Hien (Hee-an) Bach (she/her), Regional Digital Marketing Director, IDP Connect, London, and her family are truly international! After growing up in Vietnam and doing undergraduate studies there, Hien moved to the UK for her master’s degree. She met her French partner, and the rest is history! They got married, have two children, and speak 3 languages at home. On top of that, Hien manages a team scattered across the globe, which has been a fantastic opportunity to learn about different perspectives and cultures.
"When I first came to the UK, everything was ecstatic. During the first couple of days, I stayed in the International House in Regent’s street, located in the centre of London. I made friends with many international students and visited most popular attractions. I thought I could eat fish and chips every day until I die . But soon, the excitement was over when I had to look for accommodation in Harrow for my master’s degree at the University of Westminster School of Media Arts & Design. Due to late admission, I couldn’t book accommodation on the university campus and ended up renting a room in a house owned by a single man from South Asia. It was my first time living far away from home and alone in a strange country. I was naïve and had little life experience and soon realised, I had made a very bad decision. My food got eaten, and my room was intruded on when I was not home. I locked my door, crying at night in fear but didn’t tell my parents so they wouldn’t get worried. Luckily after I informed the school of my situation, they put me on the priority list to move me to the campus if any place was available. Despite the dreadful experience, it was the kindness and generosity of the people from the school community and international friends that helped me through that tough time, and I was able to truly enjoy my international student life after moving to the campus.
I quickly got caught up with new ways of learning, heavy reading lists and assignments. Even though I passed the English entry requirement, I struggled to follow the lecturers and understand so many different English accents. However, living on campus meant I had access to the school’s library 24/7 and could find everything I needed for my studying. My 1-year master’s degree finished in a blink of an eye. We were so busy studying that when we met on graduation day, we realised we had missed the chance to spend more time together and get to know each other better. Our perceptions of others shifted as soon as we opened our conversations to topics around our life, interests, and future plans aside from our studies.
I didn’t plan to stay in the UK until a French man asked me out using a funny note “I am nice and funny, let’s have a coffee” while ordering food in the Vietnamese restaurant in Soho where I worked as a waitress 😊. 13 years later, we are still here in London with 2 added little mixed boys.
It's compelling to live in a multicultural home. You can imagine my husband and I have very different perspectives on many things like how to raise our children or financial prioritisation. However, we have learned to listen to each other, compromise and respect each other’s decisions even though we sometimes don’t agree. It’s interesting sometimes to see how much the difference in the culture, politics, education system or how we grew up affects our decisions and perceptions.
People are always fascinated with our home conversation as we speak 3 languages. This is not unusual, especially in London - one of the most diverse cities in the world. At school and in the nursery, the teachers and carers generally support parents speaking different languages at home and promote diversity.
When I started at IDPC (Hotcourses at that time) more than 10 years ago, I was excited to be a part of a newly established team. There were 6 of us from 6 different countries managing websites in our languages. We were all fresh graduates, so we got on very well and quickly with each other like a family. We had an international dinner every week, exploring new cuisines from different countries and celebrating special holidays together.
When I first became a team lead a few years later, I focused greatly on the outcomes and not so much on the people. The feedback from people around me helped me realise my shortcomings. I became more open-minded and learned to be more empathetic. I also noticed positive changes in the team after paying more attention to how people think. Becoming a mum has totally changed how I see things. I think of my sons’ futures` and all their multicultural experiences and how I should better connect and understand other people’s perspectives. I want my children to grow up unbiased, and to reach their full potential. Not to be pleasers, but to be their true selves. And I want the same for my team, making them feel empowered to challenge the status quo, create and innovate, which is easier said than done.
I see the biggest challenge of managing a diverse team is communication. It might be language barriers, different communication styles or ways of thinking. The message can get lost, misunderstood, or misinterpreted, especially in a remote working environment. There are aha moments, the times when I go “ah – that’s how you think about that”. Sometimes two people say the same thing, but they might think about it very differently. It’s always helpful to have open conversations to avoid misunderstanding, especially in person. It takes time to create connections and even greater efforts to try walking in other people’s shoes. We don’t always have to agree but can always respect the difference with professionalism and an open mind.
Diversity doesn’t mean inclusion. It’s not like we just say we are inclusive, and people will acknowledge and practice it. It’s about building trust and making things happen. With trust, people will begin to share and appreciate your efforts to understand and include them. There’s still so much to learn and so much to do to practice inclusion, not only at work, but also at my diverse home.
I love to learn, and I have been building my resilience and empathy. Recently I read about empathy and compassion. Empathy is the most important leadership skill, but it can sometimes be a burden and impact decisions. So, if you connect with empathy, but lead with compassion; you will feel with them, but step aside from emotion to support them, and make a wise decision. It takes a lot of work to do this."
Hien, we love your passion, wise words, and the way you embrace and continually learn about different cultures. What fun it would be at the dinner table in your house! All the best to you, your multicultural family, and teams.
How do you embrace other cultures?