Toptal: A global network to embrace the new norm

My Vision And The Story Behind It
It may not be a surprise that our world today seems more divided than ever. With factors like political preferences and religious beliefs, it’s easy to define our identities by checking boxes and attaching labels to ourselves. While those who have been marginalized their whole lives can be commended for taking ownership of their identity, many others still hang onto societal labels for a fear of engaging with difference.

As a human being, I understand the desire to feel safe within the boundaries of your own identity. Never having to deal with the unfamiliar is an undeniably comfortable route.

As a woman of multinational background, however, I have seen the importance of engaging with difference. I was raised by a Dutch father, an Indonesian mother, and I grew up in the multiethnic society of Singapore. From as early as I can remember, my norm included constantly switching between cultural norms, languages, and social habits just to relate to the community right in front of me. I went from being chided by my mother in Indonesian to wishing my grandmother a happy birthday in Dutch to gossiping with my friends in Singlish – the local dialect and slang in Singapore. As if my background wasn’t complicated enough, I have also spent the past seven years living in the United States between the contrasting states of New Mexico and Minnesota.

Throughout my life, I have learned to relate to a wide range of communities and individuals. I may have been raised as a Christian, but some of my best friends are Muslims, Hindus and irreligious. I have seen that – despite our varied life experiences – we share some unmistakably similar desires and fears. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t laughed at a silly joke, fallen in love, been afraid of loss, or felt angry at their perception of injustice. Unfortunately, our contrasting skin colors, accents and societal histories are quick to mask these possibilities of cross-cultural connection.

Given how easy it is to turn away from stories we don’t immediately relate to, my vision for the world would be to ignite intercultural curiosity – not in a way that exotifies those who are unrepresented, but in a way that strengthens our desire to bond with those whom we perceive as different. I aspire to be an influential storyteller, putting my multinational experiences out there in order to attract those would relate to them, and ultimately, build a network of likeminded change makers. I hope to tell the stories of other people who identify with multiple cultural communities so as to normalize the idea of not being defined by a single check box.

This past year, the movie Crazy Rich Asians played a significant role in inspiring my vision. While my heart was undeniably captured by the Singaporean and Asian representation in Hollywood, I was particularly drawn to the leading actor, Henry Golding. Many Asian-Americans who had watched the film criticized him for being an inaccurate representation of Asian society, noting that he is half British. He responded by noting how he was being criticized by those who had never lived in nor travelled to Asia themselves, emphasizing that no one could take his Malaysian upbringing away from him, and that no one could quantify his cultural identity.

As a half European and half Asian woman, I was moved by Henry Golding’s strong sense of self. Seeing someone so famous being openly vulnerable about their multinational identity while confidently owning it empowered me to take charge of my own identity. My aspirations to become an influential storyteller seemed much more possible by virtue of having a relatable figure blaze the trail for me. 

My Plan Of Action

Given my certainty in my vision, I have chosen to pursue the path of journalism as a means of telling my story. In an age of high-speed digital communication, journalism has since moved from living in newspapers to thriving as click-worthy online content and developing a following. Having grown up in a generation ruled by the internet, I understand how to leverage the strategies used for promoting ads to putting the spotlight on stories that lack representation.

I am thankful to have recently gotten accepted into two of the top journalism schools in the country, both in Boston, Massachusetts. Depending on which school I enroll at, I will be getting ready to graduate with a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Journalism either by this time next year or the year after that, equipped to take on the world’s stories from an elevated and globally-connected platform.

At the same time, I have already started building my platform for storytelling. Having created my own blog – – and started my own vlog series – – I have begun developing an online presence to share my experiences, facilitate discussions, and encourage conversations about intercultural curiosity. I plan to continue taking advantage of the speed of digital communication to grow my online platform and level of influence. My goal is not to become a mere “Instagram Influencer,” but to transform my website into a global network of multicultural thinkers and change makers who can both depend on and learn from each other.

 I do not see my Master’s program in Journalism as the sole plan of action to realizing my vision, but rather, as a crucial act of enhancing my existing interests and efforts. I hope that my joining journalism school’s prestigious network of media professionals will open more doors to inspiring connections in the world of storytelling. I dream to be put in front of the camera and to write widely-read articles, knowing that the stories I tell will be taken seriously, shared rapidly, and engaged with globally.

A Mission I Cannot Accomplish Alone

I step into this upcoming year feeling more driven and closer to my vision than ever before. Not only have I proven my desire to foster intercultural curiosity, but also, I have taken the step of joining a prestigious graduate program that I believe will lead to groundbreaking opportunities.

At the same time, a vision as scarily big as mine will undeniably come with challenges along the way. One overbearing factor at the moment is the cost of my education. I may have done my part to get accepted at the number-one journalism school in the country, but the skyrocketing tuition bills ahead of me threaten to silence my voice and delay my plan of action. There have been a lack of fellowship and scholarship opportunities dedicated to the specific interest of using graduate-level journalism to foster intercultural change. I also hesitate to add the cost of high-interest loans to my existing undergraduate bills. It would be an honor to have my vision both recognized and invested in so that I can focus on reaching my leadership potential in this upcoming year. 

Just as it took more than one nationality and cultural group to inform my vision, I know that it will also require the efforts of other driven and globally-minded women to help execute it. I crave mentorship from fellow leaders who can challenge me to expand my vision beyond my personal perspective and experiences. I want to work with those who can help me refine my vision and come out of graduate school with a streamlined plan of action.

With the right help, I can achieve the goal of using my globally-minded voice to bring rising multicultural thinkers together, whether I end up working with Henry Golding or the Tanzanian-Chinese girl next door. By creating an online network where stories of multicultural identities are shared, not only can we empower each other to stand in the gaps of our divided world, but also become a thought leader for inspiring intercultural curiosity.


Alex Hemmer