experience life on assignment
Senior Global Mobility Counselor Anna Kostial is on assignment with Plus through January 2019 in our Hong Kong office. In this video, Anna talks about why she wanted to go on the assignment and discusses her expectations for the experience. Over the course of her assignment, Anna will be providing updates from Hong Kong, giving you the opportunity to see what life is like for an expat. Check back for more from Anna on Assignment!
new city, new year, new experiences
2 January 2019
I spent the last week of 2018 showing my husband the place I’ve called home for the past three-plus months — and it was quite the week!
It’s always fun getting to show off your favorite restaurants and neighborhoods when people come to visit. It’s something I learned years ago when we first lived in South Korea. Our family and friends who traveled around the world to say “hi” and get a taste of our life always left us feeling happy, full and exhausted. And this time was no different!
John and I spent the holidays being tourists, and it was great having my travel partner here to experience the great city that is Hong Kong. We went to see the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island and ate more dim sum than I’d care to admit. We also went to parts of the city where I hadn’t been before and had such a great time exploring.
As we sat with our drinks, looking out across Victoria Harbor waiting for it to be 2019, John and I couldn’t help but talk about what an incredible experience this assignment has been — how much we have both grown and the silver lining that comes with being apart.
We’ve talked before about what being apart would be like and the challenges we’d face. I’ve been living here, exploring the city on my own, for the past few months. I’ve gained a new kind of independence, one that comes from traveling alone. And John has been holding down the fort, taking care of everything back home (and our two dogs — woof!).
It’s incredible to think that another year has come and gone, and while I am excited to get back home soon, I know that both of us will be taking full advantage of the next month. I will be eating as much dim sum and noodles as I can — and John will be savoring his last few weeks of having the house exactly how he likes it!
jingle bells on the brain
18 December 2018
It’s been a while since I last wrote about reaching the halfway point of my assignment, as things have been busy over here. I am trying to spend as much time as I can exploring and preparing for my husband to visit next week. There are so many things I want him to experience while he is in town!
I now have about a month left before I return home and, like back home, Hong Kong is definitely right in the middle of the holiday season.
Growing up in Minnesota, a typical holiday season is filled with cold weather, warm jackets and snow. Even in South Korea, I experienced chilly temperatures and snow flurries. But here, a light jacket is all I need and there isn’t any snow in sight — I never realized how much I relied on freezing temperatures to put me in the holiday spirit!
Of course, there are other ways to prepare, and I have to admit, I’ve already tried a couple of Starbucks’ signature holiday drinks. The team has also decorated the office and we even have a tree! Next up is Secret Santa and a festive team lunch. Needless to say, this holiday season will be one I will always remember.
28 November 2018
I am halfway through my assignment and the questions I get asked most are, “Have you settled into life in Hong Kong?” and, “Are you homesick yet?” Both are good questions, and I find myself asking the former quite often when connecting with my relocating employees.
Adjusting to life in a new city of course has its challenges, but it is also filled with so many exciting firsts. With that said, being on the receiving end is a bit different — as a Global Mobility Counselor, I’ve gotten so used to helping others deal with their “firsts” when relocating.
Life on assignment is great. Living in Hong Kong has been filled with so many different experiences and I am learning new things about my job and this city every day. I quickly set a routine and still spend much of my free time exploring the city I get to call home for the next two months. Because of all of this, it’s easy for me to answer, “100% yes” when people ask if I’m settling in.
It’s a bit more challenging to answer if I am homesick yet. Of course, I miss my family, my friends, my dogs…the list could go on forever. Last week was Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, and it was hard not being home. But so many people sent me photos of their Thanksgiving celebrations (and the food!) that it was almost like I was there. Not to mention, a teammate invited me to dinner to celebrate the holiday. Perhaps it will be a new tradition — Thanksgiving animal dim sum!
All in all, these past two months have been amazing, and I can’t wait for the next two!
home is never that far away
19 November 2018
When I was in elementary school, I had a couple of pen pals from around the world. We’d write each other letters from time to time, and I loved getting something in the mail every month or two. Of course, this was before emailing became the go-to form of communication and there was no such thing as a video call on your smartphone.
Now, I can talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time. It’s hard to imagine a time when instant communication wasn’t possible.
Even when I think back to eight years ago, when I first lived in South Korea, I still needed a computer and a strong internet connection if I wanted to have a video call with someone. Today, I can walk down the street in Hong Kong and video chat with my family back in Minnesota without thinking twice.
Staying in contact with family and friends these past two months has been really important and so easy! However, I keep reminding myself to stay present and in the moment — my assignment is going by so quickly and I don’t want to miss a thing.
PS – Despite all the instant communication modes available today, I still do like to write! I’ve made sending post cards to friends and family back home a tradition of mine. Sometimes, it’s nice to receive something other than an email or instant message!
14 November 2018
Plus opened our Hong Kong office on February 14, 2013. Over the years, the team has changed but some things — like our culture and the connections Plusites have made — have stayed the same.
