Ajumma Fred: The Globetrotter
Don't let her sweet, angelic face fool you. Ajumma Frederica, or Fred, is an unstoppable force who achieves anything that she sets her mind to. Prestigious degrees? She's gottem. World-class strategy expert? Affirmative. But the most important priority for her is spending quality time with her husband, teenage daughter, toddler, and two rescue dogs in sunny San Diego.
Tell us about yourself.
Born in Taiwan I immigrated to Canada when I was 3 years old and then moved back to Taiwan five years later, after attaining Canadian citizenship. We lived in Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb outside of Toronto.
When we first moved to Canada we didn’t speak English nor have a car for 4 of our 5 years there because my mother was too scared to drive in the snow. In our 5th year, my mother found the courage to take the driving test and passed! Getting our first car was a big moment. I still remember, we chose a bronze Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Now we didn’t have to take the bus anymore, but instead, drove to the train station as my mom still didn’t feel comfortable driving on the freeway.
My father was an ‘astronaut’ during this time – Chinese for ‘tai kung ren’ – ‘no wife person’. “Astronauts” are husbands who stay in Taiwan for work and visit the family during holidays. During these 5 years, I definitely learned about hard work (during the winter, my brother and I took turns to shovel the snow on our empty driveway so we wouldn’t get snowed in), teamwork (grocery store trips were limited to 6 bags – 6 hands between my brother, mother, and I), adaptability (my childhood comprised of spending the school year in Canada, where it would essentially snow from Halloween until Easter, and summers in the sweltering heat and humidity of Taipei), and the importance of family. Each time my father visited was like Christmas. We were no longer limited to my mom’s driving skills. We could go anywhere and do anything, and weren’t limited to hot dogs and Campbell soup.
I first came to the US at the prime age of 14, when my parents shipped me off to boarding school in Connecticut. I’ve stayed in the US ever since, attending Wellesley, an all women’s college, majoring in Economics and International Relations, and then Wharton for my MBA, majoring in Finance. My first job out of college was at an investment bank in NYC. After business school, I worked at a top tier strategy consulting firm, and then as a strategy executive in various software companies. My education coupled with work experience allows me to work as an independent M&A strategy consultant. I feel blessed to juggle work and being a mom to my teen daughter and toddler son. I wouldn’t change my life for anything. I love travelling and immersing myself in local cultures, which stems from my childhood, as well as spending my junior year abroad at Oxford University,, a summer in France (work/study), and working for 2+ years in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. In my free time, I enjoy playing USTA league tennis, volunteering at local charities with my daughter through National Charity League, and exploring new restaurants.
What does being an Ajumma mean to you?
Being an Ajumma to me means being able to juggle multiple responsibilities at once and managing the kids (and hubby) to step up to the plate to make it all happen. When my daughter was in elementary school, she wrote the requisite mother’s day poem for me. It started: “Cooking, sewing, driving… My mom is as strong as a donkey….” Her teacher made her edit out donkey and say ‘strong as the Coronado Bridge.” Everyday, as many moms do, I juggle work, kids, carpool, league tennis, cooking, kids activities, laundry, groceries, ‘being present’ with family and kids, and making sure to have some ‘me time’. The reality is that making all this happen is highly dependent on my trusty team. My team consists of my husband and partner in crime who more often than not takes on 7am school drop offs and afternoon pick up duty, our reliable babysitter who comes in the mornings to watch the toddler while I work, and a highly independent and responsible daughter who makes breakfast for herself and has her homework covered. Even little guy contributes as I depend on him to take his 2 hour nap in the afternoon which gives me time to focus on work.
Ajummas are known to have super-human strength and abilities. What is your Ajumma superpower?
I seem to know when my teen doesn't brush her teeth, despite her confident 'yes' when I ask. She has tried all the tricks in the book - wet toothbrush, mouthwash, gum....
But seriously, I am really good at relating with others. This could also be described as blending in (versus taking the spotlight). I think having lived and worked in so many different countries, appreciating and understanding people’s differences has become second nature. I believe the ease of information sharing via social media/the internet and the ease of travel has made the world smaller and more homogenous – to that extent we should really celebrate people’s differences.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve overcome?
Struggling with secondary infertility [inability to become pregnant or carry a baby to term after previously giving birth to a baby] has been one of my biggest challenges. Thru four miscarriages, I learned many new terms (e.g. no yolk sac – what, are we chicken?; no heart beat – ok, I get that; incompatible with life – huh?). After giving up we adopted a second rescue dog instead. Our story did not end there and I will be forever grateful my story has a happy ending and a new beginning. After ten years my husband and I were surprised and blessed with baby #2. In fact, we chose to name our son Theo, which means ‘gift from God’.
Sage Ajumma advice? (words you live by?)
Words I live by are “Never hurts to ask” and “It won't happen unless you give it a try”. I often live by these words in my daily life whether it be asking for a better seat on the plane or a quieter hotel room to negotiating my consulting contracts at rates that compensate me for good work. I aspire and aim for the best no matter the situation.
Finally, what is your guilty pleasure?
Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie. Actually, who am I kidding... any flavor ice cream and brand! Recently, I discovered Trader Joe’s Mint Chip and Ultra Chocolate flavors are great too. The most ice cream I have ever eaten in one sitting is probably a pint. My MO is to eat from a teaspoon while watching t.v. after a long, stressful day. My husband laughs saying he’s never seen a small spoon hold so much ice cream – teetering in balance – but I can still say its ‘just one spoonful’.