An Interview With Sylvia Yu Friedman, Award-Winning Filmmaker, Author & Serial Entrepreneur!
Her Expat Life recently had the pleasure to speak with Sylvia Yu Friedman, Penguin Author of A Long Road to Justice, Global Top 50 Women In Sustainability, TV Host & Award-Winning Filmmaker to learn more about what life is like as a successful woman!
1: You have accomplished so much over your career as an award-winning filmmaker, Penguin
author, TV host, serial entrepreneur, and philanthropy consultant! What has been your most
rewarding role/project to date?
I always have this nagging feeling that I have so much further to go and more milestones to hit. I
never feel like I’ve made it and I would never want to “peak” which is why I try to go out of my
comfort zone every year and take on work that truly scares me (something totally new). The
most rewarding projects on the go are a book collaboration with a client – I can’t mention the
details yet but it’s with Penguin Random House – check back with me later this year. I’m
developing a TV series with a film production company and we’re working on the episode
summaries and it’s been a wonderful shift to focus on the creative side of things. I hope to
explore more creative projects this year through my (first) novel.
2: What would you say are the key factors that drive female success in business and the
workplace and what advice do you have for women living and working in multicultural work
environments who want to advance their careers?
Networking strategically and finding solid mentors have been a crucial part of my work success
especially as an expat – I highly recommend building up your network and identifying mentors. If
you can’t find a mentor, then hire a coach. Overseas in Asia, I don’t have the luxury of tapping
into deeply entrenched networks like the ones I have back in my hometown Vancouver where I
can call upon childhood friends and high school buddies. I have intentionally spent a lot of time
meeting new people in professional mixers or by joining clubs. Working in cross-cultural settings
is not easy and experiencing culture shock is a real thing. I can easily forget that I need to pull
back and be less direct with my Asian colleagues and that “saving face” is really important to
them. I rely on my mentors and friends outside of the office to help me process if I come up with
a challenge that’s due, let’s say, to cultural differences.
3: You have lived all over the world from Vancouver to Beijing and now Hong Kong. Tell us about
life as an expat!
I have been living abroad since 2004 and often forget that I’m living in a foreign city. Once in a
while, as I’m walking by an outdoor vegetable market with all the Chinese signs around me, I
have this seemingly dawning revelation, ‘Oh gosh, I live in Hong Kong!’ The one difference in
my life as an expat that stands out is that work projects are much more international in Hong
Kong and in the span of a day, I have met someone from Israel in the morning for networking,
then had a work meeting with someone from Singapore; and in the evening, I spoke with a local
Chinese from Hong Kong and corresponded with a South Asian in the city by email.
During the Pandemic, there was an exodus of expats including my original group of girlfriends
and I found myself starting all over again and expanding my friendship circle. Expat life has a
revolving door of people coming and going and yet this has given me more resilience in the area
of relationships – meeting new friends and maintaining friendships and my surrogate family –
and I’m much more intentional about building a support system around me than my friends in
Canada would be. I also stay in regular touch with my family and my longtime friends around the
world. It really is comforting to reach out to family and old friends whenever I need to speak to
someone who’s known me for a long time. One of the perks of living in this city that I’m looking
forward to doing more of is air travel to Thailand, Singapore, Korea and Japan etc. They are just a
few hours away.
4: What advice do you have for