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Stern Singles Presents: Nicolette Wong

Nicolette is an MBA2 in the full time program, and is set to graduate later this month. She is originally from Singapore, where she used to be a writer and editor in the luxury magazine industry. She seized the opportunities at Stern to pivot careers, and will be heading to Mastercard post-graduation. She hasn’t had any kind of routine for two years, but can reliably be found digging into good food or petting a fuzzy creature. She can’t believe that her MBA experience is about to end, but is excited for what lies ahead.

Sternie Testimonials:

“Most people know of Nicolette as the resident fashionista of our class, but to me, she is that one person who knows all the things — she has great taste in food and drink, offers the best beauty tips and tricks, and is the voice of reason for her friends who are figuring out what to do with their lives.”

“What you might not know about Nicolette is that she loves late night deep conversations and all things intellectually curious. She’s equally happy spending the night at the ballet, Brooklyn Mirage, or at home. I think the right person for Nicolette would be someone as smart, thoughtful, and open to new things as she is.”

“Nicolette is one of the most misunderstood people as she wears complicated posh fancy dresses coupled with an intense facial expression. However, she is fun, kind, hungry most of the time and clumsy sometimes. If you get to know her, you will realize that she will do anything for you, and all you have to do is just ask.”

Hi Nicolette! I cannot imagine a better way to end your MBA experience than being a Stern Single, but obviously I’m biased. Let’s start with an easy question. What are three words your friends would describe you as?

Oh god, I don’t think that’s an easy question at all! I would hope that they describe me as someone who’s thoughtful, empathetic, and genuine. It’s a bonus if they also said I was smart and fun to be around, but I think those three would be the most important because I do try to be those things.

And how would you describe yourself?

I’d probably describe myself as somewhat of a maximalist overthinker. I love learning new things and pushing myself to grow in different ways, and if I’m interested in something, I’ll start really digging into it to understand as much as I can about it. It’s how I got into my previous career in magazines, and how I picked up random hobbies like ballet and weightlifting and really got into them. I also like good food — it’s one of my greatest joys in life.

In terms of relating to people, I’m somewhat of an ambivert. I tend to have a smaller group of friends that I really deeply care about, but I also enjoy large parties. Having said that, I do tend to have a bit of social anxiety in larger groups, even if it doesn’t seem like it, so I won’t usually be the first to go up to someone I don’t know. I‘ve also been told that I can come across as intimidating (idk if that’s a nicer word for “seems unfriendly at first”) but I promise I’m nice when people say hi! And I do love getting to know people in more intimate settings.

Where did you grow up and how did you get to New York?

I grew up and spent my entire life and career in Singapore, aside from a formative 6-month jaunt in Paris during my undergrad years and a fair amount of travel for work, if that counts. I did my undergrad degree in sociology at the National University of Singapore, and had the dubious pleasure of getting my dream job post-graduation and realizing after the course of several years that dreams sometimes change. I moved to New York to attend Stern, and was one of the crazy, lucky internationals to be able to be here physically from the beginning of our program. Moving my life to the other side of the globe in the middle of a global pandemic was definitely one of the riskier things I’ve done in my life, but I have zero regrets.

What have you done that’s riskier than that?

Well, there was that time I swam out on a beach in Hawaii like a stupid tourist (which I was), and got pulled out by the riptide. Long story short, I couldn’t swim back and had to be rescued by this amazing surfer who was just so nonchalant about saving my life. I have no idea how he towed both of us to shore just paddling on his surfboard with his arms. It’s a great story, but not an experience I plan to repeat. I definitely came away with a healthier respect for the ocean. I immediately got back into the water the next day (on a safe beach!) to make sure I didn’t get a phobia though, haha. I still love the water.

You are our fashionista in Leadership Fellows. How did that start?

Awww thanks for the compliment! I would be lying if I said I didn’t love fashion, and I do appreciate it when people notice, especially because I grew up surrounded by people who didn’t particularly care for it. As a kid, my mother (love you!) used to take me shopping at stores targeted towards women her age, so there’s a picture of 14-year-old me with our extended family where I’m dressed like a 40-year-old accountant. (No offense to accountants!) I really started getting into fashion and beauty by reading magazines, back when physical magazines were still a thing. I would pick up a giant stack every month and pore through all the stories and glossy editorials. It seemed like such a mysterious, glamorous world, and I just wanted to understand it and have it impart a bit of ~magic~ into my life. I also spent most of my pre-university years wearing a school uniform, so the times when I could wear something else seemed extra special.

Tell us about how your love of fashion shaped your pre-MBA career?

