By Evelyn Hsieh Wong MTS ’08
How often have you heard, “This [gadget/HBO show/guacamole] will change your life?”
Well, the Inaugural Harvard Asian American Alumni Summit in 2010 actually did just that! It led alumni like Jinhee Ahn Kim ’85 and Amy Chu MBA ’99 to do a complete career 180. Jinhee (co-directing this fall’s Summit with Hye-Won Choi ’85) started Snapette, a mobile app for shoppers to discover new products and sales from top designer brands. Amy is now a full-time comic book writer and publisher, jetting from Comic-Con to Comic-Con across the country. They are where they are today in part because of the conversations, networking, and the “Road Less Traveled: Unconventional Careers” panel at the first Summit.
Here are a few lessons they’ve learned in their switch from “Oh, My Ivy League Cousin Does That Too,” to “You Do What?!”
1) Hearing someone else’s story can inspire your own.
Jinhee had attended the “Road Less Traveled” panel in 2010, hearing from Joanne Chang ’91 (owner of Flour Bakery), Georgia Lee ’98 (film director), Bernard Lee ’92 ALM ’94 (pro poker player) and V.V. (Sugi) Ganeshananthan ’02 (author), who were thriving in their nontraditional careers. Says Jinhee, “I was at a point when I was feeling a bit rudderless and off my confidence. The panel and conference really energized me and gave me motivation—it made me want to go out there and just DO IT.” The next day, she happened to strike up a conversation with fellow Harvard alumna Sarah Paiji ’06, who was also interested in fashion and entrepreneurship. They hit it off, decided to collaborate, worked together out of an apartment in London, and launched Snapette three months later.
2) Your life doesn’t need to fit into a neat box.
Amy never aspired to work in comics. At the time of the Summit, Amy, mother of two, was a freelance biotech consultant. She talked to Georgia Lee, who told her about a real need for strong female storylines and characters in the comics industry. They started brainstorming about starting an imprint that reflected just that. Thus—Alpha Girl was born. “Most people assume I grew up reading Spiderman and couldn’t resist… when actually I have to Wikipedia everything,” says Amy. “Comics was not in the game plan. It was purely by accident and that throws people for a loop. Deep down, I knew I wanted to be a writer but writing comics? Never in 100 million years.”
3) Hanging out with Asians has value. And not just for swapping parental horror stories.
Amy says, “Look at me, I came from Iowa. I grew up feeling like an outsider. I mean, even the idea of having an Asian party was like… wow!” She laughs. “Not to sound like a complete hick but I’m coming from a completely different background all together. And the Summit is important because we understand that we have a community. We should celebrate that. It’s not just about the networking, but about sharing, supporting and learning from one another.”