2016 was an amazing year, setting up the foundation of JiHye 2.0.
If 2015 was about me going through my absolute worst and finding my way out of it, 2016 was definitely the year I explored the world further, exposed myself to so many beautiful things and people that life offers and seized it all. That's not to say that 2016 was perfect, it was definitely challenging, but I'm beginning to look at myself and the world in a different light. And there's nothing more I can ask for than that right now. I am bittersweet for this year to end but too curious about what 2017 will bring. I hope 2017 will be the year I learn even more about myself and build up enough confidence to share my life lessons and wisdom with the world. I can't help feel proud of the person I have become and still am becoming.
Winter season is always difficult for me for odd reasons, but somehow this year I feel indifferent. (But still cold).
I bumped into my dream employer in an elevator and embarrassed myself. Here are my learnings.
Making my first social appearance in Amsterdam and still adjusting to this first world city life, I was in no way prepared to bump into Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten. CEO of The Next Web. A man I’ve admired since I got to know of him. At Zoku. While waiting for the elevator up.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?
(Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten is a man of action. A self-proclaimed 'serial entrepreneur' who finds success by just going for it! His free spirit and humor shines through every Tweet or conference he speaks at, and I know the working cultures at his companies are (I applied for a job there once, more on that later) where I'd fit in 💁🏻. Also, did you know, that at one point he was the only person in the Netherlands who could juggle 7 balls successfully? Come on! I want to learn from this man.)
Anyways, what happened? Well, I lost my cool.
My heart skipped a beat realizing that the tall lanky man who just entered the building to wait for the elevator with us was Boris. My adrenaline kicked in and hysteria ensued. My gut called for action. I asked for a hand shake and let him know I was (over)excited to meet him.
Then came the elevator and we went in.
All of us.
I was so hysterical, words don’t suffice. Nevertheless, my once-in-a-lifetime literal elevator pitch went like this:
1. My bewildered friends asked me who Boris was and what he does. In front of Boris.
2. In horror I blurted out what The Next Web (he does other things too!) is. I was so embarrassed and I’m pretty sure I was just blabbing while touching my hair profusely.
3. I blurted out that I applied for a job there and didn’t get it.
4. I even name-bombed two people I know who work with him.
Boris never said a word. Or maybe he did. All I felt was my mouth blab and my heart beat.
Then the elevator opened. He fled the scene to the event.
“Why are you acting like a 15-year-old fangirl who just met Justin Bieber?”
“You’re screwing up that was so embarrassing”
My friends were right. JIHYE! WHO DOES THAT? WHO SAYS THAT?
Homeless in Amsterdam, I slept over at my friend’s place that night. I consulted with her, determined to damage control ASAP. But first- sleep! I had to pitch a strategy to Oxfam the next day.
I opened my LinkedIn in the afternoon after nailing the presentation that following morning and I let out a shriek.
“OH.MY.GOD… IS THIS REAL?”
This was not a drill. Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten requested to connect.
I accepted his request. Then I noticed a message in my inbox.
I was flabbergasted. Obviously I had embarrassed myself. But… was that fine?!
“That’s amazing! It doesn’t matter! You made an impression” said Hélène (Hyper Island producer and organizer of the event the day before), “Ask him out for coffee!”
“Is she serious?” I thought, “I guess I have nothing to lose”
That evening, in typical JiHye fashion, I wrote him an essay ending like this:
So here I am. Boris was one step ahead of me, but this is no longer for damage control. This encounter is greater than me making a fool of myself in front of someone I dream to one day work with. I write this to verify all my learnings and takeaways from the past month at Hyper Island.
After every task, activity, brief, we had to reflect on the experience and give and receive feedback to and from others. I realized this is the key to personal development and self-awareness. Reflection validates my feelings and experiences, then gives everything structure and a place to be digested and accepted. When giving and receiving feedback, the crucial thing is to speak from the “I…”, which taught me that my feelings and opinions are valid and no one can say anything about them. Because they’re MINE.
My whole life, I’ve been judged, neglected, told off for being ‘so weird’ or too myself. Literally. “Be yourself… but not too much”, people tell me. But self-doubt and insecurities, you can walk away now. With reflection and feedback validating my feelings and experiences, I realized that that validates me as a person too. Realizing this empowers me to own who I am, flaws and all. So I am owning my encounter with Boris too. Because yes, it was embarrassing, yes, he might forever remember me as the crasian* in that elevator, but it doesn’t matter. I was being myself, hysteria and all. And if Boris didn’t appreciate that, then too bad!
How do I take all this forward? It’s all in the power of “how”. The first thing Hyper taught me was ‘The Walnut’, a model stressing the importance of acknowledging every individual in a group and their strengths and weaknesses, determining a group culture, and agreeing to constantly reflect and give each other feedback. All before the actual work begins.
Having learnt by doing, I know this model works.
By laying out on the table who you are and get that accepted by your peers, anything is possible. To own that, I plan to start my traineeship that way.
The funny thing? That very same day, I finally got myself a place to live in Amsterdam. I’m moving in tonight. I have never felt so content with and conscious of who I am and my life until this point. I may never know why, but I am thankful for Boris’s message and will always treasure the encounter. I know my move to Amsterdam will bring more life lessons and I am looking forward to all of it. And maybe I’ll bump into Boris again one day!
