A #hyphenatedAsians POV: Summer of CulturedGen
Tell me about yourself: Where are you from? What is your job?
I was born in Tianjin, China, where I lived for eight years before moving to Singapore, which is where I grew up and lived through high school. For my undergrad, I attended the University of Toronto to pursue a degree in International Relations and Economics; so, my interest in internationalism was there from an early point in my adult life. After graduating and a couple of years working in a boutique capital market advisory firm, I decided to further my studies with a Masters in Social-Organizational Psychology at Columbia University in NYC. I then stayed and worked in New York City for five years, working in consulting doing large organizational transformational projects like mergers and acquisition integrations and expanding to business strategy and development. But working in the corporate world never felt quite right, and towards the end of 2018, I finally took a leap of faith, quit my corporate career, started venturing into the journey of entrepreneurship, and eventually founded CulturedGen.
What was your experience like growing up as a third culture kid—having travelled around and lived in different cities/countries?
It felt awkward in the earlier part of my life. I never had a clear sense of home and belonging. For instance, when I moved from China to Singapore (where I spent most of my formative years), I always felt more Chinese than Singaporean. When I met other Chinese international students in Canada while at the University of Toronto, I felt more like a Singaporean Chinese and less like Chinese nationals. When I went to NYC for my graduate degree and work, I felt I carried a piece of Toronto with me.
Now that I am back in Asia after 11 years in the Western Hemisphere, and having travelled to close to 40 countries, I am more comfortable to say that I cannot be fully defined by one nationality or geography. I’m shaped by every city and country I’ve lived in.
What is CulturedGen?
CulturedGen creates content and live experiences, with a focus on Chinese artistic and cultural heritage. Through digital content and immersive pop-up experiences and by partnering with artists and creatives, we help young Chinese diasporians around the world reconnect with their roots. Furthermore, through our own voices, we promote a better understanding and appreciation for Chinese culture and heritage.
What inspired you to start CulturedGen?
It all started with my growing curiosities in people and culture, along with learning about and being immersed in the cultures of places I visited. However, along the way I realized how little I knew about my own culture and heritage. The more I began to reconnect with my Chinese roots, the more I felt compelled to share with others—especially with my fellow Chinese diasporians and with the world. It’s like finding a treasure and having the inner urge to shout, “Hey! Look what I’ve found!”
What has been the best thing about running CulturedGen?
Finally doing something I believe in and that I’m passionate about! Prior to starting CulturedGen, I followed a rather conventional career path, even though I had the opportunity to explore different industries and roles—from financial services to healthcare, and business development to consulting. But, there was always something missing. I’m happy that I’m finally working towards aligning my personal purpose with my business focus.
Have you come across any challenges or hurdles, and how did you overcome them? (For example, have you ever received any hate messages or comments about your platform?)
I haven’t received any hate massages or comments—maybe because we are still quite small. That said, there are definitely challenges, and many are not unique to CulturedGen. Without external funding, we have to be extremely thoughtful and ruthless about how we spend our money, because of the lack of resources.
What was your aim/goal in creating CulturedGen?
I grew up in an environment that assumes Westernization is modernization, and that implicitly regards our heritage and traditions as inferior to that of the West. Unfortunately, even to this day there is still prejudice and racism towards Chinese people globally. My goal with CulturedGen is two-fold:
To help my fellow Chinese diasporians to reconnect with their roots and to strengthen our collective cultural confidence. It is important to understand and appreciate our own cultural heritage to appreciate that of others. I believe it is difficult to love others without knowing how to love yourself.
To reclaim the narrative of our history, culture, and heritage. We should be the protagonist of our own story, rather than having outsiders tell our story, which I feel happens too often. It is important that we use and assert our own voice and share our perspectives with the world as lived through our own experiences.
You’re currently living in Singapore, but do you see yourself moving to another country soon? Do you have a city/country that you see yourself settling in for a very long time?
It is sometimes difficult to imagine settling in a city for a very long time. I am still excited by the idea of moving to a foreign city and adapting to a new environment. I would love to be able to split my time across different cities across different continents. Maybe that dream will come true someday.
What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to expand your platform?
We live in a world of uncertainty. I never thought with all the plans we had going into 2020, we would have to fundamentally change our business model from 100% offline to 50-50. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to make an impact without compromising on my initial goal. So, it could be expanding in reach or it could be deepening the interaction between us and our audience.