By Vylvianne Devajothi, Senior Account Executive
Cross-posted from Ishmael’s Corner

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Eight thousand four hundred seventy-five miles — or 13,639 kilometres, in measurement terms that Singaporeans are more familiar with — that’s the distance between Singapore and San Jose.

But distance doesn’t really matter that much in this day and age. That’s a testament of my Building Bridges stint over the past two and a half months working for the San Jose HQ from small, sunny Singapore —I’ve seen how culture, collaboration and content truly transcend geographical distance.

Talk about reviving the legendary Building Bridges programme, which was last implemented a decade ago, surfaced in the Singapore office midway through 2016. I leaped at the opportunity to be considered — as one who strongly embraces cross-cultural exchanges, I had always had working overseas on my to-do list.

Fast forward to September. After sorting through an array of details (special thanks to Lou, Heather, Cass, Lydia, Shawn, Steve B, Janice and Brenda for dealing with all the nitty-gritties on both the Singapore and U.S. side!), I was the fortunate one from the Asia Pacific (APAC) offices packing up my work desk, handing over my Singapore work duties to my trusty team (huge thanks, you guys!)digging through my summery closet for items that might somehow work for fall/winter fashion and hopping on an 18-hour flight to San Jose.

More Similar than Different, Really

The Hoffman culture and hospitality I was familiar with in APAC was evident before I even cleared the stern US immigration officer at customs. Excited emails welcoming me to the team filled my inbox, a lineup of activities peppered my Outlook calendar — everything from a welcome breakfast and lunch, on-boarding meetings for the accounts that I’d be working on and get-to-know-you coffee sessions with my peers — and I knew that Lou and Heather’s familiar faces would be waiting for me at the airport’s arrival gates.

At first look, the U.S. office came off as much tamer than the highly excitable Singapore office, where silence in the office is pretty much unheard of in a typical workday. Despite this initial difference in office culture, I found similar strains of focus on teamwork, collaboration, passion, openness and the willingness to challenge the norm to achieve outstanding results for our clients embedded in the way things were being done.

Delving deeper into the PR work, I was given full rein to dive straight into media relations despite not having any existing media relationships with U.S. media, and I noticed how refreshing it was to be unconstrained by a tiny media pool, which is one of the biggest gripes any PR consultant in Singapore would have. Oh, the joy of being able to consolidate new technology-related media lists within an existing technology media list and select different, specialized targets for each pitch!

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I also got the opportunity to pitch and secure a full lineup of executive meetings with U.S. media for a Singaporean client at Greenbuild 2016, an annual global green building convention, where the client was exhibiting — and I got to fly out to Los Angeles to staff the meetings throughout the convention.

It was through my teams’ willingness to show me how things were being done around here and through pitching and getting my hands dirty with the day-to-day work that I derived an important takeaway: while good media relationships are definitely a bonus, strong content truly reigns, regardless of country or market. Armed with a strong pitch and a solid follow-up call (never mind my Singaporean accent, which I consciously minimised), I proudly scored my teams a series of stellar hits (with page readerships surpassing any top-tier Singapore media, if I may boast just a little)!

Feasts, Fun and Friends

Beyond the work satisfaction, I especially enjoyed the team lunches we had in the spacious kitchen (the cozy office in land-scarce Singapore is a fraction of the U.S. team’s space — you guys are so lucky!) and celebrating National Pizza Month (I know, say what!), the APAC offices’ 20th anniversary and of course the two famed American traditions (Halloween and Thanksgiving) during my time there.

Hoffman Agency Thanksgiving feast

Very much like how food is revered in Singapore, food was a highlight here with potluck feasts. My life has been changed by Melissa’s sweet potato casserole and Nancy’s cornbread from the Thanksgiving feast! These feasts were accompanied by kitchen conversations at the long table and rather competitive Jeopardy team sessions on Halloween and Thanksgiving that gave me an education about these traditions beyond the televised versions I thought I knew.

Hoffman Agency Singapore meal

In return, I introduced the team to traditional Singaporean kopi and teh tarik (coffee and tea), which to my surprise, were a massive hit with everyone. On my last day at the office, I also had to try my hand at cooking the famed chicken rice synonymous with Singapore — I got some happy campers, so I must have done pretty well!

To finish off, there were way too many highlights of my trip, but coming from a highly collectivistic society like Singapore (where we usually stay with our parents until marriage and are surrounded by long-time friends who very rarely move away for jobs — unlike in the US) the most memorable ones would have to include the littlest of gestures from colleagues who went out of their way to extend hospitality to me — I am so thankful!

My first Californian coastal trip to Half Moon Bay, where Heather very kindly brought me to the first weekend I was out here.
Vyl and Heather in Half Moon Bay

My foodie buddies, Shania and Chieu, who taught me middle school yearbook poses and brought me to try anything from Ethiopian to even Singaporean cuisine in downtown San Jose.

Shania, Vyl and Chieu pose for the camera

And who can forget those after-work team happy hour sessions! 🙂

Hoffman Agency happy hour

The lovely Hoffman family, who always invited me so willingly into your company (which made me miss my family just a wee bit more).

The Hoffman family and Vyl at The Table

Apart from putting names to faces on the HA-All alias, I look forward to bringing back the interactions and experiences I’ve had on this side of the world and my learnings on the work front back to the Singapore and APAC teams. I’m excited for a continuation of the Building Bridges programme — hopefully, it’ll be my and the Singapore office’s turn to play host soon!

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