P.S. Boris! Hope you enjoyed the read. If you ever need a student writer, someone to facilitate a team building session or an experience design thinking workshop for your next year's The Next Web conference, you know how to reach me! (Same for if you ever fancy that coffee chat 😊).
*crasian = crazy Asian
My Hyper Island adventure began on Monday, September 26th, 2016. Today is the following Sunday, and reflecting upon what my first five days at Hyper Island were like this weekend, leaves me almost in tears. Thankfully, they are happy tears. This week, weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I am relieved knowing that my life is now off towards a direction I have longed for so long. As much as this is a celebration for me, it is frightening to know it serves as a huge and long-awaited closure to my past. I will have to spend some time adjusting to my new life by constantly confronting my old one.
The week before Hyper Island commenced their Experience Design programme for the third time as part of B Start Up School Amsterdam (BSSA), I knew I had five days to hustle my way through to be part of it starting the following week. One of the biggest signs ensuring me this was all meant to be, was how somehow, I managed to get interviewed, receive and complete their creative task, and get accepted last minute, all under 24 hours, the Friday before the programme was to start.
A month and a half prior, I had returned back to the Netherlands from a life I had established for myself in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My life in Cambodia proved to me that anything is possible, to trust my struggles and the journey that is life, and that I was much stronger than I gave myself credit for. Although I loved it there and found happiness, something inside me was itching for more. I knew my soul was craving more knowledge and experience that the still developing country of Cambodia could not offer me. An adventure that began as the result of my post-graduation depression, I knew I had to return back to the Netherlands, this time, with a clearer head.
Between returning to the Netherlands and beginning my Hyper journey, I contemplated on whether or not I had made the right decision. Sure, I had missed my family and friends, but not the cold weather, faster-paced lifestyle, or the bunch of first world problems that I forgot existed. I became obsessed with applying for jobs, any job really, desperate for a company to take me in and teach me all they knew. Needless to say, I wasn’t successful. I’d like to believe it was because I was meant to find this path instead, and when I found BSSA all over the job boards and their programmes and government subsidies offered, I knew I was right in trusting my instincts to leave my little happy life in Cambodia behind.
With barely any time to absorb the fact that I was about to journey into the unknown, I found myself in Amsterdam the next Monday, in a room with 24 strangers. The programme began with our first Hyper “check-in”, where we all sat in a circle and introduced ourselves and shared how we were feeling. Although I am extremely open with my thoughts and feelings, and am most of the time quite loud and out there, insecurities and old demons always haunt me when confronted with strangers. Mix an introverted extrovert with a history of dealing with racial discrimination and ignorance, an unconventional cultural upbringing, and you get the awkward Korean-but not Korean, Dutch- but not Dutch girl sitting with you in the circle.
Thankfully, there was no time for questions (typical FAQ include “How do you pronounce your name again?” “Why do you sound American?” “Are you from North or South?” “How long have you lived in the Netherlands?” “Do you speak Dutch?”) and we were occupied with our first activity, drawing portraits of each other together (which was a lot of fun!). The rest of the day, I stayed quite silent avoiding getting asked questions, but that all changed that very afternoon when we were challenged with a rather personal and intimate assignment.
Assignment: Think of 3 moments in your life that have defined who you are today.
‘Oh God’, I thought to myself. ‘Where on earth do I begin?’
My friends have told me for over a decade now that I could write a book (or books!) on all I’ve been through in my life. I was very amused going through my past, connecting dots here and there, opening old wounds and closed doors. I decided to take this chance to put myself out there and basically explain everything my new peers were probably curious about, and more. I wanted to explain myself first before they had the chance to ask questions. The three umbrella moments that I decided to share were when my family was relocated from Korea to the Netherlands because of my father's job and I started attending International School which set in stone my cultural identity crisis, my experience with cyberbullying in my teens and how that shaped me, and my post-graduation depression because without that happening I wouldn't be here, part of Hyper Island, writing this blog post.
We were only given three minutes’ each and I was extremely nervous, and I have no idea what I said during the time that I had (I’m pretty talented at word-vomiting), but a sense of relief came over me after I was done. I knew from that point foward I was just comfortable enough to start sharing myself with my newfound group and that I was welcome to be completely myself with them. It also definitely helped that we had agreed on the kind of culture we would live by the rest of our days at Hyper Island- be fearless!
That was only the first day. Physically exhausted and completely mind boggled, I journeyed two and a half hours back from Amsterdam to my parent’s home completely astonished at how much I had achieved in nine hours alone. The next four days after that were just as intense, deeply engaging, emotionally confronting, and educative. All I have to say now is that I have found a place I feel completely comfortable in (which is extremely rare and valuable for me) to find and embrace my strengths and weaknesses, where I feel special and am celebrated for every step I take forward. I wonder if my peers will ever know or understand how much hopping on the Hyper Island train with them means to me.
I am grateful that Emily and Hélène, leader and producer of Hyper Island Amsterdam, pushed us all to have our own websites. Stuck with too many of my insecurities but a bucket load of thoughts, with their support, I hope to create this website as a safe space to be myself as an individual, build myself professionally, and to prepare for a future in a creative field. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I trust and am certain even after just a week of Hyper Island, that I am going along the right path, wherever that may be.