue a previous hobby, or try out new ones that you’ve always wanted to do. It’s the perfect time to reinvent yourself (but still be you!) London is full of intro offers, free events, talks and workshops. Almost everyone will be as nervous or apprehensive as you at some point, so just ignore your doubting mind and put one foot in front of the other. Get yourself there, be open, smile, fake it if you need to, and the rest will happen fairly naturally.
Also, talk to the local shopkeepers, the baristas, the postman, the bin-man. People are all just people and generally friendly. Even in a large city you can create a sense of community around you, but you need to be open and willing to smile and say hello!
What’s the most difficult part about travel or living outside of your home country? How do you overcome these difficulties?
Aside from the obvious homesickness mentioned above, one of the hardest things for me to adjust to has been the climate! In late October of my first year, I walked out of a lesson asking if there was an eclipse as it was 3:30pm and it was dark outside. The response was just laughter. It’s something I still haven’t got used to and the cold, bleak, short days take their toll on me mentally and physically. Over the years I’ve learnt to accept this and adjust my lifestyle, activities and expectations, rather than fighting it. I have less energy, I need more sleep, and I don’t feel as spritely. But I’ve learnt to love all the elements and seasons and now embrace going for cold walks in the London parks on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee, feet crunching over the multicolored fallen autumn leaves or regularly curling up with popcorn in the local indie cinema on cheap night Mondays!
There is also the tendency to blame difficult experiences and emotions on the geographic location and think, ‘if only I was at home…’ Feeling less connected to my physical surroundings, and wanting to ‘escape’ back to the comfort of home and the familiar has made me force myself to question what the real root issues are that I’m having and to ask myself if I really want to move, or if I just want to run away? Is it really just a little more introspection and self-awareness that is needed? More often than not, the answer is yes.
What’s the best part about travel or living outside of your home country?
I’ve loved experiencing quintessential British pastimes like having my first proper Sunday Roast at a pub, or Friday night chippy tea! By the time I was 12 I felt I’d visited enough Buddhist & Taoist temples for a lifetime, but I´m still fascinated by European castle ruins and crumbling historic and political buildings. I love driving out to the countryside; having tea and scones in Alton after walking through the cobbled streets of the village, taking a turn (fancy phrase for walking around…) with my Mum in Jane Austen’s garden. Getting to know Norwich City, which will forever hold a place in my heart. Learning to surf in Cornwall, which actually has a movement to gain its own independence, and en route driving through Cheddar Gorge and tasting the cave matured cheese. Also, sitting on a boat, puffin watching off the St. Davids coastline, the UK’s smallest city, against a backdrop of steep, grandiose awe-inspiring cliffs. The list of unique, charming and quirky experiences I’ve had in the UK goes on and on!
In London I’ve embraced the walking tours, the free museums, fringe theatre & free comedy, intro offers for all types of exercise classes, been raving before work, to craft beer tastings, spent a lot of time at the Arsenal Stadium, kayaked down the Thames, ran a 10K women’s history monument tour! It’s all here for you to do! I cycle everywhere and it’s by far the best way to get to know the city. I’m going to miss Layla (my bike) immensely when in Hong Kong. The Tower of London is my favourite building here, and as my Grandfather died in WW2 I felt incredibly blessed to be part of the removal of the Remembrance poppy installation there in 2013. What I love most about London though, is that everyone belongs here. Anyone can fit in and everything and anything goes!
With so many things you love about London, why have you decided to move back to Hong Kong?
London has become a home to me, but I don’t feel it in my blood or connect with the environment the way I do when breathing in the muggy Hong Kong air or swimming in the slightly green-brown sea where I want my ashes to be sprinkled, or even admiring the huge green fierce looking ferns poking out of a concreted-over hillside.
What has living outside of your home country taught you about life?
