The #FIRST #VYT

VIAJIYU_Lee

Lee studies Scultpture at the prestigious Seoul National University. She will graduate in March 2019.

She is fluent in Korean, Japanese + English.

Lee was VIAJIYU's #FIRST #VYT, before the work experience program even had a name or its own Instagram feed. Or, the office had lights. Lee used to work in the dark by the glow of her laptop. 

Nic didn't name the student internship program: VIAJIYU Young #TRAILBLAZERS, until July 2015. Thanks to Caitlin + Naomi.

Nic thought the word, INTERN, was disempowering to women. Her work experience students would not fetch coffee. Her students would blaze trails. She wanted to empower young women to think BIG. She wanted her students to gain confidence from the start.

Here's what the #VYT experience meant to Lee...
"I love what I do now. I am very thankful to you, since you gave me the chance + courage to start again."

"When I have an important occasion or need courage that day, I wear VIAJIYU flats. I want to be a brave woman. Nic taught me that."

Lee is a woman of few words. 

So here's what Nic, VIAJIYU's founder, had to say about Lee...

The VIAJIYU Young #TRAILBLAZER program started by accident, thanks to Lee.

I met Lee at the Florence boutique in March 2014.

She changed my life.

She changed the course of VIAJIYU.

Lee kept VIAJIYU alive.

Lee was timid, but talented. I wanted to create confidence in Lee. I wanted to create a safe place for Lee to practice courage + her craft: graphic design.

I was lucky.  I had incredible internships at the start of my career.  

I was also struggling. I needed a purpose. I needed a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And, my purpose wasn't selling shoes at a shop in a foreign country.

Lee was my purpose. Every morning I forced myself out of bed to meet Lee.

Lee would spend a lot of time at VIAJIYU.

She was the #FIRST person to create a VIAJIYU postcard. She was the #FIRST person to create the how-to guide in Korean + Japanese. She was the #FIRST person to organize a student photo shoot around Florence.

VIAJIYU_first_postcard

Yet, she barely spoke a word the entire three months.

I tried not to pry. Or, ask too many questions. 

Before VIAJIYU, business trips took me to Seoul often. I loved Seoul, especially working with people there. Koreans were so precise.  They cared so much about design + the smallest details. They were obsessive about technology. They were curious + kind.

I respected Lee so much.  I thought she was exceptionally talented.

I was so grateful for her companionship + hard work. 

She created beautiful things. I loved her gentle spirit.

It was very sad when Lee's semester ended in June 2015 The three months went so fast.

And, I was alone. No Sam. (He had yet to join the business.) He was still living in Sydney. 

When Lee's last day came, she did what many students do today. She wrote me a letter.

Since that day, I have a secret shoebox filled with student letters.

I love them all.

But, Lee's letter was different.

First, Lee is not a native English speaker. Yet, she gave me a six-page handwritten letter in perfect English block letters with one instance of white out. HANDWRITTEN. SIX PAGES! Could this be the same girl?

Second, she shared a very personal story about herself with the bravest candor I could imagine.

Third, she made me cry.

Neither of us knew it, but we were both doing our best doggy paddle to survive. Showing up + trying hard for each other. Not yet ourselves.

My eyes still well up when I remember this chapter + all Lee did for me.

I couldn't believe she shared her story. I couldn't believe she was thanking me. I wanted to thank her. She saved me. Not once, but many times.

I took Lee's letter that day, sealed it inside an envelope + wrote across the flap: "Open this when things get hard."

For the rest of 2014, about every three months when I wanted to quit VIAJIYU, I opened Lee's letter. Cried. Folded it back up + sealed it again. 

In 2015, I opened it twice. And in 2016, once.

Every time I read Lee's letter, I am reminded of how grateful I am.

Lee helped me find my mission: Empower young women one step at a time. 

VIAJIYU_Lee_sketches

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Postscript: FROM SFO TO PEK, VIA ICN

To show Lee my gratitude, I flew to Seoul in August 2014. I was flying from our Facebook HQ pop-up shop in San Francisco to Beijing, China to speak at the APEC Women's Leadership Conference, another VIAJIYU-changing moment.

I wanted to thank Lee + her mom in person for all they did for me + VIAJIYU. I also wanted to show Sam #Seoul for the #FIRST time. 

Because of Lee (Ryan and Song), I hope my #FIRST VIAJIYU presence in Asia is #Seoul. Some day...