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Lost in Translation: Hong Kong Edition

Moving to a foreign country is a heart-pounding, soul-stirring experience that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone brave enough to take the leap. I should know – I did it as a wide-eyed young teenager, landing in the United States without speaking a word of English. The first year was a baptism by fire, with daily lessons that no language app or summer vacation could ever replicate. Don't even get me started on slangs. Slowly, I learned to navigate American norms, decipher cryptic menus, and pronounce words that sounded like a foreign language to my ears. But let's be real, it was also downright uncomfortable. I was constantly outside my comfort zone, often feeling like a fish out of water.

Fast forward to my recent business trip to Hong Kong, where I found myself reliving those teenage jitters. You might have seen pictures of the Dumplings & Data With Serena on my LinkedIn posts. I didn't share the full story on LinkedIn. This trip was a poignant reminder that even the most seasoned travelers can find themselves lost in translation. One particular moment stood out – a seemingly simple task that turned into a thrilling adventure. I was in a shopping mall, one I thought would be easy to get a cab from, based on my previous experiences. Not this mall. There wasn't a cab line in sight. I muttered to myself, "How is this possible?" As I walked around the exterior of the mall in 90-degree weather, I ran into the mall security and decided to ask for help. While I spoke the language, it was almost a disadvantage. He asked me with a confused look, "Why would you take a cab while you can take the subway?" I eventually made my way across the street to another mall, which had a cab line, but it was super busy. Suddenly, I spotted an empty cab in the middle of the street! The lights were red, and the cars weren't moving. I ran as fast as I could towards this cab and asked the driver if he would take me. Fortunately, he said yes. You see, the place I was going didn't have as much traffic, so many cab drivers are known to decline such rides. Phew, crisis averted. I kept wondering why something as simple as getting a cab felt like an adventure.

Picture of Serena inside a cab in HK during daytime
Selfie inside the cab I finally got!

I was outside my comfort zone, again! Duh. It was a humbling reminder that even the most mundane tasks can become an odyssey in a foreign land. Throughout the week, I also noticed subtle yet significant differences in cultural norms in business settings. From how introductions are made to who pays for lunch, there are a set of clear but unspoken rules locally that are different from what I'm used to in the U.S. and Europe.

But that's the beauty of cultural immersion – it's a crash course in humility, adaptability, and growth. We're forced to confront our biases, to question our assumptions, and to adapt to new norms. It's uncomfortable, yes, but it's also exhilarating. Not everyone may crave this level of discomfort, but I firmly believe that embracing the unknown is the fastest way to learn, grow, and discover our own resilience.

A coffee shop inside a modern glass building in Hong Kong
A cafe inside a financial services building

So, I ask you: when was the last time you intentionally put yourself in an uncomfortable situation? When did you last feel the thrill of being lost in translation? When did you last challenge yourself to navigate unfamiliar streets, both literal and metaphorical?

Dim sum from Dumplings and Data With Serena event in Hong Kong
Dumplings and Data With Serena in HK!

Ps. Do share with your friends and colleagues if this blog is interesting and valuable. I'll be sharing here the new Thought Leadership Accelerator Program soon.

Be well,


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