The Bridge Between the East and West

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My parents immigrated to Canada in the 60s in search for better opportunities for themselves and their families. They were wonderful parents in that they gave me a lot of freedom growing up while instilling fairly traditional Chinese values, language, and culture. I embraced my Chinese-Canadian background, but like most kids from immigrant families, it can lead to a bit of an identity crisis. This feeling is usually most pronounced at school but I would experience this during my career as well.

Working in New York would be a culture shock to me on two levels. In Corporate America, you are expected to be direct and assertive. I struggled with this because first, in Chinese culture, you don’t tend to challenge authority, and second, Canadians tend to be overly polite versus their American counterparts. It was difficult for me to speak up at meetings for fear of appearing wrong or disrespectful. It also didn’t help that on a conference call once, someone stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Hey! You’re Canadian!”. At the time, I really didn’t know that we pronounced “about” differently.

While in Hong Kong, I would experience culture shock in a different way. My colleagues innocently asked me if I only ate sandwiches for lunch because they thought that was what North Americans ate every meal. I pointed out that not only did I grow up eating traditional Chinese dishes but Canada is actually a very multicultural place with cuisines from all over the world. Some of my coworkers would endearingly call me “gwei mui zai” which literally translates into “little white girl” and on occasion, they would jokingly point out how I would mispronounce certain words in Cantonese. None of this was done out of malice but it just further pointed out my otherness.

My perspective started to change further into my various roles at Lenovo. This was a Chinese grown company that acquired IBM’s PC division in 2004 with the aim of expanding internationally. When I joined in 2010, management decided to start investing more in marketing in order to build brand and grow sales. The company would start experiencing some growing pains when teams from both sides of the world started working more closely together. My dual background would come to be quite valuable as I was able to help bridge some gaps in a few main areas:

  • Creative: There were a few campaigns ideas that came from local agencies in Asia that I was sure would come across as insensitive to certain minority groups in North America. Neither the agencies nor the marketing managers leading the project realized the potentially offensive nature of the creative. The reverse was also true when the global team shared concepts or used talent in such a way that would have seemed out of context in some Asian cultures. I would provide feedback to both teams to make the necessary changes. If the campaigns had launched as planned, it would not have portrayed the company in a positive light.

I think many of us will always feel a certain level of otherness, but in fact, it is our unique gifts, backgrounds, and experiences that help bring people together. If you look back, you may have been building bridges without you knowing, and it is for this reason, that you should always be yourself.

Originally published at

The founder of Dreamwriters, a self-publishing platform for young creative writers and artists.

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