Just had lunch with a Singaporean friend who works in NY where we talked about 'home'. This reminded me of an essay I wrote about 2 years ago.
To borrow a phrase from Pico Iyer, being a “global soul” matters most to me. In his book, “Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls and the Search for Home”, Iyer describes the global soul as a postmodern wanderer who is searching for a sense of home. To me, a global soul experiences jet lag but not culture shock. He is a postmodern traveller who is neither an expatriate nor a local of the location he inhibits, but yet feels at home and relevant wherever he is. I have chosen a global lifestyle
and I believe being a global soul will allow me to survive and thrive in our new world order where people are in positions to choose their sense of tradition, of loyalty, of religion and of home as never before. Whilst I have been successful in meeting some of the challenges of being a global soul thus far, I believe that an MBA at Stanford GSB will make me better-positioned to explore the wonderful
possibilities of this new borderless world.
My own journey towards becoming a global soul started when I chose to go to university in the United Kingdom (UK) rather than remain in Singapore where I was born and bred. When I first arrived in the UK, I had not anticipated the degree of culture shock I actually experienced. Eventually as I interacted more with my British college mates, I gained a deeper understanding and tolerance for the British culture. I was also able to connect well with my British friends and now count them as some of my best friends. This first experience of adapting to life away from what I had called home for the previous eighteen years, was not always easy or pleasant.
Since then, the decisions I have made about where to live and work, have not been the least uncomplicated or easiest paths I could have chosen as well. I could have returned to Singapore which would have been comfortable but ultimately bland. My social circle would be comprised of the people who attended the same ‘elite’ schools as I did, and who would now mostly have good jobs in the civil service. Many of my peers appear to be on a certain fairly straightforward ‘cookie-cutter’ path which I probably would have followed if I had returned to Singapore – get married by the age
of 28, buy a government-subsidised flat and have three kids. However, this path did not appeal to me after three years living away, encountering new cultures, meeting a diverse range of people and seeing new places. New experiences thrill me and the awareness of the infinite possibilities this world offers keeps me on this global soul path even though it is not the easiest one.
Being a global soul is also important to me due to what I perceive to be the new global reality. We have witnessed the increasingly rapid convergence of cultures and systems in our world especially in recent years. Hit any capital city in the world and you are likely to find the multinational familiarity of global brands such as Starbucks, MacDonald’s and Microsoft. Cultural influences spread across the world unhindered by geographical boundaries. The Internet allows people from all
over the world to communicate and share knowledge like never before. All this has resulted in a new wave in the globalisation of businesses quite unlike the multinational corporations witnessed in the last century. The changes in international business have created new commercial opportunities and risks more rapidly than ever before. Given the growing relevance of international business, I believe that my career will require me to work and live across geographies. Being a global soul will allow me to transition seamlessly from one geographical location to another.
More importantly, my relationships are becoming increasingly globalised as friends and family disperse all around the world. I have not lived in the same continent as my best friends for the past six years, yet we remain very close in spite of the distance. Also, I have seen a large number of friends come and go due to the cosmopolitan nature of London. If home is where the heart is, then my home would be everywhere, or nowhere at all. I sometimes feel very lonely amidst this new
global pattern of relationships, and the ability to create a sense of home for myself anywhere and everywhere becomes all the more imperative as a survival mechanism. To avoid the sense of alienation experienced by the global soul on his fruitless, rootless and restless search for a sense of home, as described by Iyer in his book, I have strived to create my home within myself through my cultural baggage offering familiar comforts of home and living on my set of values.
I have packed my cultural baggage from my past experiences, particularly those from the last six years over which I became an adult. My own customs and practices are fast becoming an amalgamation from various cultures – I celebrate Thanksgiving as well as Chinese New Year. My diet is comprised of foods from multi-ethnic origins – Japanese, Indian, English, Italian, American, Moroccan and Singaporean. In fact, my idea of comfort food is Indian chicken vindaloo rather than any food I ate as a child. It also helps that culture is dynamic and these days cultural influence speeds
around the world with little regard for geography. Global branding has created similar cultural landmarks around the world like MacDonald’s familiar golden arches, albeit commercial but nonetheless strangely comforting sights in foreign cities. The idea of a physical geographical home is increasingly less significant to me as I am able to unpack my cultural luggage if required and relate easily to the local cultural landscape at the same time.
My home is also based upon my own set of values, which I have found to be surprisingly universal. Living in a highly cosmopolitan city such as London has afforded me the opportunity to meet many people from diverse national, professional and cultural backgrounds. In the two and a half years I have lived there, I have lived with a wedding photographer, a corporate banker, a model, a bond trader as well as a business development manager, who are all from different countries.
Through them and their friends, I have gained insights into the national, cultural, professional and educational similarities and differences between people. It was very heartwarming to find that there are certain universal values such as family and love, in spite of our different backgrounds. This has allowed me to connect meaningfully with and feel at home amongst people from all backgrounds.
I believe that as a global soul, I face the challenge in maintaining relevance to my location regardless of my circumstances or physical locations. I believe that an open and receptive attitude is key to maintaining relevance. On the one hand, there are some universal values and there has been increasing convergence of systems in this new global reality. On the other hand, globalism has led to greater focus on establishing individual identities, be it national, cultural or ideological. Being open and receptive allows me to adapt easily and quickly to these different identities. In addition, I have sought to travel as much as possible to develop a greater sensitivity towards local customs and identities. My recent trip to Japan highlighted the importance of this local sensitivity –despite also coming from an Asian background, there were still some cultural nuances which took me some time
Global relevance in relation to careers is also important to global souls. Global souls often have a high degree of career mobility, in terms of job type as well as geography, allowing them to reinvent themselves. This process of renewal is necessary for acquiring the broad commercial skills that allow them to maintain their relevance and transit seamlessly from one business regime to another. The reality I face of working in the 21st century is the requirement to communicate in two or three languages and operate efficiently in several different cultures. In order to climb the corporate ladder, I will need to be able to communicate with colleagues and clients from different cultures, even while sitting in the home office. My own career in investment banking has only given me a wide exposure across industries. I believe though, that my perspective could be further broadened to
acquire greater global relevance. My clients so far have been UK-based companies operating under UK laws, customs and corporate governance regimes. I am also less familiar with the operational aspects of businesses than with the financial aspects.
I believe that an MBA at Stanford GSB will help me achieve global relevance. I will get the opportunity to interact more meaningfully with my fellow students from diverse backgrounds. Through working together with them on curriculum-related work as well as in extra-curricular student organisations, I will gain greater insights into their perspectives as shaped by their individual backgrounds. Furthermore, moving to California will give me the opportunity to experience living in
yet another country. The broader and deeper commercial understanding I will acquire at business school will help me achieve global career relevance and open the doors to more global career opportunities after business school as well.
Being a global soul and feeling at home and relevant wherever I am, is important and even necessary for me to continue exploring the infinite possibilities that the new global reality offers. The global lifestyle I have chosen is admittedly a challenging path, but will ultimately be the most rewarding for me.