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A tale of two Lucys.


Going off to work on another continent requires some adjustments...and so does returning home.

The world may be shrinking, but it's still big enough to make moves between Asia and the United States times of intense transition, as communicators Lucy Siegel and Lucy Hobgood-Brown discovered.

In 1988, Siegel returned to New York City from Tokyo, Japan where she had worked for two years as manager of international affairs for Cosmo Public Relations Corp. Hobgood-Brown moved to San Francisco in 1987, after having served as public relations and advertising director for the Great Wall Hotel in Beijing, China for four years. Both similarities and differences between the experiences of the two Lucys should prove instructive to communicators in this era of globalization.

The two communicators found work in Asia by distinctly different paths. Siegel moved to Tokyo in 1986 without having a job there. "It was my husband's job that brought us to Tokyo," she explains. "When he was offered an assignment there by his company, I was just as eager as he was to go, since I felt that the experience would be immensely educational for our whole family. I gave up a very good corporate communication position at Equitable Life Assurance Society in New York to move to Japan."

At first, says Siegel, she enjoyed not working while in Japan. "The first few weeks in Tokyo felt like an extended vacation," she says. "I was charmed by the politeness of the Japanese, impressed with the cleanliness and the efficiency of the city, excited by the daily discoveries. But after a month or so, you begin to take the politeness and the cleanliness for granted. Meanwhile, living in a place where you can't read the signs, or tell what's on the grocery store shelves, or communicate easily with people ceases to be exciting and begins to be stressful. During this period of adjustment, I missed being a part of the business world. I suddenly felt that I was in a strange and stressful place on the opposite side of the world from home, and I had no network of friends and colleagues to fall back on for support.

"I got over this feeling quickly after I began working at Cosmo and started to build my Tokyo network, through friendships I made within Cosmo and through business contacts and professional organizations such as Foreign Executive Women." CHINA OPPORTUNITY BECKONS On the other hand, when Hobgood-Brown moved to Beijing, China in 1983 with a job already in hand, her husband did not have work lined up there.

Two years earlier, as public relations director for the Hyatt Regency in Dallas, Texas, she had led a hotel tour for representatives of a Chinese company which was teamed up with a US company to build the first Chinese first-class luxury hotel. She recalls that her visitors were as impressed with the previously unknown concept of public relations as they were with the beauty of her hotel. She says she thought, "That's interesting," and then forgot all about it until a year later when she was contacted by members of the joint venture project who invited her to become the one public relations professional on the team of 14 expatriate hotel managers they were forming.

"It was the professional opportunity of a lifetime: as a hotelier and as a public relations person," she says.

Both Lucys say that many standards of good communication apply as well in Asia as they do in the United States.

"I learned to trust my gut feelings about what would work and what wouldn't, and what was and wasn't newsworthy, based upon my years of experience in the US," says Siegel. "More often than not, the similarities in how PR is done in the two countries were more striking than the differences. The strategies and the goals of PR are the same."

Among the skills and talents which apply equally in China and the US, Hobgood-Brown includes: "attention to detail, negotiating skills, patience, adaptability, open-mindedness and willingness to learn."

Perhaps the similarities between the work the Lucys did in Asia and the work they did in the United States can be attributed to the fact that, in Asia, neither worked for companies that appealed strictly to local markets.

About 40 percent of Cosmo Tokyo's clients are non-Japanese, according to Siegel. "I originally was hired to help provide service to foreign clients and to develop certain English language communication materials," she says. "After a few months, I became manager of international affairs, responsible for new client development with non-Japanese companies. Although it is a Japanese company, it was formed in 1960 by a Japanese man who had become an American citizen and wanted to help Japanese companies meet their communication needs in the US."

Likewise, the Great Wall Hotel, where Hobgood-Brown worked, appealed to an international market, as reflected by the management team in which she worked with natives of France, Switzerland and other nations. She describes the hotel's market as "business travelers who could afford western prices...the kind you would pay in Tokyo, Paris or San Francisco."

But, each Lucy also had to work with local markets as well, and in the process they learned some of the differences between how East and West do business.

"I found out that there were cultural differences in the way you have to carry out particular strategies," says Siegel. "For example, the protocol in dealing with the press is different--you can't just mail out a press release to editors and reporters in Japan; it must be delivered through the proper press club channels. The way the press release is written, and some of the information that reporters want to see in it, are different from the press release on the same subject that would be sent to American correspondents in Tokyo."

Siegel credits the staff at Cosmo with helping clue her in to the correct approaches to take when dealing with Japanese contacts.

"The staff tried from the beginning to make me feel comfortable," she says. "They helped me immeasurably by telling me about differences in attitudes and culture that I had to understand in order to avoid making some bad blunders."

Hobgood-Brown's challenge was not so much to fit into an established order of business as it was to introduce new ways of doing things.

