Vickie Yau

Vickie-Yau[1]BA ’03 Japanese Studies & Economics, MA ’08 Asian Studies

Interview posted March, 2014

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live? What are you currently doing?

I was born in HK and had based most of my life in Greater Vancouver.  Currently I live in Hong Kong and am completing my doctorate in Education on the psychosocial influences of international and cultural experiences on student development.  I am currently working part-time for a Foundation that aims to promote environmental awareness and understanding of an unique area in Hong Kong that is rich in environmental value and cultural heritage.  I write curriculum using the immediate environment as the classroom to offer a holistic learning experience, and do educational outreach at schools and public events to further the objectives of the Foundation.  I also work with organizations alike to further our mutual goals in furthering understanding and awareness of the environment in HK as HK continues to find alternatives and solutions to issues pertaining to the environment and social wellbeing.

How did you start working abroad?

It started with Arts Co-op during my undergraduate.  I was fortunate to be the student exchange coordinator for UBC-Ritsumeikan Academic Exchange programme that took me to Kyoto, Japan each summer for three summers.  I caught the “explore and investigate” bug at that time and subsequently went to Japan again with a researcher in Fac. of Education at UBC during my Masters, which led me to also take a term off to audit classes at the University of Hong Kong in 2004 because I wanted to explore critical theories from another perspective and in another context.  During my Masters, I had various Research Assistantships that called for my cultural and language expertise.  All of these research were mixed methods research in various disciplines where I would compliment the team with qualitative research and cultural investigation.  When I graduated from my Masters in 2008, I was looking for full-time academic or applied research positions and I cast my net in Vancouver and in Hong Kong as a starting point and found a position at the University of Hong Kong.

Could you go into more detail about the Arts Co-op program? The fact that you could work abroad is very interesting? How did you find working in Japan as a foreigner? 

I was very fortunate to find my position with Arts Co-op at that time since the program has just started and there were very few options. I worked for UBC-Ritsumeikan University Academic Exchange Programme where I spent my Semester 2 working part-time at UBC with to-be returnees and my summer working at Ritsumeikan, and I did this 3 times which broke all the rules at Arts Co-op at the time. It was a fabulous academic and cultural experience in terms of immersion into language and culture of Japan since I spent 3 summers in Kyoto. I have always been intrigued by Japanese aesthetics and spent most of my time reading and exploring temples, theatres and galleries, old neighbourhoods, cemeteries and hillsides. I also love getting lost when I explore the city on foot; sometimes I would walk for 8 to 10 hours going in and out of bookstores and alleyways, finding way up or down a stream since Kyoto has a lot of river ways.

I worked in an international environment and felt very much at ease where I worked and lived. I am ethnically Chinese and look Asian, I camouflage quite well wherever I go. Working in Japan as a “foreigner” and a young female who does not look “too foreign” pose unique challenges because of social and cultural expectations. I personally saw these as opportunities to learn to understand and respect cultural differences, and muse about “identity” which became an ongoing academic passion.

What kind of work did you do specifically as a research Assistant? would you recommend it? 

I absolutely enjoy my work in research.  My journey has gone from transcription, translation and literature review to management, design and consultation for research that requires social science and cultural perspectives.  I would recommend working in research if you are inquisitive and you find it pleasurable to read and analyze “text” – whether the text is a culture, a group of people, a social phenomenon, an information system, a film, comic or novella.  While I find it a pleasurable to do research, my reward and satisfaction comes from sharing it, which is the process of knowledge transfer and application.  These processes often take years to happen and as I gained research experience and skills, I was able to move into design and consultation and work with specialists to bridge these processes.  My research work were predominantly in academic and scientific research, however, there are a lot more opportunities in marketing research and consultancy where these processes from ideation to design to field, analysis, report and implementation happen at a much faster pace.

Do you think it is important to study/travel/work abroad? Why or why not?

Absolutely!  Travelling stimulates new perspectives and insights that offer opportunities for one to grow on all fronts – cognitively, affectively and behaviourally.  However, I always think that looking inwards, and making time for introspection is as important as travelling out to see people, artefacts, places and culture.  Over time, however, travelling can be desensitizing and that is the time when “home” or “base camp” becomes interesting, and a new cycle starts again.

How do you find working in Hong Kong? How is it different than working in Japan or Canada?

Pace and boundary of work are two things that immediately came to mind when I think about working in Hong Kong.  There are different value systems; some value efficiency, some value quality, uniqueness of work, or substantiality of product.  I believe it boils down to the work culture, whether the leader values efficiency, or quality.  In Hong Kong, perhaps because it is an international melting pot, my experiences have been mixed.  Setting boundary for work is challenging and again, depends on your partners.  In my work experience in Asia, sometimes work gets carried over into social life, and social life becomes obligatory for work which compromises personal time.

How is studying/ teaching in Hong Kong compared to studying in Canada? 

Teaching is very challenging in Hong Kong in a positive way.  This is due to the nature of my work and the culture of learning in Asia.  In Canada, I grew up with an inquiry based model of learning. In Hong Kong, learners expect a didactic model of learning.  In my work as an educator in environmental humanism for a non-profit, I work with random students who come from a number of curriculum standards and pedagogical classrooms.  When I work with students from the local education system, I try to strike a balance between creative, inquisitive learning and content-based learning to inspire students to move away from the didactic mode of learning they are accustomed to in regular schooling.  When I work with students from international schools, I focus on inquiry based learning.  This flip-flop between models of teaching in my work is very challenging and difficult for either camp of the spectrum to understand and appreciate the other system.

In college, teaching is similar although student numbers for graduate courses are much bigger than I have ever had at UBC.  One of my graduate classes on methodology had as many as 80 students.  The smallest class size I had, also on methodology, was 30.  Compared to my average graduate class size at UBC around 5, and my ideal class size around 1, I was blown away!