This past week, another Minneapolis-based Plusite, Senior Director of Client Services Shane Tart, stopped by on his way home from a whirlwind vacation. He was one of the original team members who helped open the office in Hong Kong. He has stayed in touch with everyone here and it was amazing for all of us, including former Plusites, to get together and spend some time catching up.
Getting to know my teammates has been one of the best parts of my time in Hong Kong — it has made the past two months fly by!
what to expect as an expat
2 November 2018
One of the things I’ve learned from being a Global Mobility Counselor and an expat is how important expectations are. While it’s not the most exciting part of my day-to-day, it is one of the most critical parts.
Making sure people are prepared, both mentally and emotionally, for what’s to come can make all the difference. Not being prepared can cause stress and frustration that can easily be avoided. Now, this isn’t to say that there won’t be hiccups along the way, but being ready for the unknown will make the process smoother.
I try to prepare myself as much as possible before I travel to a new place. What are the cultural norms? What should I do? What shouldn’t I do? Taking all of this into account is very important, but at the same time, acknowledging that challenges will present themselves no matter how prepared you are is key.
Going into any situation with an open mind changes how situations are interpreted and how we interact with our new surroundings. I try to keep this in mind whenever I am doing something new. Trying to fit a new experience into a box I’ve already created in my mind rarely works — and it’s an easy way to be disappointed.
I’ve had many new experiences over the past few weeks — working with a new team, living in a new city, eating new foods and more. Each one reminds me to keep an open mind.
are you afraid of ghosts?
31 October 2018
For me, Halloween as a kid was always an exciting time. Of course, deciding what I wanted to be each year could be a bit stressful — did I want to be something scary or a character from my favorite movie? But no matter what, the night was filled with ghosts and a stomach full of candy.
While there are still many people who dress up in costumes on October 31 here, the ghosts have already come and gone.
The Ghost Festival is celebrated in Hong Kong during the seventh month of the lunar calendar. On the 15th day of the month, it is believed that ghosts and spirits return from the underworld to visit the living. People burn paper money (joss paper) and papier-mache versions of different worldly goods, like clothes, gold and even electronics, for the visiting spirits so they will have these things in the afterlife.
Even though the Ghost Festival is over, the team here still had some fun getting into the Halloween spirit!
the taste of adventure
24 October 2018
I’ll try any kind of food at least once — from eyeballs to living octopus, I’m game. It’s a rule I’ve had since I started traveling and, to be honest, I am usually pleasantly surprised after my first bite. Food is a great way to get a taste of the local culture.
This past weekend, I was presented with the opportunity to experience a few more “firsts” and I was not disappointed.
The meal started with some snake — water python to be exact. Cut into small pieces and seasoned nicely, it reminded me of chicken but with a lot more bones. It was a little tricky to eat with chopsticks, but it was quite tasty and I would order it again.
Next was a cup of “Power Soup,” which is made with lizard, silk worm, deer embryo and sea horse, all stewed in a dark broth. The restaurant said that the soup would nourish my blood and I was encouraged to drink all of the broth. It wasn’t my favorite dish, but each element was a little different and all were brand new. Needless to say, I was able to cross a few more “firsts” off my list.
You don’t have to go too far outside of your comfort zone, but pushing yourself to take a chance makes for a great memory and who knows — it may become your new favorite food!
just start walking
22 October 2018
Trying to decide the best way to see a city really depends on how easy it is to get around. Some places are hard to navigate because of geography, lack of infrastructure, minimal signage — you name it. But here in Hong Kong, you can get most places by foot. It might take you a while, but if you have the time, you can really explore.
I’ve been spending quite a bit of my free time just walking around. My senses are constantly being bombarded with the sights, smells and sounds of this booming metropolis, giving me a glimpse into what life is like in one of the world’s most densely populated cities.
One moment I am surrounded by luxury stores and the next I am walking down a small street that’s filled with tiny restaurant stalls and people selling trinkets they’ve made, all the while being towered over by huge apartment buildings. It’s incredible to see how millions of people coexist in such a small space.
Before arriving, I had read about the city and its people to help me adjust and prepare. It was incredibly helpful and removed much of the unknown, but reading about a place and its people isn’t the same as getting firsthand experience. If you’re some place new and really want to see what life is like, I’d challenge you to just start walking.
15 October 2018
Relying solely on public transportation to get to and from work in Minneapolis can be tricky but here in Hong Kong, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) makes my daily commute quick and easy, not to mention affordable. Door to door, it takes me approximately 15 minutes. I leave my apartment and walk two blocks to the nearest station. I hop on the MTR and in less than 10 minutes, I’m at work and have only spent a few Hong Kong dollars.
Given how convenient and affordable it is, it’s not surprising that the MTR makes nearly 6 million trips every weekday. Each line and every stop are mapped out for commuters and travelers in both Chinese and English, so it’s easy to navigate, which has made exploring this amazing city very easy.
