Young professionals in Hong Kong: Esslin’s journey towards a PhD Degree in Neuroscience.

Get an insight look into Esslin’s exciting journey to Hong Kong and the obstacles she overcame along the way. Get inspired by reading the story of how she found familiar places in a new city and went in pursuit of what she wanted in life.

Your name: Esslin Terrighena     13419147_10153700173633404_5182574324289967544_n
Where are you from? Mainly Germany, but also somewhat Aussie with a dash of English and a pinch of Mexico
What did you study? BSc. Psychology at University of Westminster (London)
Degree being obtained at HKU: PhD in making.

 When did you move to Hong Kong?
I finished my BSc. Psychology in London and spent another 6 months working at the same job I had held during my studies. During that time I received confirmation of a PhD place at the University of Hong Kong. I deferred this to the following year and went travelling for 9 months across Latin America and Africa. I had always spent my 3-month summer breaks travelling around Europe, Asia and Australia and was keen to discover more countries before tying myself down for 4 years to the PhD program. So I ended up moving to HK in August 2013.

Why did you move to Asia? For most Europeans, it is far and “unknown”. What encouraged you to explore the world like you did?
The first trip I ever took to Asia was to India. I had been around Europe and Australia before that, where things are relatively easy to manage while travelling. India, on the other hand, blew my mind. Not only was it a complete culture shock, but it was an emotional rollercoaster. So many different sights, smells and sensations were happening simultaneously, and I was humbled by the many intense experiences that presented themselves. The different lifestyles made me a grateful observer and I soaked it all up. It instilled a sparkle inside me that has guided me to travel further and explore more every day.


What was the most difficult thing with being abroad, and how have you overcome that?
As with every new place you move to, you have to re-establish familiar places, like where to get your favourite coffee and where to get your shoes fixed. This is much harder in a country with a completely unfamiliar culture and with language barriers. Although I do move between countries a lot, this still always gets me at the start. When you are tired or sad or a little lost, you tend to look for comfort in familiar places, and it gets a little harder when there are none. However, this feeling tends to be time-limited and disappears once you start discovering the new place step by step.

It helps to not take yourself too seriously and not put too much pressure on yourself. Things will always fall into place and there is no point getting stressed out when it takes a bit longer than expected. Sometimes it will be confusing, sometimes it will be infuriating, but eventually it all works out; and each step would have just been another experience on the journey you are taking. It also helps to regularly overcome your fears. Sometimes that may just be making the effort to leave the house and join a student society meeting to make new friends. Or maybe going for a hike by yourself to see more of the city. Whatever natural boundaries come up, push against them and take small risks. The more you succeed at managing these experiences, the more confident you become – and soon it becomes second nature to challenge yourself. And when you fail, you learn and take from it what you need for future quests. It keeps it fun and interesting, but most of all, it immeasurably enriches your life.

What have been the biggest advantages of studying at HKU for you?
I have learned a lot about the Hong Kong culture and have also been fortunate to come in contact with people from many different countries. An excellent exchange of knowledge and cultures. I gave it my best attempt at learning Cantonese, and have yet to admit to my defeat! And the rest of Asia is just a short plane trip away for wonderful weekends bathing in the sun, exploring temples or trekking through the jungle.

Is there anything unique in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong has the best noodle soup! It also has some pretty fun watersports and hiking trails.

Do you have any recommendations to students, on how to step “outside their comfort zone”? Maybe something that helped you in deciding to go abroad.
Do it before you start over-thinking it. Lots of planning and decision-making builds too much anxiety and most people end up putting things off until they are no longer relevant. Get yourself excited about your destination, but do not look for reasons not to go. Lots of people tend to use Google to assess the worst-case scenarios, but Google will come up with a whole bunch of awful stories – try it for your home town once and you will see what I mean. Assume that everywhere will have a normal level of risk, and look for sensible helpful information rather than scary news.

Determine what you want and then go ahead and do it. Any problems that arise will be manageable when they occur, so there is no need to plan it all into the smallest detail. The unexpected will occur anyway and it is all part of the fun. Always make sure you have two achievable exit strategies if you decide things are not going the way you want them. Put those in place as a back-up and then go out of the comfort zone and enjoy. It gets easier every time, because the reward is just so damn good!

Thank you Esslin, for sharing your inspirational story with us!

Do you want to hear more? Read about Francesca’s PdD straight out of undergrad here:

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions!



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