“You know when you see a door open, you go through it.” August 9th, 2015, could be considered the date that changed Ashley Gresens life for the better. Imagine waking up on your twenty-first birthday and instead of going out with your friends you are boarding a plane for an eighteen hour flight to Hong Kong, China. Ashley, pictured below, has always been above the rest of the crowd and has always been a little something more than the average teen. She graduated high school a year earlier than her peers, all while doing it online. Then in 2015 she graduated College of Charleston and went on to studying for her masters degree at Lingnan University with a full scholarship which she finished earlier this year.
When asked what made her choose to leave home and go to Hong Kong for school Ashley’s reply was one that many young adults should think about when it comes to their futures. “I went (to China) with the business school and one of the stops was Hong Kong and we stopped by Lingnan…we talked about the program and I really didn’t think twice about it until I went to graduate the next year and I ran across that as an option…and I saw the program, applied for the scholarship, was lucky enough to get it and you know when you see a door open, you go through it.”
The months following her departure were very hectic. She stated that there were issues with flights, her housing situation was changing over and over again but with all of those issues she stayed relatively calm and excited. She found out where she was going to be living only days prior to leaving. She described that week leading up to leaving as an exciting one but also a little sad because she essentially would be leaving everyone she knew and everything she knew. In her words, “I was mostly excited and I was not letting, I was too stubborn to let any other emotion focus so I didn’t want to let anyone know I was nervous.” She started a gofundme page a month prior to leaving to help pay for the things scholarships do not cover and with the help of her family and close friends she had a little over twelve hundred dollars saved.
While she was overseas terror was not only going on in her homeland in various states but in November of 2015 Paris was attacked and then March of 2016 Belgium was also attacked. When asked how she felt being in a foreign county while this was happening she stated that she actually felt safer in Hong Kong hands down. Hong Kong does not have guns like other countries and compared to Charleston she felt as if she did not have to worry the same things as she would back home. Ashley also stated that she felt proud of her city and how Charleston came together after the shooting at AME Emmanuel Church.
Ashley explained that her counter-culture shock was actually worse than her culture shock. She had become used to city skyscrapers and fast moving traffic where as in Charleston everything is much “lower to the ground” as she put it. When reflecting on coming home Ashley said,“I think going in I had a pretty open mind not knowing what was going to happen and what wasn’t, but coming back for some reason I expected everything to have changed or maybe I changed. I don’t know.”
Ashley does have plans on going back to Asia. She has not made any set decisions on what she wants to do with her life like most young woman her age but at the rate she is going it is clear that no matter what she does it will be something of importance.
The above picture is from her universities fall dance, and the picture to the left is a family that she met during her time there and was taken the day before she left. Ashley said “The gentleman in the left is this guy who always called me friend and I called him dad. We had tea every Sunday morning following my usual run….he only spoke Cantonese and we had to find a middle ground with basic mandarin.”