I’ve been reading Andrew’s blog on costs, and have decided to do a similar blog. However, apart from being highly derivative I thought I would advocate Asia as the best exchange destination.
I, like many, have dreams of living in Europe; a white Christmas, partying in Ibiza, sunbathing in the Greek islands, falling in love in Paris and generally being Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. The ability to travel through 44+ countries is an tempting opportunity. But my heart is in Asia. It offers the same deep cultural experience with an exciting twist – constant challenges and surprises – at a much lower cost (and better weather!!)
Four Reasons Why Asia is Baller.
There’s no doubt about it, Asia is way cheaper as a destination; its both closer and day-to-day expenses are well below those of Europe or America.
To give an idea, I’ve constructed a list of usual costs I’ve experienced in Hong Kong, one of the more expensive cities. Many are much cheaper (Bangkok, Mumbai, Mainland China) while many, like Japan are very expensive.
*In (approximate) Australian dollars.*
Home Cooked Meal – $5.00
Home Cooked Chinese Meal – $2.00
Breakfast at a local diner – $3.00
Lunch/Dinner at a local diner – $6.00
Dinner with few friends and beers – $10.00
Expensive Lunch/Dinner at a western café/restaurant – $30.00-$40.00
Expensive Lunch/Dinner at a Chinese café/restaurant – $20.00-$30.00
All you can eat restaurant – $20.00
McDonalds Burger Meal (the universal cost measure!) – $4.00
Accommodation (whole) semester – $1000.00
Laundry – 0.70c
Two weeks worth of phone credit (assuming you’re moderate user) – $8.00
Basic Tshirt at H&M/Cotton On/ Similar – $10 -$15
Tshirt local designer – less than $20
Branded tshirt – $50-100
Decent guys shoes (branded) – $100.00ish
Paperback Book – $20.00
Going to movies – $10.00
Bottle of water – $1.00
Can of coke – $1.00
Coffee – $3.00
Cake – $7.00
MTR to central – $1.60
MTR (student discount) – 0.80c
Taxi from night out – 15.00 (split between 5 people, $3)
Bus to and from airport – $3.50
Ferry to islands – $3.50
Bottle of Beer at Supermarket – $2.00
Bottle of Beer at 7/11 – $2.50
Bottle of Beer at bar – $10.00
Spirit at bar – $12.00
Entry to the races – $3.00
Entry to average bar/club – Free – $15.00
Entry to top nightclub – $50.00 (not a typo!)
Night at karaoke – $12.00
Entry to all you can drink bar (guys) – $30.00
Entry to all you can drink bar (girls) – Free
Return Flights to Bne – Hong Kong $1000.00
Return flight to nearby Philippines $200-300
Return train to Shanghai – $200.00
5 day trip to Vietnam – $600.00
Weekend in Macau – $200.00
To give perspective, I live in a very wealthy suburb (recent houses went for around AUD$500million which means really expensive shops and supermarkets) and have lived a fairly spendthrift lifestyle at times – but have spent no more than $7000-8000 total (including flights). Other friends have spent closer to $9-10k, and have done a little more travel.
As you can see, it’s so much cheaper to live; but if you want something western, you’ll have to pay for it. I know the local students are probably living on closer to AUD$10-$15.00 a day. I think its fine if you’re feeling homesick or want to relax with something from home to spend a bit more. For example, I love my coffee, like to eat really well and try to be out and about when I’m not at uni. So you might want to budget $20-30ish per day for safety.
The trick is to avoid living like western tourist and to learn to live like a local.
2. The Future
You only have to flick through a Time magazine to conclude that China, India and the ASEAN (South-East-Asia-Nations) are going to be the absolute future of the world. There is not doubt that your ability to navigate Asian customs and business will be a powerful tool for your career success. As is your ability to find common ground, rapport and friendship with someone who won’t share the same values, language and interests as you.
3. The culture
I won’t go over already covered ground, but the ability to explore cultures and experiences that, in some cases have existed continuously for thousands of years is an amazing prospect. You could look at Roman ruins, or you could go to a hindu temple that has been used every day since the fall of the Roman Empire. Fight tourists in the French Rivera or be the only person on a tropical island. Eat pizza in Florence or Ostrich, fish skin and abalone in Shanghai. Give it a go!
ps. Ostrich tastes kind of gamey. More like venison, rather than chicken.
4. The weather
It’s winter in HK. Its 20 degrees outside, not a cloud in the sky.
Risks of Asia
1. Feeling Lost
No doubt that the unfamiliar will frustrate you. Big cities can make you feel lonely and isolated. Big changes in language and processes can leave you wondering what the hell is going on. Food may be unappetizing and badly cooked. Inflexible bureaucracy and hierarchy can make you angry. You’ll find your resilience being stretched. These will be common wherever you go, but if you’re the type of person who doesn’t adapt to ambiguity and change, Asia might not be for you.
A constant onslaught of bad food, smog, crowds of people, bad sleep and sometimes-unsanitary conditions are going to assault your immune system. You’re going to get sick. Really sick. Factor it in. Come to peace with it.
Feel free to ask me more questions, I’d be happy to offer help.
My friend Lorencio has put together a fantastic site which really helped me adapt to Hong Kong and has expanded costings – http://www.newtohongkong.info/
Hope that helps with sharing my feelings and experiences. No doubt, with one chance to go on exchange, you want to make the most of it. So wherever your heart is set; don’t hold back in going for it.