Finding a job in my field was hard. I did feel sometimes that my background (non-Australian) worked against me. It is always difficult trying to prove yourself - and that you can speak and write fluent English - from a piece of paper with your credentials!
But I persisted and seven months later (yes, it took a while!) ended up in a PR agency with a dream portfolio. For 7 years, I was lucky to work with some incredible clients including destinations (Tasmania, MONA) and five-star hotels (Langham, Mandarin Oriental). I was even part of a two-person team that presented to the producers of MasterChef - resulting in MasterChef filming for a week in Tasmania!
My one piece of advice is to put yourself out there while you are still studying and intern / volunteer at workplaces. This will give you valuable experience in the field to add to your resume, and if you perform really well and an opportunity arises, then you may get offered a graduate position!
I’ve always been a Type A, plan-out-my-life kind of person, so I did not even think that I would leave my secure, cushy job in PR to try out something on my own. But I guess the entrepreneurial spirit overtook me, and I didn’t want to look back on my life and regret that I hadn’t done something I wanted. So, at age 30, I opened a humble Japanese cafe called chotto.
Admittedly, I was nervous telling my parents about my decision. After all, Asian parents often expect us to be something: doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers… (I’d already done away with the law side and worked in PR, which is a very hard profession to explain to anyone). There are always high expectations. I was surprised therefore, that they were very supportive of the idea. My dad was an entrepreneur himself, so I think he was glad that I was venturing out on my own. This was the time that I actually connected well with him and appreciated his advice on running my own business.
I ran chotto for one year. It was as successful as it could possibly get (for a a tiny 18-seater) - reviewed by Epicure and featured in Australia’s top food magazine, Australian Gourmet Traveller. I truly loved what I did and was proud of what we put out. While I had transitioned into another industry, my PR experience was invaluable. I drew on it to put together a series of Japanese-themed events for the business.
We closed chotto because - at the end of the day - there is too much red tape in Australia around opening a food establishment backed by just two people (us). Running costs were high and that took its toll. But we had an amazing following right until the very end, and received several investment / partnership offers and a book publishing deal. Again, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be an author, but it was too good to pass up. Our cookbook, Tokyo Local, a travelogue / cookbook on Tokyo, will be coming out in May 2018, published in Australia, the UK and the US.
What I’ve learnt is that life isn’t straight-forward. It twists and turns, and if I’d asked my 17-year-old, fresh-from-Trinity self, what I’d be doing 15 years on, I wouldn’t have known! I certainly wouldn’t have expected this, or expected to embrace life as it goes.
I am currently debating returning to my old field or trying to continue on to open chotto 2.0. Opening your own business isn’t easy. As much as ours looked - and was by all appearances - successful, it was difficult. I cannot recommend enough ensuring you have sufficient finances to fall back on and keeping a foot still in your own industry where possible.
I consider myself very lucky that I’ve had some wonderful opportunities since my graduation, and that I am from a generation where I can chase my dreams and have parents that are supportive of me doing so. Quite a few of my Trinity course mates are currently successful entrepreneurs in their own right, and I am incredibly proud of - and inspired by - them!
I don’t know what the future will bring, but I think that it is ok to not know and to find yourself as you go. For me, Trinity expanded my horizons and gave me a new perspective different to my Asian / Singaporean background. For that, I am grateful.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Tokyo Local, please contact Caryn Ng (email@example.com) for more details.