I remember it clearly. It was four years ago and I was still living in Hungary. I was in a long-distance relationship and my partner and I were in the process of moving to Belgium. I was supposed to move to Brussels in a month.
One day my phone rang, and my partner was on the line
He sounded quite animated.
I will share with you the exact conversation.
Me: What’s happening? You seem excited.
Him: I just got a job offer, and there are some changes to our plan.
Me: Ok, tell me what’s going on.
Him: Are you ready to move to Kuala Lumpur?
Him: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Me: Is it hot there? Is it a beautiful place?
Him: Well, yes. And yes.
Me: Ok, let’s go.
And that’s how our adventure began.
We tried Uber, but drivers kept rejecting us.
In this article, I will share with you my proven tips on how to build your personal brand from scratch in a different culture and environment far from home.
What is a personal brand?
Think of it as product branding, but here the product is – you guessed it – you.
Personal branding is a complex and planned process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, as they say. I will do my best to give you some personal examples and share vital steps that I took to get me where I am.
Let’s get to it.
1. Find your current identity and set goals in the new environment
While I was still in Hungary, I started to think about what I could do in Malaysia. I needed something easy that I could start immediately. I would be moving in 4 weeks. Who was I? What could I stand for once I stepped out of my comfort zone?
My diverse professional background came in handy; I had a fair few things to choose from. In the end, I decided on dancing. My logic was simple. Everyone likes to dance, it’s a community activity, it’s fun, and it’s a great conversation starter. Let’s go for it.
I started with free dance lessons every Friday, teaching all kinds of dances to Malaysians. Word got around and my classes became popular. I ended up organizing free dance parties with up to a hundred guests. The title of ‘Miss Dancewithmeasia’ became my personal brand.
Until today there are people who don’t know my name, but recognise me as Miss Dancewithmeasia.
2. Dive deep into the local culture
I observed the local environment. I deliberately avoided the expatriate communities. Instead, I went native. I frequented Malaysian restaurants as food and eating habits tell a lot about the local culture. I tried to understand the local customs and different traditions.
A lot of people forget this step, and they live in a bubble. If you want to get noticed, you need to connect with the locals, and for that you have to become a bit like the locals yourself.
After a year, I had friends from all over Malaysia who became my advocates because I demonstrated my willingness to integrate. I even learned a few words in Malay and found my favorite local dishes.
Editor’s note: APPROVED
3. Search for connections in the local communities
I contacted my former colleagues in the Philippines to ask if they knew someone in Kuala Lumpur who could help me and my partner when we arrived.
That was how I found my first Malaysian friend. There she was at the airport, all smiles. A complete stranger who had driven an hour out of the city to greet us. Today, we are best friends.
Also, being a dancer helped. There were social dance communities all over the world. The easiest way to get contacts before you move to a new country is to find local communities with similar interests.
Send them an email saying you will soon be emigrating, and you would like to join their community. I received an overwhelming amount of positive responses when I reached out and encourage you to do the same.
4. Give first and swap or barter services
This step is crucial. If you show you are willing to collaborate and you have a positive and honest attitude, a lot of doors will open.
At the same time, you also have to take every opportunity because you don’t know in advance where the puzzle piece will fit in the big picture. Here are a few things that I could only access because of my go-getter attitude:
- Collaborated with Mindspace to conduct free social dance classes, starting with a job interview.
- Interview with Social Nomad, through a Mindspace introduction.
- My first ever improvised photo shoot collaboration with Jeff and Julez that lead to my current brand image creator, the fantastic Julez Wong.
- I am the proud title holder of Mrs. Hungary International Global 2019, attended the Grand final in Malacca, thanks to an invitation from MIG Mrs. International Global.
- Hosted two episodes of a Hungarian TV series thanks to my close friendship with the Hungarian Embassy in Malaysia.
- Organised the first-ever Salsa Flash mob at the Pavilion Connection with the support of Tourism Malaysia which I got in touch with while shooting and preparing the Hungarian TV series
- Attended the Leaderonomics MAD youth Summit 2020 and facilitated a workshop about personal branding for 50 teenagers because I dared to offer my services and Leaderonomics said yes.
Alright, that may have been more than just a ‘few’. But at least I’ve made my point. Get out there and hustle, people!
5. Practice what you preach and create a master plan
Experts say it takes 15 years to build up an exceptional personal brand, and after that, another 15 years to perfect, align, and teach it to others so that you will be remembered for years to come. In the meantime, you have to maintain, adjust, and fine-tune everything you do.
There will be many things to do and your initial plan and vision will grow. Never sacrifice your core values and your vision or mission for short term happiness.
You have just one life, so make the best out of it. Don’t forget to contribute along the way, as faithful giving means touching other peoples’ hearts on a deeper level and this will always lead to win-win relationships.
While I was building up my new identity and personal brand in Asia, I found my calling, and my master plan was born. Dance With Me Asia was created to provide people with a place to support an active lifestyle. What Women Want is a social cause, a safe environment to raise awareness and help other women to thrive. Finally, Andrea Zsapka Branding is my profession, I help people save time and I support them as a personal development and personal branding coach so that they can live for their passion.
I am so thankful for everyone I met on my journey. It has been a fantastic adventure, and it’s far from over.
Andrea Zsapka is a certified coach and personal branding expert. Born in Hungary, she made the decision to move to Malaysia and has been living in Kuala Lumpur for the past 4 years, teaching individuals how to make changes in their lives to follow their passions. She is also a bona-fide dance instructor, and may force you to do the tango if you pronounce ‘Zsapka’ wrongly. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to connect with her.