An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Chen-Sen 'Samson' Wu '92: Leveraging language and cultural skills in Singapore

Lawyer  |  Singapore

October 2018

By Paula Bock

Life journey: From 5th through 10th grade, I suffered from a potentially lethal cardiovascular condition that limited my physical activity until open-heart surgery restored my health. The period of temporary disability inspired me to take advantage of one’s gifts and opportunities. After studying medicine and practicing law in Washington, D.C., I joined GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as in-house counsel. That led to a long-term assignment to Singapore as chief counsel for our worldwide generic drugs business, leveraging my language skills and multicultural background as a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. I now counsel the chief medical officer of GSK, who has also lived in different countries.

Why Singapore

My wife taught English in Thailand and went on an extended medical mission to Mexico before we met. She is committed to serving others at home and abroad, so I promised to support that passion before asking her to marry me. Petitioning my company to send us to Singapore helped fulfill that promise. We also wanted our children to experience more of the world.

Biggest mistake

We should have done volunteer work as a family in some of the countries we visited. While a couple days’ efforts may not leave a lasting impact on those we try to help, the lessons to us would likely have been lasting.

A curious palate is a real asset. People share more about themselves when you enthusiastically try local food. Chen-Sen 'Samson' Wu '92

Lightbulb moment

I told a U.S.-educated Korean national that I bring diverse perspectives to America because I retained much of my Taiwanese heritage after immigrating to the U.S. “That was a generation ago,” she replied bluntly. “Korea has moved on. Asia has moved on.” She’s right, which makes my current exposure to Asia and elsewhere that much more meaningful in terms of what I hope to contribute back in the U.S.

On skills students need to be global citizens

Lakeside teachers consistently taught the need for awareness of bias— in what we read, in what we hear, and in ourselves. Also, the ability to articulate deeply held convictions without coming across as trying to impose reasoning or moral position.

Biggest culture shock on return trips to the U.S. after living and traveling in high-tech Asia

When traveling in central China (i.e., not even a major coastal city), I see locals use their smartphones to pay street food vendors. Foreigners like me, who don’t have a local bank account to link to WeChat, use cash in shame, and to the chagrin of the proprietors. In the U.S., technology does not infuse daily life to such a degree.

This article was first published in the Fall/Winter 2018 Lakeside magazine. Paula Bock is innovation and communications strategist for Mobilizing Myanmar, an initiative leveraging Burma’s smartphone revolution to connect women and the poor with economic opportunity. She’s the mom of a Lakeside 10th grader.