Students from Hong Kong and Indonesia share their experiences of visiting a gay pub and attending life-changing classes in Brighton, through which they embark on a journey of self-growth outside their comfort zones and prompt explorations on self-identities. Meanwhile, a Greek student embraces life to the fullest despite the cold weather that triggers his painful allergies.

An Introvert’s Gay Pub Encounter

October marked the beginning of the Brighton adventure of a shy and quiet Hong Kong girl, So Tung, who decided to venture beyond her comfort zone and visit a gay pub, where she started conversations with two senior men and won her first pub quiz.

The third-year Media student made the courageous decision with her friend to explore the local community, which turned out to be highly rewarding and became her favourite experience in the city. 

“I want to engage in activities that the locals do and gain an understanding of how they live their lives. My goal is to enjoy the local culture here. This is an experience that I cannot replicate in Hong Kong,” So says.

With a mix of nervousness and excitement, So and her friend visited one of Brighton’s traditional gay bars, adorned with over 160 years of history. They found themselves the only young girls amidst a group of senior men, including a filmmaker and a professor. Smiles were exchanged, and conversation soon flowed, primarily centred around Brighton’s history, culture, and the intriguing concept of “naughtiness” that the professor attributed to the city’s non-mainstream sex, dressing, lifestyle, and art.

“It is a rare and precious experience to engage in profound conversations with local seniors, rather than just interacting with tourists or exchange students,” So says.

The group teamed up in a pub quiz and named themselves the “East-meets-West” group. Questions ranged from the country famous for its windmills to the currency used in Japan. So found it interesting to complete the quiz with the two worldly men, who contributed answers to more than half of the questions, and together they scribbled down the answers with giggles. To their surprise, the team emerged as the victors, securing £12 and two shots as their prize, which the girls wholeheartedly offered to the men for gratitude.

Brighton’s environment fosters friendliness and openness among its people

The friendly attitude of the two men encouraged So to reflect on the factors that foster a strong bond between individuals in Brighton. “It is due to the willingness to communicate and the environment. Brighton’s environment fosters friendliness and openness among its people, and vice versa.”

“I feel lost both in Hong Kong and in the present, but now I am willing to travel to more places and explore, despite being an introverted person who easily tires mentally. I recognise the importance of pushing beyond my comfort zone,” So adds.

A Search for Self-identity

“I am Fakhri. I come from Indonesia and study international relations and development. I am the chairman for Indonesian Youth Summit to promote sustainable development goals. I am also one of the 15 awardees of Indonesian International Student Mobility Awards,” — This is how exchange student Fakhri introduced himself to everyone he met during Freshers’ Week before the start of classes. He is confident, ambitious, with a perpetually busy schedule.

But Sussex appears to challenge his views on his own identity. Fakhri’s initial encounter with Brighton – a city with relaxed, unhurried pace and vibrant atmosphere, accompanied by a sprawling sea that left him astounded – stood in stark contrast to his hometown of Jakarta, where bustling crowds and constant stress are the norm.

The courses in development studies here provide him with a broader range of perspectives, free from any dominant ethnic influence. This is in contrast to his previous experiences in Indonesia, where lectures were often presented from a Western-centric viewpoint, lecturers held an authoritative position, and stereotypes were imposed on sports students depicting them as academically less capable.

Here, we are presented with the opportunity to redefine ourselves

“There is no strong distinction between right and wrong here. I feel a sense of freedom where every question remains open-ended,” Fakhri says.

“Here, we are presented with the opportunity to redefine ourselves and start a new chapter of our lives. But at the same time, I find myself anxious about whether I am truly the person I want to become,” he says. 

Who am I? How should I introduce myself? What are my values? Fakhri begins to question the norms of the past and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. The traditional Asian style of self-introduction, which emphasises achievements, no longer resonates with him. 

“I want to quit that (Asian) life,” Fakhri says. Breaking free from the stigma of showing off achievements, which had been deemed the ultimate measure of success, became his priority. 

“When introducing myself, I focus on sharing my personality and hobbies. I seek connections with others based on shared interests and genuine appreciation for each other’s personalities. We are all humans trying to connect with other humans,” he says. “I feel more connected to my humanity now,” he says, allowing him to build better friendships.

“Hi, I am Fakhri, you can also call me Nasa. I come from Indonesia. I love photography, movies, walking to the park, listening to music and reading.”

Finding Enjoyment Amidst Illness

Chilly UK weather is not friendly to Greek student Eleftherios Cholidis, who suffers from severe coughing due to his allergic rhinitis. Nevertheless, he greatly enjoys his life in Brighton. 

Studying a master’s degree in Strategic Innovation is a long-awaited opportunity after three years of dealing with the COVID pandemic, despite his sickness.

“I am so happy to be here,” Eleftherios says. He worked for the management team of a factory in Greece and Asia years ago, but the three-year pandemic has deprived him of chances to socialise and get to know new people and cultures. This resulted in him gaining more than 10 kilograms due to the stressful indoor working environment. The decision to pursue a master’s degree in Sussex has brought him rewarding lectures with his favourite professors and the opportunity to connect with over 100 new people.

The relentless cold weather in the UK has been triggering Eleftherios’ severe allergy since mid-October, leaving him without any of his personal medication after six weeks of use. “My allergy strikes every year, but here in the UK, it is three times more intense and painful,” Eleftherios says. Initially, the medical centre at the University failed to provide him with suitable medication.

Despite his illness, Eleftherios embarked on a trip to London with his newfound friends from Taiwan and Thailand, with whom he shares a strong bond. They spent a delightful day exploring the vibrant streets, enjoying cuisines, and visiting a museum. This experience becomes one of Eleftherios’ cherished memories in the UK, even though his allergy caused his normally talkative self to lose his voice.

My allergy strikes every year, but here in the UK, it is three times more intense and painful

“I enjoy the relationship with my friend who really knows me as a person and enjoys the time with me, and there is trust between us, which makes up the real enjoyment,” he says.

After writing to the medical centre to express his dissatisfaction with the medical progress, Eleftherios finally received appropriate medication and recovered from his illness. 

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