Posted 2/09/16 (Tue)
By Sydney Glasoe Caraballo
She hikes through the jungle to summit Victoria Peak, bicycles through island fishing villages on the South China Sea and samples the famously edible dim sum of Hong Kong during her free time.
The expatriate says she inherited an adventurous spirit from her grandfather – a World War II vet who fought in the Pacific and is a self-taught pilot. And like her grandfather, for Janae Hagen, home will always be the prairie and sky of Divide County.
While Hagen plans to return to North Dakota someday, for now she is fulfilling a wanderlust that finds her in Hong Kong. Journeying with her are bits and pieces of home – a quilt her grandmother, Nina, made in the 1960s, mixing bowls from her parents’ wedding in 1975, well-seasoned cast iron skillets and an American Legion Auxiliary cookbook.
Hagen, a Divide County High School and 2010 NDSU graduate, moved to Hong Kong to pursue her career as a digital and loyalty manager for Starbucks. Her role is to provide new ways of experiencing the Starbucks brand to customers in the Asia-Pacific [APAC] region. From managing the digital experience at the café, new Starbucks card designs and business plans for new technology to launches of loyalty programs and mobile apps, Hagen executes the company’s mission statement: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup of coffee, and one neighborhood at a time.
“I wanted to be a storyteller [growing up],” Hagen says. “My favorite part about my job is that I can indulge in curiosity.”
Hagen, who writes every day for her job, says she has become a storyteller in a nontraditional sense by working for a company that touts “moments of connection.”
Hagen conducts business (in English) while collaborating with more than a dozen countries and markets in the APAC region – to include Vietnam, Malaysia and China. One of her challenges is building relationships through digital means. She says there are people she has worked with on a daily basis for years whom she has yet to meet in person. Communicating with colleagues and family and friends, she utilizes various messaging platforms popular in the U.S. and other countries: Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot, Snapchat, Line, Kakao, WeChat, and WhatsApp.
Hagen first visited Hong Kong in 2010 when she was teaching English in Hangzhou, China and she loves to explore the city when she isn’t working.
“It’s truly a three-dimensional place,” says Hagen, who wrote in her 2010 journal she would live in Hong Kong some day and has now lived there for several months.
“Jungle-covered mountainous islands collide with skyscrapers and the ocean,” is how she describes it.
Hagen loves exploring the local food scene, which is world-renowned for its street food and dim sum. She mentions spicy Sichuanese noodle soup and group hot pot (Asian-style fondue) as favorites.
She says Hong Kong is “Asia light.”
The city, which was handed over to China from the United Kingdom in 1997, has a 50-year grace period to operate its own government and regulations under the Chinese government’s oversight.
“It’s an easy place to be an English-speaking foreigner, but you have evident hints of the real China,” Hagen says.
The expatriate appreciates that many Hong Kongers speak English, although Cantonese is the local language. She plans to spend a minimum of two years in Hong Kong and says she is adjusting to business meetings being discussion-based versus task-oriented.
“My inner American just really wants to be able to quickly check things off of my list,” she admits.
Hagan also practices yoga (she was an instructor in the U.S. while working for Starbucks in Seattle) and escapes the city to hike and bicycle the dozens of islands that comprise Hong Kong.
“I often feel like a blood cell moving through the living, breathing city,” she says. For her the island hops are “a wonderful, peaceful contrast to the nonstop bustle of the city.”
Since Hagen was 11-years old, she has dreamed about such adventure and travel. (That desire was spurred when her aunt took her on a trip to New York City.)
When she returned to Crosby, the farm kid told everyone that she would live in NYC one day.
“That trip opened my eyes,” she says. “Until then the world was a place I saw on the evening news.”
Hagen also recalls preparing an entire binder for her parents, Paul and Sue Hagen, to convince them she should study abroad in Rome when she was a freshman at NDSU. (They ultimately gave permission, and Hagen got her passport the summer of 2007 while interning at The Journal before she went to Rome).
Checking out her profile on LinkedIn.com reveals both Hagen’s wanderlust, as well as her dedication to writing and learning other people’s stories from around the world. From serving as a press intern for Senator Kent Conrad; writing for The Spectrum at NDSU, as well as for The Journal and Al Jazeera; and developing curriculum and a website for Zhejiang Economic and Trade Polytechnic in China, Hagen’s professional pursuits have focused on providing “moments of connection.”
“The best discovery about traveling and living in unfamiliar places is when you realize that people, no matter where they live, aren’t so different,” she says. “We’re all more or less seeking the same things: a stable, fulfilling and happy life. We express those values in nuanced ways, but ultimately we’re still aiming for the same thing.”
Hagen believes growing up in a rural farming community prepared her for world travel and carving out a sense of community wherever she goes. According to Hagen, youth growing up in a small town have a better chance to participate in the community than in large population bases.
“Community participation and leadership from a young age is absolutely the best kind of career training,” Hagen says.
The farm kid become world traveler admits it took leaving North Dakota to realize the privilege of growing up in a farm community. She mentions resourcefulness and work ethic as inherent traits for rural youth.
Hagen says another mantra she learned as a young adult: don’t be complacent.
“There is certainly a time in life to build norms, habits and expectations for how you think things should work in the world,” she says, “but those decisions are more informed after observing and absorbing a multitude of perspectives.”
She admits the biggest pep talk she ever gave herself was while walking down the jet bridge to board her flight to Hong Kong from Seattle. She was scared, but her instincts told her she would be fine.
“I’m doing a very easy, low-risk version of what the pioneers did more than a century ago,” she says.
Hagen says she often thinks of what it was like for the pioneers who settled in Divide County and what they left and sacrificed to begin a new life in the U.S. Hagen knows she is fortunate to have video chat, a mobile phone, e-mail and other social media options to daily communicate with family and friends.
Hagen says she is lucky to work in international business and learn how to link different cultures together. She says simply being curious, genuine and kind fosters many experiences and relationships in both her professional and personal journey.
“My philosophy is to be kind and true to the world, and the world will be kind and true in return,” she says.
To be a successful world traveler, that philosophy and a few essentials are all that’s needed . . .
Pen. Paper. Passport.
And a small paperweight inscribed: “Love Always” from her mother, Sue (Paul) Hagen.
Some day she’ll park that passport and paperweight back in North Dakota. Hagen’s reason? “
It’s simple,” she says. “That’s where my family is.”