I went to pretty serious, academically-driven schools, but younger me was never really all that excited by “typical” career paths like law and medicine (or business, ironically). It was my dream to work in magazines, even in high school, so I ended up doing a series of mostly-unpaid internships before, during, and after undergrad that eventually landed me my first job as a writer at a fashion magazine. It was at Style, one of the magazines I used to read religiously as a teenager, so it felt like things had really come full circle. I was there for about 2.5 years and I felt like I was in heaven. I had my dream job, I loved my team, life was good — and then the magazine shut down.

I was really, really devastated, but… life goes on. I picked myself up and somehow wrangled a more senior position at another magazine called Singapore Tatler. It wasn’t as fashion-driven, but was higher on the luxury totem pole, so I got to work more closely with brands at the peak of the luxury pyramid, which was very eye-opening. I enjoyed the work there and my colleagues were great, but that was also when the doubts started creeping in. I thought I was crazy at first; I got to have so much fun working with amazing creatives and with brands like Chanel and Patek Philippe, going on press junkets to Paris, Geneva, Shanghai — I mean, what did I have to complain about? I was so lucky to have had that kind of career.

In hindsight, I suspect the main issue was that I didn’t feel like my work really mattered in the grand scheme of things, or made people’s lives any better. Writing about expensive watches and lipstick can be a lot of fun, but…  it just wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life anymore. And it turns out that doing what you love for work can take away a lot of the joy that comes from it — at least for me. I did go on to become part of the founding editorial team for a new startup luxury magazine that was more oriented towards philanthropy and advocacy, but it still wasn’t quite what I was looking for. So, 6 years into my “dream job,” I quit. And now here I am!

So what’s next for you after Stern?

I’ll be going into a rotational program at Mastercard, which I’m pretty excited about. I didn’t expect to go into fintech or payments coming into Stern, but I really identify with Mastercard’s “doing well by doing good” philosophy (yes, I drank the Kool-Aid). Fintech is a fascinating industry to be in right now, especially with all the developments that are happening in blockchain and crypto, so it’s pretty exciting to be in it, albeit from the perspective of an incumbent payments company. Going from fashion magazines to fintech is also a pretty big jump, not gonna lie, so I’m looking forward to all the learning opportunities from the different rotations.

Has anything about Stern or business school in general surprised you?

That business school is really not about academics at all, hahaha. I came in with the intention of hunkering down and learning everything I could, because my background meant that I knew next to nothing about business. I remember constantly being baffled in Foundations of Finance. Like what even is a beta? CAPM? Equity risk premium?? I had such bad imposter syndrome in our first year, it was crazy. And while I did learn a lot from classes along the way, I don’t think that’s what b-school is all about. I think the most valuable thing about b-school is that you get to meet people from different places and different walks of life who all share a similar drive and ambition. B-school helps you loop these people into your network, which is great of course, but it also helps facilitate an intense exchange of ideas that I find really worthwhile. Like the Leadership Fellows program we’re in, for example! Meeting so many different people and hearing about their experiences has really helped me grow as a person, which is great.

Stern high? Besides meeting me.

And Lady Gray!! She’s so adorable! And you joke, but the highs for me were definitely when I got to meet and become close friends with some of our fellow Sternies. Making friends as an adult is incredibly difficult, and I was afraid that moving to a completely new country later in life would mean that I wouldn’t be able to develop those close friendships with people. That’s why I’m so so grateful that I’ve been lucky enough to make friendships here at Stern that I really think will last a lifetime.

Stern low?

I think most people would say recruiting season, which is incredibly stressful, but mine was actually in fall of 2021, long after I’d already gotten the full-time offer from Mastercard. I realized that I had hit all of the goals I had set for myself coming into the MBA, but I still felt so miserable. I had always been someone who rationalized away my emotional stress instead of actually resolving it, and it turns out that that’s not a long term solution because it just postpones the consequences. The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize I had been bottling everything up until that point. So I got a great therapist, and many, many unbottling sessions later, I’m happy to say that I’m actually really happy. Life is good.

What a beautiful, honest response. What’s your go-to way to relax?

It used to be working out and going for ballet classes — I would joke the gym was my meditation because it was the only time I wasn’t staring at a screen. Unfortunately, that habit sort of disappeared during the pandemic and hasn’t quite come back. I’m working on it though! Now, I mostly read and watch a lot of YouTube videos about random things. I just finished a book by Singapore’s former ambassador to the UN, and am working on the second book in the Three Body Problem trilogy — highly, highly recommended. Youtube-wise, I recently discovered a series called Ancient Recipes with Sohla that recreates historically-accurate meals from past centuries. The nerd and the foodie in me are both very intrigued. Wisecrack’s pop culture philosophy videos are also pretty cool.

