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Finding Home Wherever They Go

Wyatt Lonergan '11 (left), Mariel Fredericksen '11 and Ben Wong '08 pose for a photo during a birthday celebration in Hong Kong. The three alumni, who each work in China, meet regularly throughout the year.

Wyatt Lonergan '11 (left), Mariel Fredericksen '11 and Ben Wong '08 pose for a photo during a birthday celebration in Hong Kong. The three alumni, who each work in China, meet regularly throughout the year.

Young alumni build networks in China and beyond

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

For international businesspeople, China is a land of shining opportunity. And for a growing number of young alumni like Mariel Fredericksen ’11, it’s also becoming a home away from home.

Fredericksen, a former Dickinson-in-Beijing study-abroad student, returned to China last June to work for an international company. Within a few days of her arrival, she helped found a coterie of Dickinson expats that’s helped her build business and social connections in a new country.

“It’s made a tremendous difference to connect with other alumni abroad,” says Fredericksen, speaking by phone from her home in Hong Kong. “It’s almost like a mini-reunion.”

Fingers on the pulse of two continents

Fredericksen, who majored in East Asian studies, was working for a clothier in Manhattan last spring when she learned about a job opportunity at a U.K.-based costume company in Hong Kong. She leapt at the chance.

As account manager for U.S. sales, Fredericksen researches the U.S. costume market, sets prices and works with designers to develop products that will satisfy consumer demand for Halloween. The job requires analytical prowess, an eye for design and a keen grasp of the American psyche, since, as the only American on staff in the company’s Beijing office, Fredericksen is the resident expert.

The work also offers Fredericksen ample opportunities to flex her Chinese-language skills and cultural savvy, particularly when she travels to the fabric markets, where most vendors do not speak English, and when she attends meetings in mainland China, which are conducted in Mandarin. The scholar in her relishes these opportunities. But, she admits, it’s also nice to occasionally enjoy the comforts and company of home.

Luckily, before she left the U.S., Fredericksen made plans to meet two fellow alums in China. The first was Chen Nam (Ben) Wong ’08.

Solid foundation

Wong, an international business & management (IB&M) major at Dickinson, took part in a Dickinson summer-immersion program in China and enjoyed it so much that he studied in Hong Kong the following semester. His three years of Chinese-language study at Dickinson helped him capture a job in China after graduation. “Compared to other expats in Shenzhen, I felt like I had a better foundation,” Wong writes.

He got his foot in the door as an English teacher then secured a copywriting position in Shenzhen. Today, he is a special-projects manager at an international-marketing company in Hong Kong.

Although Wong and Fredericksen hadn’t known each other well as undergraduates—his last year on campus was her first—they recalled each other and had friends in common. So when Fredericksen contacted Wong, they arranged to meet just a day after her arrival. And a few months later, Fredericksen introduced Wong to Wyatt Lonergan ’11.

Unexpected twists

As a Dickinson study-abroad student and IB&M major, Lonergan took courses at the City University of Hong Kong and interned for an international business in the city. He already had traveled to China several times as part of a high-school global-studies program, so the language and culture were familiar, but for an undergrad not yet accustomed to wearing a suit every day, taking a long commute and working long hours in the office, it was still all-new territory.

“I loved every minute of it,” he recalls. “So when I got an offer to move here permanently, I didn’t hesitate for a minute.”

He began working for an international toy company in 2011, beginning in its Shenzhen branch and then moving to Hong Kong, where he manages a product-development team and sources new factories throughout Asia. Because his company’s U.S. and Chinese offices are separated by a 12-hour time difference, he must be available for conference calls day and night. So his typical workday is anything but.  

“I think that's what I like about it the most,” he says. “Every day in China is an adventure with unexpected twists and turns along the way. The spontaneity grows on you—it’s a lot of fun.”

Lonergan was still in Shenzhen when Fredericksen contacted him through Facebook, and they made plans to meet during one of his business trips to Hong Kong. “But before that could even happen, I ran into her randomly on the streets of Hong Kong,” he recalls. A meeting with Wong followed.

Keeping the connections

Staying in touch can be tricky for busy internationals, but with help from a free international-text program, these expats regularly keep in touch.

Wong and Fredericksen are members of a high-octane dodgeball team, and Wong, Fredericksen and Lonergan recently celebrated Fredericksen’s birthday with a harbor cruise. The group also occasionally meets with Matt Schey ’09, an international recruiter and trainer now living in Singapore who travels to China and throughout Asia for business.

These connections are good for business—Lonergan and Fredericksen have collaborated on work through a costume company in Asia, and Lonergan’s company uses online services provided by Wong’s company—but it’s the simple of joy of finding friends with common interests that’s the primary drive.

“Some of the people I’ve met in Asia are a few years older than I am, but even though we weren’t on campus at the same time and had different experiences, we’ve all experienced Dickinson, and it means a lot to be able to talk about our memories and people we know, particularly when we’re so far from home,” Fredericksen says. “Dickinson is Dickinson wherever you go. And Dickinsonians are doing great things.”

Published May 21, 2013