For many Mountaineers, moving to Morgantown provides a significant change in geography and culture. But for some, the relocation to Morgantown is less of a journey and more of a jog. And while all students can benefit from collegiate education and the life lessons that come along with it, there is something to be said for physically exploring a new territory and the new perspective that it brings.
And that's why Clarksburg, W.Va., native and B&E student Katie Warne decided to travel to Lingnan University in Hong Kong last fall.
Warne left for Hong Kong in August 2013, mere days after returning home to West Virginia after a summer internship with Intercontinental Hotels Group's (IHG) corporate office in Atlanta, Ga. While in Hong Kong, she had the pleasure of meeting two executives from IHG's Greater China Market — the director of public relations and the vice president of direct relationship marketing (DRM), the area Warne was most drawn to during her time in Atlanta. She described these as fantastic networking opportunities, and explained that exposure to business practices in a different culture provided her with valuable insight.
"Business practices are very different there. Even the way they hand you a business card is different," Warne said. In Chinese markets, she explained, values such as respect, attention to hierarchy and patience dominate the business culture in a way unfamiliar to business in western culture.
"There is less smiling (in business) there. (My classmates) told me that I smile much more than they were accustomed to," she said. She was also surprised and impressed by the differences in the IHG facilities. "In Hong Kong, the hotels there are all upscale compared to what we have in America. The Holiday Inn is really, really nice."
Warne hopes that the business lessons learned in Hong Kong provide her with a competitive edge in the global marketplace. But she already knows that the life lessons learned as a result of her study abroad trip have been positive and life-changing.
"I learned so much about myself," Warne said, explaining that the new experience required her to be flexible. Study abroad experiences tend to enhance coping skills, as well as the ability to manage stress and face the unknown — and that certainly was the case for Warne.
"Many people go (on study abroad trips) with friends or groups. But I went alone," she said. "I was out of my comfort zone." And it was a little harder than she anticipated.
The population density in Hong Kong is an astounding 6,620 persons per square kilometer. But Tuen Mun, a district in the New Territories where Lingnan lies, is rather rural in comparison to the city.
"There were still many skyscrapers, but at the same time it was like we were in the middle of nowhere," she said. "There were no westerners in this part of Hong Kong (aside from some of the other exchange students.) Nobody spoke English (at any of the local establishments.) I really stood out," Warne recalled. "There were reminders of western culture, but it wasn't the same. For example, there was a McDonald's, but it served broccoli and rice."
In fact, food was one of the main adjustments she had to make. Warne, who is adventurous when it comes to eating, tried a handful of local dishes that she could have done without, such as egg and milk soup and fried chicken feet. Additionally, the use of chopsticks took some getting used to.
But as her time in Hong Kong went on, Warne became increasingly comfortable. She made new friends from all over the world — from as close to home as Pittsburgh, Pa., and as far away as Germany. She explored the mountainous countryside for some hiking adventures, and visited several cities throughout the region like Beijing and Shanghai.
"I have definitely grown more independent as a result of this study abroad experience," Warne said. "At first, I was afraid to go anywhere. But about halfway into it, I began taking my Saturdays to explore new parts of Hong Kong, even if that meant by myself. I would definitely recommend study abroad to other students looking to expand their cultural knowledge. It helped me grow in a way I otherwise never could have."
Throughout her time as a student at B&E, Warne has shown again and again that she is not afraid of a challenge. With quality internships, academic success, extra-curricular involvement, and now international experience, the future for Warne looks bright.