My Grown-up's Semester Abroad in Hong Kong

Wes enjoys dinner out in Wan Chai. (Wesley Radez)

By Wesley Radez

Event reminder: Eat, Play, Live: Stories from Expats in Asia - Thursday, February 16. Tickets are selling quickly - get yours today!

As a young professional focused on my career, my overseas travel was limited to week-long trips, squeezed into a corporate schedule. I thought that my opportunity to spend an extended amount of time overseas had passed.

In May of last year, my wife and I decided to relocate from New York to San Francisco. With three months until her new job started, I took a deep breath and resigned from my own job so that we could spend that time living abroad in Asia.

The plan was simple: rent an apartment in Hong Kong, study Cantonese at a local language school and travel the region. Ten years after graduating from college, we were going to create our own “study abroad program” as adults.

We wanted to refresh our lives at home by immersing ourselves in a foreign culture. Consequently, we chose to live in Tai Kok Tsui, a Kowloon neighborhood far from the expatriate community in Central, and took intensive Cantonese classes at a small language school in Wan Chai.

It took no time to develop new routines. We had our favorite bakeries, became regulars at nearby cha chaan teng coffee shops and practiced our language skills in the open-air wet markets. We ferried to Hong Kong’s outer islands, went to Cantonese movies and stood in line for bowls of fresh noodles.

On a flight back from Shanghai near the end of our time in Hong Kong, it struck us both that it felt like we were coming home. To have found that feeling thousands of miles from all that was familiar in the United States was a revelation. In that moment, we had accomplished our goal.

The big lesson I learned is that it really is possible to take a break to travel and live overseas. Though it was unsettling to voluntarily accept professional uncertainty, I found that the benefits – new rhythms, a broadened perspective and unforgettable memories – far outweighed the risks.

Wesley Radez is the head of business development for a San Francisco start up called Zaarly. In May 2011, he resigned from his role as business director of Virgin Mobile USA at Sprint Nextel to live and travel in Asia for three months with his wife. In addition to Hong Kong, his time abroad included extensive travel through China and Southeast Asia. Wesley will be attending "Eat, Play, Live" on February 16 and looks forward to sharing more details of his adventures abroad with fellow guests.