Can you believe it?! I know I can’t.
It was one year ago today that I landed at Changi Airport, checked into the Aqueen Hotel and dialed Mom and Dad right away. My first memories are driving through Singapore on my way to the hotel and thinking about how much it reminded me of Los Angeles with all the palm trees and condo buildings (could not be more different), and accidentally taking a premium taxi that charged a 15% surcharge at night (such a rookie). Live and learn, baby.
There are so many memories that I’d like to capture in this post, but I know none of you have three hours to spend here, and that some of you are reading this obligatorily because I told you our friendship hinges on it, so I’ve decided to turn this into a list post.
What kind of list post, you ask? A list of how the three more important aspects of my life here in Singy—work, friends and travel—have morphed (mostly from good to better) over the last year.
So, here goes:
I started work on Monday, 5 September after arriving in Singy the Saturday beforehand. After a weekend of bank setup, apartment hunting and government paperwork filing, I was more than ready to get into the swing of things. I arrived and met my new boss, with whom I’d been speaking regularly over the previous few months, as well as several of my colleagues from the strategy and design teams (a mix of lots of different people from lots of different places, very cool). Right away I noticed the office setup was very different: I went from working in a massive office of almost 300 to a small shophouse with just over 20 people. And the vibe felt different right away, too—I was very used to hundreds of 20-40 year-olds (with a 30% bro composition) shouting over loud music overhead, with morning breaks for gossip and evening breaks for drinks. Here, the culture is much more subdued, polished and professional, and truly did take me a bit of time to get used to! I am, by far, the loudest person in the office so I’ve had to learn to speak with an “indoor voice,” much like I was scolded to do throughout my time in the American public school system (let me live!!). I think I’ve also injected a bit of fun into the office culture, too, instating music every day in the office and rallying the troops for midday meditation when the group is feeling stressed. Also, endless slam-dunk jokes, but that goes without saying.
Working with clients in Southeast Asia in a brand context could not be more different than working in the States. I was excited to take this opportunity originally because, until this moment, Southeast Asian companies have suffered from limited global appeal, a “copy cat” mentality (trying to implant Western brands into Southeast Asian markets without regard for cultural nuances), and a historical preference for many Western brands like McDonald’s (I get it). Many companies here have built their brands and businesses only on the basis of being “number one,” without regard for a greater purpose or strategic positioning. But those days are quickly coming to an end (for a plethora of reasons which I won’t get into now because I’M NOT A LESSON BOOK, but include rapid technological advancements and changing customer expectations). It’s hard to scale a business when you have no strategic positioning, so here we are! A new age of tech-driven brands and digitally savvy customers that are completely changing the business landscape here in Southeast Asia. It’s been an incredible experience working here, taking on both an educator and a consultative role for clients (vs. consulting alone for super brand-savvy clients back in the States), and working alongside them to help them define their strategic “white space.” Because of this, I’ve worked on a wide range of clients, from higher education to building materials to sports and entertainment, and even travel and hospitality (I can’t comment on which clients and the kind of work we’ve done for them as many are still in the development phase, but once they’re live, I’ll definitely share!). It was a steep learning curve, as I shifted from the Verbal Identity team in New York to the Strategy team in Singapore, but I’m incredibly happy that I did, because I know I’ll be able to apply what I’m doing in this office to many potential roles moving forward (Mr. Elon Musk, if you are reading this, I am also proficient in Microsoft Office Suite and am highly effective in managing teams).
I still haven’t cracked my dream project of working on a city/country branding project, but I’ve worked on a number of incredibly interesting and diverse assignments that have been both challenging and insightful. I can say for sure that I’ve learned more in my last year at Interbrand than I’ve learned in my career so far. Also, fun fact, for the super traditional Chinese clients, we have a freelance feng shui expert that comes in to review design work before we present to the client. #Asialife.
After having spent six years in NYC, four in Syracuse, and endless years beforehand rarely taking a night off for myself, in favour of birthday parties, happy hours, frat formals, engagement celebrations, and (let’s be honest) parties when there were no reasons to party, the first few weeks in Singapore were a dream come true. I’d been put in touch with a few people but didn’t actually know any, so I was on my own for a few weeks. I revelled the time, practicing yoga, reading, laying by the pool, and exploring (both Singapore and other cities). It was a good way to adjust to my new life.
The social creature that I am, I did want to get out and
drink meet new people, so I got in contact with Lauren Demeo, the daughter of a friend of my Aunt Marian’s. We got some local food at a hawker and had a few drinks catching up, and we really hit it off (and are still friends)! She has a large group of friends here in Singapore because she went to Georgetown and has a Singaporean boyfriend, and she was kind enough to introduce me to her group of friends (name origin unknown). I was starting to form a little crew; meeting people out on the weekends, at my yoga studio, and through friends from the States that had lived or worked here. It was about six weeks in that Lauren and a few other girls and I decided to do brunch at a place that had just opened near our apartments, and a girl named Roisin joined us. Little did I know, in that moment, that she would become one of my closest friends not only in Singapore, but one that I’ll have with me for the rest of my life.
If you thought I was a social butterfly, you haven’t met Roisin (exhibit A: she just moved to GHANA for four months, and before moving to trekking herself to Africa, she reached out to “the people she knows there”). After meeting her, it was like a social sky rocket went off: dinners with friends, birthday parties, a full social calendar. I remember looking around at a pool party, filled with people who I was getting to know well, laughing and drinking and having a blast about a month after meeting Roisin, and thinking, “I finally feel at home here.” Through Roisin, I met some of my closest friends like Fernando (Panamanian), Tolga (Turkish/Australian), Anisha (Indian), Marieke and Delphine (Belgian), and Nick (American). They’ve introduced me to Marwan (Lebanese), Astrid and Charlotte (Belgian), Nicole (American), Natasha (Australian), the list goes on. And because Singapore is such a transient place, there are always new friends moving here (and sadly leaving, too, but focus on the good!), and I’ve met a whole other stem of people just by virtue of living here and belonging to an expat community, like Connor and Sumaya and Rose and Marc and Terri, and—you get it. Don’t worry family, I have friends now.
As those of you who read this blog regularly know, my primary audience is a special woman named Mom, so I would first like to caveat this list by saying that obviously her trip to Asia was by far my favourite in every way, but as any good blogger knows, it’s important to keep readers happy with FRESH and NEW information.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to go with my first trip to Australia. This is because it was my first trip overseas since moving to Singy, and the flight to Perth was quite cheap, so I pulled the trigger. This is not a post on how I discovered the magic of travelling solo—I’ve always enjoyed being on my own and actually need solitude to keep my psyche in balance. But there I was, standing in front of the Indian Ocean in Fremantle, a body of water I had never dreamed of seeing, in a country I had never thought I’d visit. That’s when it really, truly hit me: it was me, myself and I for the next two years in Asia. It wasn’t—and isn’t—up to anyone but me to make this the best experience it can be. I didn’t feel scared, nervous or pressured. I’ve always had a bit of rogue in me, but in that moment it took on a different meaning. It crystallised my dedication to stay open, my eagerness to explore, and my commitment to learn. And that spirit of soaking it in has stayed with me all along.
Cheers to the next year, Singy!