As a part of our European Diversity Month activities, we are talking with commercetoolers around the world about their cultural background.
In this edition, we talk to Jacqueline Alessio, the Team Lead Business Development EMEA based in London, and Hubert Odendhal, the Sales Director for France based in Geneva.
I am 1/4 Korean, 1/4 German and half Italian. I grew up most of my life in Switzerland and moved to London in my 20s for my studies. Overall I’ve lived in three different countries, but still, the culture of all of my backgrounds merged together on a daily basis.
I grew up in Italy for 11 years, then I moved to Switzerland at the age of 12, and when I was 19 I moved to the UK for my higher education. The place where I grew up in Switzerland is quite a tiny town called Lugano. It’s very beautiful and picturesque with a lot of nature, but does not offer the international vibrancy of bigger cities. My cultural awareness really grew a lot when I moved to London, which is a melting pot of every possible culture in the world. Obviously that also helped me appreciate my personal, varied backgrounds even more, and it made me want to incorporate more elements of each of the cultures in my day-to-day life.
I speak Italian, German, English, a little Spanish and I used to know how to read Korean. But my first language is Italian. At work, I would say I use 50/50 between German and English. I also speak a little of Italian at work as well.
Literature is a way I learn about not just my cultures, but other cultures too. So I like to read novels by authors from various countries all over the globe. And, that is how I try to learn and understand local cultures and explore the differences with my culture.
Food is very important. My partner is half Swedish, half Croatian but grew up in Switzerland, so just think of the cultural mixture we have in our own household! I’m just not a big fan of his culinary choices, so I am the cook at home and I’m very strict when it comes to cooking Italian meals. In terms of Korean roots, my grandmother and my mother passed their family Kimchi recipe to me. Basically, Kimchi is the national food of Korea and it’s a staple on every table. Every family has their own recipes for their kimchi, which is essentially fermented cabbage and pepper. Every time I’m home sick, every time I miss my family I always eat kimchi.
For me, it’s always been difficult to identify with one specific culture. When I am in Italy, people always ask me if I am American or not, and how I can speak such fluent Italian. After a few sentences you do hear that they know that I am German, but not fully German either.
When I go to Korea, I don’t really speak the language so I can’t really identify with Korean culture either. I always struggled with a sense of belonging, so I just started embracing each one of my cultures and appreciating the diversity. I embrace all of them and I just celebrate that I’m lucky to know so many cultures.
I was born and raised in Normandy, France, near the landing beach where the famous Battle of Normandy happened during World War II. Normandy is very green; we cultivate apples and make a famous liquor drink called Calvados. After 25 years in France, I decided to explore the world and that’s where I started a new journey in Asia, precisely in the modern and attractive city of Singapore.
France has a long history of royalty until the people took power in 1789 during the revolution. Then France decided its values: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Our culture is strongly influenced by these values. Moreover, its people developed strong creativity skills in many industries, such as fashion, food and wine, theatre, among many others.
What brought me to Singapore: A strong desire to discover the world. I lived in Singapore for six years and frequently traveled four times a month for work and weekend trips. I spent a lot of time in Bali (Indonesia), Hong Kong, Taiwan, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Bangkok (Thailand) and Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam). It was an incredible experience.
What brought me to Switzerland: The perfect alignment with my lifestyle. I arrived in Switzerland in February this year thanks to commercetools.
At first, when passing through the airport doors, it was the jungle-warm and humid weather that was the most surprising. Singapore is quite an easy city with cultural openness. For instance, each dominant religion is well represented and has strong mutual respect. Singlish is the dominant language. Finally, the great surprise is its people’s diversity. At the office, you will likely work with Japanese, Australian, Indian, Chinese, Singaporeans, French and many more.
For work in France, I was often taking the car or train to visit clients from one city to another. Paris to Lille for instance. In Singapore, it was a lot more exotic. I was a frequent flyer visiting most major Asian cities. It only took me the first six months to fill in my passport with country Visa stamps. Other than that, the working environment in Singapore is fully in English with a constant summer work outfit
It seems that Geneva in Switzerland offers the same cultural diversity with a different mix. My neighbours are Italian, Swiss, Brazilian, Russian, Lebanese, French and Columbian. Moreover, Switzerland’s outdoor activities are unbelievable: mountains, Lake Geneva, hiking trails and lots of amazing panoramic views.
Finally, even the diversity among the Swiss is unique. There are three national languages: German, Italian and French. The country is organized by Canton and each of them has great autonomy.