I also love to snuggle my roommates’ cat when she deigns to allow it. Her name is Meow, short for Meow Meow. It’s taken me two years, but I think I’ve finally bribed my way into her fuzzy heart. I would love a dog or cat of my own, but my lifestyle is not conducive to getting one right now, so I 100% take the chance to cuddle other people’s fuzzies when I can.

What are you looking for in a man?

I’m looking for someone who’s interested in having deeper conversations. It probably sounds boring to some people, but I really enjoy discussing big ideas in topics like art, politics, sociology, religion, etc., so I would prefer for my partner to have the same inclinations. It’s also important to me that my partner be someone who has a global perspective and actively seeks new opinions and experiences to challenge their own beliefs about the world. It’s easy to surround yourself with people who are similar to you, but I think that growth comes from understanding that people think and live in different ways, and that all of those people have value. It doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with every one of those people, but I think understanding and empathy goes a long way. I also find it really attractive when someone’s passionate and driven about something, so there’s that. Oh, and someone who’s emotionally self-aware and available would be nice. The rest is negotiable.

What are some deal-breakers for you?

I don’t have time for people who are not sincere and genuine in their interactions with others, whether it be with me or anyone else. I also dislike it when people are self-centered, or don’t take others’ thoughts and feelings into consideration.

Ideal first date?

This might again sound boring, but I really like for the first date to be somewhere quiet where we can just chat over drinks or good food. If the spark is there, the date will be fun anyway. I think it’s the quiet moments that tell you if you really want to spend time with someone, even when there’s nothing exciting to distract you.

Did you pick up any fun quarantine hobbies?

Uhhhh not really, unless binge-watching trash TV counts. I never used to watch reality TV, but at a certain point, there’s only so much entertainment you can have during lockdown. Tiger King really broke the seal and now I’ve watched a disgraceful amount of TV showing people putting their love lives up for public scrutiny. The Ultimatum is the most realistic of the lot so far, IMO. Once things opened up a bit in New York though, I realized I really enjoy going to festivals and raves. I’d never been to any before moving to NY (mostly because there are none in Singapore), but now I’ve come to realize that I really love dancing to the untz untz untz. I also went to Coachella recently, and that was a ton of fun.

What kind of sense of humor do you have?

Hahaha I giggle at a lot of things, including puns and really bad dad jokes. I also like to pretend my sense of humor is more sophisticated, but I grew up as the only girl among 8 boys (1 brother, 7 cousins, more than double that if you include the extended, extended family) and then went to an all-girls’ school, so I actually have a pretty dirty sense of humor. I just tend not to show it unless I’m fairly comfortable with someone, because I know not everyone appreciates it. Also, I confess that I’m really bad at making jokes. I just like laughing at them.

Okay, it’s my fave part…the race to the finish!

Red or white wine?

Ummm whiskey? Preferably scotch. But usually red, if I had to choose.

How about snacks?

Cheeeeeeeeese!! And Stacy’s pita chips. Sometimes carrots and hummus if I feel like something healthy.

You do make a mean cheeseboard. What is one of your weird quirks?

I sometimes make random noises or talk to myself. Like I’ll read something and make a comment out loud… to an empty room. I promise I’m not crazy. Just weird. I also have an ungodly number of tabs open on both my phone and computer. It’s how I know that Chrome just shows you a 🙂 when you go past 99 tabs on your phone.

What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

Hit the snooze button.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Rude or inconsiderate people.

What is the worst job you could have?

Probably an investment banker. Sorry bankers, it’s not personal, I just don’t love numbers and really like having a life.

What celebrity annoys you the most?

I don’t really keep up with celebrities, but probably Gwyneth Paltrow. I hate all the nonsense bullshit she spews on Goop.

What is your least favorite beverage?

Anything too sweet. Or anything that has absinthe in it. I had the world’s worst pumpkin absinthe cocktail in Hong Kong a few years ago and am forever traumatized.

What was your favorite book growing up?

Cliché, but it’s definitely Harry Potter. I remember making my parents get up at 5.30am so that we could be there when the bookstore opened extra early at 7am for the launches of books 4 through 7. My parents were champions though. They really supported my reading habits as a kid.

Nicolette Wong, our MBA2 fashionista and beautiful person, inside and out: I feel like I got to learn even more about you through this interview and I hope our classmates feel the same! Thank you for your thoughtful and genuine responses.

Sternies, you can find Nicolette on Instagram @heyitsmenicolette, LinkedIn, or email her!

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