Here in Hong Kong, you can buy a single journey ticket or invest in an Octopus card. I opted for the latter since it can be used for more than the MTR and is easily rechargeable. All you have to do is stop at an add-value machine and insert your money. Your card is instantly recharged and ready to use.
I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that my Octopus card is accepted at grocery stores, gas stations and even McDonald’s!
There are of course other ways to get around in the city outside of the MTR. You can take a bus, a tram, a taxi or a ferry to get almost anywhere. So far, I’ve been able to use my Octopus card for all but a taxi, so I would strongly recommend that anyone traveling here invest in their own card — it’s definitely worth it!
holiday in Hong Kong
11 October 2018
Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in different countries all across Asia. I was lucky enough to experience this holiday in South Korea and again shortly after my arrival here in Hong Kong. It was a great introduction to the local culture and some of the city’s traditions, like the giving of mooncakes to family and friends.
Mooncakes are typically round pastries filled with red bean or lotus seed paste. One of my team members gave me a mooncake for the holiday and recommended I cut it into small wedges before eating since the cake itself is quite dense and filling. Taking her advice, I sliced up my mooncake and packed a few wedges to bring to the Lantern Festival in Victoria Park.
Victoria Park isn’t the only place to see lanterns during Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong, as different neighborhoods have their own lantern displays, but the display in Victoria Park may be the largest. Lanterns filled the sky and there were beautiful displays everywhere.
I was immediately surrounded by hundreds of other festival-goers, some of whom carried their own lanterns. It was wonderful to see all of the different kinds of people who had showed up to take part in this shared celebration.
a new work family
10 October 2018
Meeting my new team was great. They’ve been nothing but welcoming and helpful since I arrived. I’ve worked with a couple of them in my time at Plus and met many of them when they’ve visited the Minneapolis office, but this is different — I am officially part of the Hong Kong team and I love it.
Although we are all part of the same department and team, I knew that not everything would be the same. Especially when it comes to working styles and cultural norms. I learned this when I lived in South Korea and found that the best way to minimize culture shock (for everyone) was to do some research beforehand. Every culture is different and recognizing this before you make your move can make all the difference.
I know that it will take a little time get up to speed in my new work environment, but I am excited and ready for this next chapter.
Related content: Understanding cultural differences
8 October 2018
I arrived in Hong Kong without any issue. Typhoon Mangkhut had just passed through and, thankfully, my flights weren’t cancelled. The city was almost back to normal by the time I landed.
I picked up my suitcase at baggage claim, bought my train ticket and started to make my way to my assignment housing. I took a taxi from Central station to the apartment and luckily a teammate had written out the address in Cantonese so I could show my taxi driver where exactly to go since I do not speak Cantonese. I am not sure how I would have communicated where to go without it. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone moving to a place where they don’t speak the local language, since getting lost after a long journey isn’t fun.
After checking in, I quickly connected to the Wi-Fi so I could tell my family I had arrived safely. Then, I splashed some cold water on my face and made my way to the grocery store I had seen down the street. I was hungry and wanted to stay awake for as long as possible.
I was pleasantly surprised when I recognized some of the snacks we used to eat in South Korea. I started eating puffed shrimp chips in Daejeon (year two in South Korea) and there they were in the snack aisle, right next to the choco pies!
With some food in my belly and a place to sleep, I had finally arrived in Hong Kong.
life on the go
4 October 2018
I’ve always loved exploring new cultures, so living abroad seemed like the obvious next step after I graduated college. My now husband and I packed up a couple of suitcases and moved to South Korea, where we taught English for a year. After that, we spent several months traveling the world together. By the time we made our way back to the U.S., we had already decided that we wanted to go back.
Our time living in South Korea was amazing. We learned so much about ourselves and what it’s like to be an expat. Of course, there were challenging times — like when we missed our bus stop and wound up in the countryside, unsure of how to get back to the city we had just moved to one week earlier. But we made it!
After our second year living abroad, we came back to Minnesota. John wanted to go back to school. He realized he loved teaching and was ready to start that new adventure. I, on the other hand, wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. What I did know was that I loved living abroad and that there must be people out there who specialized in making that process easier. Being a Global Mobility Counselor has been a pretty natural fit.
Getting ready for this move was a bit different from the last few times. John and I are married now, and we have a house and two dogs. We’ve established roots and don’t live out of a couple of suitcases anymore.
Life is more complicated and there was a lot more to consider. But neither one of us blinked when Plus offered me this amazing opportunity. In fact, the first thing John said when I told him was, “Christmas in Hong Kong? When should I buy my ticket?” We both knew there would be challenges while I was away (did I mention that we picked up our new puppy less than a week after I accepted the assignment?) but how could I not accept? Four months would go by fast and we’d have the support of our family and friends.
So here I am — it’s four-and-a-half years later and I am moving back to Asia to live as an expat. Only this time, I have my past experiences and all of the knowledge I’ve gained working as a Global Mobility Counselor to help me prepare (i.e. SAVE YOUR RECEIPTS!). But one thing is the same: I am living out of a suitcase again.