I’m convinced that the secret sauce for global PR campaigns is collaboration. It stands to the reason that the better folks know each other — even those halfway across the world — the better the collaboration.
That’s why we invest in a program called “Building Bridges,” allowing staff members to travel overseas and work out of another office for two to three months. To give credit where credit is due, Michelle Herman who headed our Asia operation in the early days, came up with the term.
Our most recent Building Bridges participant is Kelly Trom now working in our Hong Kong office. Her post shares a window into her “landing.” She plans to write a second post toward the end of her assignment as well.
By Kelly Trom, Senior Account Executive
新年快樂, or “Happy New Year,” all the way from Hong Kong! After traveling to the other side of the world from our San Jose office for a Building Bridges assignment, I hope that this is just one of the many phrases in Cantonese that I will master along the way.
One word that I was familiar with before I hopped on the plane at SFO — Wanderlust. Defined as a strong desire to travel and explore the world, it’s a term that’s been close to my heart since I had the opportunity to visit France and Spain my junior year of high school.
When I first interviewed at Hoffman, I became enamored with the idea of the Building Bridges program that was mentioned as one of the potential benefits of working for a global agency. The opportunity to work in a different country and learn about how public relations and business were conducted there seemed invaluable to me. In fact, it was one of the many reasons I accepted the job offer.
Now almost three years later, that dream has become a reality for me thanks to Lou, Steve B., Lydia and Caroline’s decision to send one lucky U.S. employee to an APAC office for the first time in over a decade.
I arrived at Hong Kong International Airport on Feb. 13, just in time to experience the full swing of Chinese New Year activities before starting work the next week. I had six glorious days to play tourist and see some of the amazing, beautiful, out-of-the-ordinary sights that Hong Kong has to offer.
Beyond the heavily Americanized, inauthentic fortune cookies, orange chicken and occasional trip to Chinatown in San Francisco, I’ve had little exposure to true Chinese tradition (much less the nuanced culture of Hong Kong). While the first few days could be described as a culture shock, I soon adjusted to the large crowds, smaller spaces and generally more vibrant landscape.
After carefully studying the MTR routes (which woefully outshine those in the limited BART system in the Bay Area), I headed out to do some sightseeing. First stop was the Flower Market in Victoria Park where visitors buy gifts for their households during the final hours of New Year’s Eve.
Next came a trip to Victoria Peak via tram up the steepest funicular railway in the world to take in the Hong Kong skyline.
Then, I braved the crowds at Tsim Sha Tsui to experience the Hong Kong Chinese New Year Parade featuring colorful floats, marching bands, traditional Chinese dancers, international troupes from all over the world, drummers, and, of course, Chinese lions.
I also got the chance to visit the more serene Tian Tan Buddha, affectionately referred to as the Big Buddha, and Chi Lin Nunnery, tucked within the bustling Diamond Hill, Kowloon district.
After my whirlwind six days of sightseeing were over, it was time to meet my Hong Kong colleagues at the Hoffman office in Central. And boy did I choose the right day to start work!
Karuna Tsang, a coworker I had previously met during her Building Bridges stint in the U.S. last year, accompanied me on my first commute to the office (a short 18-minute walk and welcome change to sitting in traffic on 280). We saw an impromptu Chinese Lion Dance along the way, a practice that many businesses partake in to promote prosperity for the New Year.
When we arrived at the office, I witnessed and participated in the exchange of lai see envelopes (red packets that contain good luck money) and general greetings and well wishes for the New Year. Lunch time brought with it another tradition, a Spring Lunch at a Dim Sum restaurant (a far cry from the greasy, uninspired Panda Express) where we feasted on dumplings, spring rolls, steamed pork buns, turnip cakes and more!
Before I boarded the plane to Asia, I was a little nervous despite my strong desire to experience other cultures. How would I work in an office where I couldn’t speak one of the main languages used to communicate? What will my new clients and colleagues’ expectations be in this new fast-paced environment? How would I navigate in a large, foreign city where I know few people?
All of those questions and uncertainties I had about working and living in a foreign country quickly faded, thanks to the warm welcome I received that first day.
According to Wikipedia, my self-diagnosed case of Wanderlust “may reflect an urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges and getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviors.”
I believe this to be true. Living in Hong Kong for three months will certainly be brushing up against the unknown and unfamiliar in ways that I hope will help nurture my growth as a person, PR professional and world citizen.
I’ll check back in at the end of my time in Hong Kong to share some of the lessons I learned and new experiences I had.
In the meantime, wishing you a prosperous, healthy and harmonious Year of the Dog!
Note: Kelly shared more of her Building Bridges experience in a second post. Click here to read on.
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