"I had the job of introducing public relations to the Chinese media," she says. When she sent her first press release to the Chinese media, some recipients responded with cash payments. She sent these back, explaining that the press release was free-of-charge. "I also had to introduce them to the idea of feature stories," she says.

Not only did Hobgood-Brown need to introduce outside contacts to western ways, she had to do so for employees in her own company too. She was the only native-English speaking person there. "There were 1,700 employees all practicing English on me," she says. As "a role model for western fashion," she had to show workers "which high heels they were supposed to be wearing," how to wear pantyhose, and which five hairstyles they were allowed to wear. THE RETURN HOME What led each Lucy to return to the United States? Siegel says, "My husband and I decided that we didn't want to become `professional expats'--the kind of people we met in Japan who were more comfortable living outside the US than within it. New career opportunities also beckoned as a result of our experience in Tokyo--such as my position as managing director of Cosmo Public Relations Corporation, USA."

For Hobgood-Brown, the decision to return home hinged partly upon her desire to see her family again. Also, her husband had to return to the United States to get on the partner track with the San Francisco-based law firm which had employed him to work in China.

"I had done what I came to do," says Hobgood-Brown. In fact, she quit work at the Great Wall Hotel six months before her return stateside. During that time, she traveled, lecturing on public relations under the auspices of China's National Tourism Administration. She also did consulting work, helping introduce Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to Chinese national television. Her return home to the United States was in 1987.

Moving half-way around the world requires some adjustments, whether you're coming or going. Upon their return, both Lucys discovered that home had some surprises up its sleeve.

"I became used to doing certain everyday things the Japanese way," says Siegel. "For example, in Japan, the cashier in the grocery store takes the groceries out of your basket for you. When I came back, I waited for the cashier to perform this service, and instead got glared at for holding up the line!

"In Japan, taxi drivers have a device to open and close the passenger door. When we first lived there, I was almost knocked over by the door slamming into me as I reached to open it myself. Back in New York, I found myself standing on the street expecting the door to open for me--and hearing some vivid language from cabbies who wondered why I wasn't getting into the taxi.

"Cars drive on the left in Japan. The first time I drove a car in the US, I automatically pulled out into the left-hand side of the street. When I got to a major intersection and met a car head on coming from the opposite direction, I thought, `That woman's nuts! She's in the wrong lane!'"

Other, more serious readjustments awaited Siegel too. "I think that my experience in Japan has changed me in some ways, and yet my old friends don't expect me to be any different. People always ask me, `What was it like living in Japan? Did you like it?' If I attempt a serious answer, their eyes glaze over. People who haven't been through a similar experience can't really understand the effects it's had on me."

Hobgood-Brown describes undergoing "awful culture shock" upon returning to the US. "Everybody knew how to use computers and desktop publishing, except me," she says. "I even have problems with my telephone credit card."

Both Lucys say they would consider another foreign assignment, but not without some reservations.

"My current responsibilities will keep me here for the foreseeable future," says Siegel. "But who knows what the future will bring?"

"I would welcome another foreign assignment," says Hobgood-Brown. "There's still always an itch that needs to be scratched. I'm very fortunate to work at Pier 39 (a popular tourist attraction in San Francisco), where there are lots of international tourists. When I feel homesick (for China), I go outside and listen to Japanese tourists on one side and Swedes on the other."

But Hobgood-Brown says that she may not be able to work overseas again until both she and her husband retire. The further they advance in their careers, she points out, the more difficult it is to uproot themselves. Also, she says, there can be disadvantages to working overseas. In China, she says, she was not just technologically isolated. "From the professional development point of view, you can lose out," she says. "There were no professional organizations, no workshops, nobody to brainstorm with but myself."

Despite the lack of immediate plans to repeat their experiences, both Lucys credit their work in Asia with contributing a great deal to their personal and professional development.

"We learned to look at things from the Japanese viewpoint, as well as from the perspective of the expatriates we met from all parts of the world," says Siegel. "Mixing with such a diverse group of people...equipped me to see my own country's strengths and weaknesses more objectively than before.

"I also learned something about myself. I found out that I can be pretty resourceful when I have to be, because I was able to cope in a challenging environment--with a difficult language that I wasn't able to read and had to struggle to understand at all, and amidst a culture very different from my own. I think this realization has strengthened me for whatever challenges I may face in the future."

Hobgood-Brown says of her experience in China: "It left its mark on me. I had never been terribly tuned in to Pacific Rim concerns before, but I'm more so now. It's a virtually untapped market for (western) business people and communicators."

She says that the most valuable lesson she learned in China was the importance of not falling into ruts. "When you have to answer hundreds of questions, such as `Why put 30s or pound symbols on the bottoms of press releases?' you begin to reexamine everything you do."
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:working abroad in Asia
Author:Heger, Kyle
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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