Learning from a Life Lived Abroad
AN INTROSPECTIVE ON THE IMPACT LIVING ABROAD HAS HAD ON MY PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL LIFE
It is hard to believe that it’s been two years since I left Prophet Chicago for Prophet Hong Kong. If I’m being honest, when Prophet asked if I would move to Hong Kong to help grow our Asia business, I had no idea what my family and I were getting into. But hey, what’s life without a little adventure!?
Two years into life in Asia, I can say without a doubt that this move has been the best professional and personal experience I have ever had. So what have I learned in two years? Way too much to share in this short blog post. But here are three professional things that stand out:
1.Go Local. Asia is different. Very different. Even if the client is Western or the company you’re working with is global, the market you’re working in will be different. Figuring out how to localize what you know for the market is key.
To understand the dynamics of my new country, and the countries I was working in, I read a lot, traveled a lot and asked a lot of questions. But, I also learned a lot through the nature of my job.
At Prophet we often use research, both primary and secondary, to help our clients better understand their customers. It enables us to help our clients make changes to their businesses from a customer-centric point of view. Digging into that research on the markets I was living and working in helped me understand the nuances of consumers in various Asian markets and how consumers needs and attitudes differ across markets.
2. Be flexible. Even the best plan may not work as it has in the past. For example, at Prophet we have a proprietary tool called a ‘PlayStudio.’ PlayStudio is our collaborative approach to creating ideas with our clients. In and of itself, the PlayStudio works just as well in Asia as it does in the West. However, the ways in which we engage clients in Asia to make these sessions successful are a bit different.
For example, we worked with a client last year in Korea with a hierarchical organizational structure which is very common in the country. However, to make the PlayStudio successful we needed participation from all members of the team versus just “the boss”. Good ideas in a PlayStudio can come from anywhere. Therefore, we tailored our approach for the day, shifting from large group ideation to smaller team ideation that then rolled up into broader team discussions at the end of the day. This enabled everyone in the room to contribute to the idea generation.
The key to being successful in Asia is taking the best of what we do at Prophet and be flexible in the ways we execute.
3. Ask questions. When I first got to Asia I didn’t want to appear naïve. Instead of asking questions, I tried to learn by reading and observing. While that’s not a bad strategy, there is no better way to learn than by asking questions.
Our team in Hong Kong team is incredibly diverse. Grabbing a colleague and sitting down for lunch or coffee was the best way to really get to know the local culture and customs in every corner of Asia.
I also talked to clients. Since collaboration is a core pillar of the way Prophet (and I) prefer to work, I spent a lot of time trying to get to know my clients — both personally and professionally. Once I knew more about who they are, where they come from, and what they are passionate about, I was better able to relate to them on a personal and professional level.
Over the past two years Prophet has accomplished a great deal in Asia. We’ve grown our office. We’ve grown our business. We’ve grown our people. But beyond what we’ve accomplished in Asia professionally I’ve learned just as much if not more, personally:
1. Travel, Travel, Travel. I’ve always found that the best way to understand people and cultures are to explore them first hand. Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to most parts of Asia. Immersing myself and my family into local culture has been the best way to understand Asia, its people and its history. We’ve watched the sunrise at Angkor Wat, learned the history of the Terracotta Army in Xian, explored the temples in Chiang Mai, eaten Durian in Malaysia and so much more. Every experience has opened our eyes to something or someone new.
2. Always Say Yes. Whenever someone invites me to do something in Hong Kong — or in a country I am visiting I always say yes. Sure some days I’m tired; I’ve worked late or my baby has kept me up half the night. But when you move abroad forget the word no. Every invitation is an opportunity to try something new or to meet new people. Taking advantage of these opportunities has led me to so many new experiences and to lifelong friends and clients.
3.Take it all in. As we all know, life can be busy. Overwhelmingly busy. My husband I both work full time and we have two kids (one of whom was born here in Hong Kong). There can be moments where it all feels like it is all going by in a blur. But I’ve learned to stop myself. To walk a little slower. To look around a little more. To really take in every moment. Every day there’s something new to see, or something new to learn. Yes, I’d probably be in much better shape if I didn’t take pictures on the runs I go on. But I’ve really learned to live in the moment and take in the details. There’s so much to see in this great big world we live in.
With all of this said, the best piece of advice I can give you from what I’ve learned is this: If you ever have the chance to live and/or work abroad, do it! Even if it’s for a month. Two months. Do it. Take the leap of faith. Forget all the practical reasons not to go. The opportunity may never present itself again, and I can promise you this‒ you won’t look back and regret it.