That life doesn’t have to be one journey or one path. It’s okay to focus on one activity, or pursuit, even intensely, and then move on to something else entirely. One job does not have to lead to another in the career ladder. It’s more than okay to change your lifestyle and how you pay your rent! It’s okay not to settle down and be fluid with your desires and change how you respond to situations in life. You don’t have to have a mortgage or fancy things to show off. If that’s what you want, that’s great – but you don’t need to feel ashamed or make excuses on how you CHOOSE to live your life if it’s not what you feel is expected of you. When you are truly happy and confident in your decisions, then others will generally accept them, and if they don’t, you’ve already reached a point where it doesn’t matter so much anymore.
What are 3 things on your bucket list?
Though I’m very open to see what new opportunities lie in Hong Kong and be fluid in where that move takes me, at some point I would like to live in Latvia, to get to know the country better, investigate my family history further and to eventually write about that and my travel experiences there. I’ve already got quite a collection starting under Soviet Rule in 1989 and more recently after meeting close relatives by complete coincidence in the small town my grandfather was from. As I started learning the language a few months ago, it would be good to be able to converse with my older relatives through more than just nods and smiles!
I’d also really like to pilot a helicopter, and drive a tank. And learn to free dive, perhaps with Hammerhead sharks. The usual…
What advice do you have for people who are considering traveling or relocating to a new country, but are feeling doubtful?
As cliche as it may sound, if you aren’t a little nervous or anxious about big, new life choices, I think you’re probably choosing them wrong! All the best challenges and experiences involve nerves, that’s why they are exciting, different and new! Try to get a feel of the place before you go and question if it’s for you. For example, a quiet beach town may be a perfect break for two weeks, but could you really live there? Beyond that, try not to have too many prior expectations and remember that feeling comfortable in a new place is a gradual process. The initial buzz will probably wear off as the day to day routine kicks in, and your surroundings become more familiar, and that’s when you need to start asking yourself, what you want to do, explore, learn, etc, whilst in your new home. And then, actually go do it! Also, remember you can pick up the phone and call those at home- don’t just text. We are lucky that we can now be so far away and still be in touch with our loved ones instantly. Saying you miss them and feeling crappy and homesick sometimes isn’t a sign of failure. It’s normal, and it helps to get it out.
Do you have a favorite quote, book, movie, TED Talk, etc?
For my 30th birthday a close friend gave me the Dr Seuss book, ‘Oh the places you’ll go,’ and it blew my mind! The book is full of insights on life, loneliness, travel, emotions; the difficulties we ALL face as children and adults. It’s a travel essential for me and reading it in my loneliest and most confused moments has always brought me comfort and perspective. I often refer to it as my bible and I’ve bought copies for friends, and even have part of the front cover tattooed on my thigh.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself before starting this journey?
That it will be okay! To have more faith in myself and my decisions, rather than questioning and critiquing myself so much as I used too! Try to surround yourself with good, honest people, and laugh a lot–most things in life aren’t that serious or important. Don’t be too concerned with physical possessions. Embrace all the emotions, living with passion and intensity may seem harder sometimes, but it’s worth it.
What do you hope people say about you on your 70th birthday?
That she really embraced life, kindly. Hell, you still can’t stop her!
Thank you so much Louise for giving us a glimpse of all the adventures you’ve had since moving from Hong Kong to London so many years ago! I’m sure your story will provide many readers with inspiration to move abroad themselves! If you’d like to learn more about Louise and her adventures, you can check out her blog, Instagram or Twitter. I know I’ll be following along to see what stories and words of wisdom you have to share!
ABOUT MELISSA PARKS, THE FOUNDER OF INTENTIONAL EXPAT:
I moved from Seattle (USA) to Madrid, Spain in 2009 in order to work as an English teacher for a year. I soon discovered that when you accept the invitation to become a global nomad, life may take you in unexpected directions! This one year abroad turned into ten, and during that time I earned my master’s degree and PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology, lived in both Spain and the Netherlands, became fluent in Spanish, transitioned from an accidental to an intentional expat, and met my future husband, a fellow global nomad. I recently relocated back to Seattle and provide online coaching for global nomads, If you’re a global nomad yourself and want to be featured in a future interview, please get in touch!
Would you like to learn more about my coaching services for expats and global nomads? I offer a free 30-minute consultation for potential clients so that you can see if my coaching services are a good fit for you: