Foreign correspondence

How does life compare for media high-fliers in Korea, Australia, the US and The Netherlands? We present five expats' take on their not-so-British environments.

Sydney...ad industry feels smaller
Sydney...ad industry feels smaller


I'm an expat virgin. This is the first time I've lived and worked outside the UK, and Korea is a long way from home in every sense. I've always considered myself such a London person that, even now, I can't believe I'm doing it. And, even more surprisingly, I can't believe that I like it as much as I do ... mostly.

In no particular order, I love:

Koreans - very friendly, a good sense of humour and up for a good time. They're known as the Latins of Asia, and deservedly so.

The food - yes, kimchi (a traditional fermented dish made of vegetables) and all, but I've yet to swallow live baby octopus. And I've avoided dog ... so far. No-one in Seoul seems to cook - the restaurants are amazing, great value and there are thousands of them. Our local is the best Italian I've eaten in outside of Bologna; this one has its own bakery, patisserie and deli. They know all about Waitrose and copy its good bits.

Drinking - yup, it's an advantage being a Brit because we can handle the soju (a Korean rice wine similar to sake) bombs with the best of them, and that gets us brownie points. Wine is plentiful but expensive. There's no service charge on anything, though, so I transfer that saving to the "wine" column.

Where we live - a fab apartment in a beautiful area of traditional Hanok buildings on a mountain overlooking downtown and the Seoul Tower, which puts on a light show every evening. Kind of Asia meets Westbourne Grove meets San Francisco.

The other expats - I was nervous about meeting a "type". Needn't have worried. No bigoted old colonials here. We've met great people, all with lots of support and advice. My wife was immediately swept up by loads of top women, and now I find it difficult to get into her diary.

The weather - sorry, but blue skies do make a difference.

Oh, and work. It's a challenge - no doubt about it. We're talking a completely different business culture here, but it's a fascinating exercise to build on the best of it and change the rest. I'm so impressed by people's sheer determination to embrace the future. And to do it now. Bali bali (quickly, quickly) is the mantra here, and it applies to everything.

What do I miss? A short list - family, friends, theatre, the odd trip to Twickenham and, rather oddly, a nice leg of lamb on Sunday. They don't care for it here ... and much prefer man's best friend.

- Bruce Haines is the global chief operating officer at Cheil Worldwide, Seoul, South Korea.


Life in Sydney. It's amazing how you just adjust. Very quickly you lose the ability to see the difference between where you are and where you were. At least I have. I can remember what I used to say when I first arrived, though. In fact, here are the tedious, over-worn elevator conversations that I used to abuse people with.

In order of historical usage: the industry feels a lot smaller (and it is); there is a curious fascination with power players (people love to share the stories of the "great men of media and advertising"); the quality of the media planning work is good; clients are a little bit more risk-adverse; meetings are often held outside in cafes; people work longer hours than in the UK (the myth that people leave early and go to the beach is just that); I speak to UK/US-based people at night, so the line between work and home has completely blurred; I can't believe the national and major newspapers write about media agencies; waking up in the morning with the sort of sun you only normally see on holidays is very nice; and, finally, it's great getting the ferry to work.

The main benefit is that weekends are like mini-holidays: the breakfasts are great here (if you like carrot juice, spinach and avocado), the coffee is exceptional and the beaches are incredible (to have the choice of many different ocean beaches and tranquil turquoise inlet beaches is just amazing). A client said to me that she chose to leave Paris for Sydney because she can have a serious career in the week and a serious holiday at the weekend. I liked that. I also like the fact that Sydney is so multicultural. And I like the Asian influence. It gives the city a very 21st-century feeling.

However, it comes at a price (albeit small) - you are so bloody far away from anything. As Jonathan Durden said to me, you can't travel much further from the UK without starting to come back again. Yet this is not the real issue; the real issue is time ... as in the time difference. Communicating with the UK is often done in the evening, Australian time, when I am exhausted. Because the seasons are upside-down, you can feel like you are in an alternate dimension.

What else? Halloween isn't as scary when it is sunny and humid at 8pm. And finally there is the issue of Christmas: walking around at night looking at all the twinkly lights on the local houses is somehow ruined by the sound of cicadas and the feeling of mosquitoes on the back of your neck.

- Mark Holden is the managing partner of PHD Australia.


When I told people I was going to work in San Francisco, the response was basically "you lucky bastard". Invariably, they want to know if it's a better quality of life. The answer depends on what you want.

If you want to live in a less crowded environment, then yes. San Francisco is a small city by anyone's standards (fewer than 750,000 people). It doesn't have the same energy as London or New York. But in some ways that's an advantage. It doesn't try to be a big city; it tries to be a better city.

If you want to spend more time outdoors, yes again. We have a very friendly 65-80 degsC for eight months a year. And when we don't have that, it's just foggy - which beats rain. The upshot is people spend more time outside. They run, cycle, hike, surf and sail and, as a result, they look pretty healthy.

And you can find a room with a view more easily. I swapped my Victorian in East Dulwich for a modern house in Tiburon with a glimpse of the Bay and (when there isn't any fog) the Golden Gate Bridge. Out went my English manicured lawn and in came an inherited spa pool with a mini waterfall, reminiscent of a Ron Jeremy 70s porn movie.

But what about "the buzz" in the ad village? You won't find it, because nobody is very interested. The culture here is very different. We are just not part of it here. We get our US trade publications a week after everyone else. If I get Campaign, it's invariably three months old and therefore useless. If London's twin "advertising" city in the US is New York, then San Francisco's is probably Padstow in Cornwall. Does that appeal? It might for some. You can focus on the work and the people, not the rumours. You might even be able to go home earlier.

There are some downsides. My daughters have Californian accents. Football isn't football, it's "soccer". I have caught myself saying "dude", and I'll even admit to the odd fist bump (a la Obama and wife) and a few fumbled attempts at high fives.

Chocolate digestive biscuits are expensive. You can't find clotted cream. I have to buy bangers from New York ... But is it better? Is it a better quality of life? Yes, and yes.

- Derek Robson is a partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.


The joy of working in Amsterdam is that you can live in a 17th-century canal house for the same price as a similar home in Acton, and you can cycle to work in 15 minutes. There is no commuting here, so there is more time for life. Amsterdam is a beautiful and easy place in which to live and work.

As a place to educate your children, it is decent but not so obviously brilliant. The two choices are chucking your kids into the Dutch system or following most expats to the clutch of solid international schools here. Dutch schools are free, the kids become bilingual easily and they quickly get dragged into the Amsterdam community - but the expectations are low. The international schools are more demanding but without doing the new British thing of giving the parents and their children nervous disorders. The school communities are little global villages, so the children inevitably become global citizens.

But moving abroad isn't about property and schools; the real reason is that it can make you happier. You have left your home country and are a foreigner in your adopted country. This means you can be blissfully removed from all the nonsense that swamps you at home: trash media, daft politicians - whatever bothers you at home, bothers you less abroad. Similarly, you're not plugged in enough to your new country to get riled by what is going on, mainly because you don't know. So with the negative stuff about both countries getting you down less, you can enjoy the good stuff.

This detachment is also reflected in your professional life. As a foreigner you're not part of the local ad community, so you don't have that constant, worried eye on your rivals. You can focus on what you and your agency think is important, rather than the latest wheeze to get coverage in Campaign. You also end up socialising a lot with your colleagues because you don't know many people. That means the agency can become a tightly knit community and the line between work and play becomes blurred.

Finally, Amsterdam is technically "abroad", but it is only an hour's flight to most British airports, and you can get by using English easily. In fact, I'm not sure that Amsterdam or any major Western European countries can really be called abroad now. While they all have their own cultures, they are increasingly familiar to us, and the cities more and more cosmopolitan. In fact, there are probably parts of Britain that will feel more abroad to a British ad exec than Amsterdam.

- Guy Hayward is a founder of 180 Amsterdam.


Banter. In a word, that's what I miss most. Whether it is in the office, in the advertising community or even in industry publications, there just isn't the same level of banter in the US. I just don't see as much casual back-and-forth in America as I did when I worked across the pond. Marmite, Spurs, bacon, The Times, Little Britain ... those are things I can live without. My need for banter is a bit tougher to suppress.

That's not to say working in America isn't awesome.

When I arrived in 2006, I was lucky enough to witness George W Bush's sole positive act of government: the "American Competitive Initiative". The little big man committed more than $50 billion to R&D to deliver "groundbreaking ideas and further recognise the importance of innovation to our economic future". From the White House down to the house next door, America's spirit of innovation is stronger than ever. Everyone, from the marketing director of a Fortune 500 company to a busker in the subway, is trying to do things differently, and better, by creating experiences and value. And the companies and individuals that have mastered the art of innovation are the overwhelming majority of the decade's success stories. You know them all - Apple, Google, GE, Mark Zuckerberg, AG Lafley ...

That is the most exciting thing about living in the US: an ever-growing and highly infectious vibe of innovation.

And no place has been bitten harder by the bug than the world of marketing. Want a newer and better way of introducing a deodorant? How about a TV series. Want a newer and better way of promoting a fast-food burger joint? How about an X-box game. And as for a better way of marketing the future president (fingers crossed), why not have the Black Eyed Peas do a music video?

There is something magical about watching the intellectual property that exists in people and brands being recast into completely new forms and ideas on a daily basis. It has to be said, no-one does it better. There is simply no alternative to innovation when doing business in America. If you are going to keep the pace, you have to set the pace. All of this makes for a pretty serious, fast and hard-working environment. Change has to happen before the previous change has even taken place.

Maybe banter is a small price to pay for being a part of all this.

- Ben Slater is the director of business development at Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York and the director of ZAG.