What We’re Up To

A Coffee with… Diana Choi, People Operations Manager

May 28th, 2020

Coffee with Diana Choi, People Operations Manager

☕️ We grabbed coffee with Diana Choi, People Operations Manager to talk about the importance of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the way her heritage helped shape who she is today and how she’s coping during COVID-19 (watch out Ina Garten, she’s coming for your gig).

How do you like your coffee?

I like my coffee black, whether hot or cold brew.

How did your heritage shape who you are today?

Both of my parents are immigrants from South Korea. They came over in the ‘80s, met in New York at the corner bodega/greenmarket where they both worked working minimum wage, and so my sisters and I were born and raised between Queens and New Jersey. I definitely grew up Korean and American, almost 50/50.  I spent all of my summers from when I was five through high school in Seoul, so three months out of the year I was mostly away from my parents and in the care of my non-English speaking family. A lot of people, especially first-generation Americans, experience this tension navigating between their two identities and I certainly went through a phase as a teenager where I really tried to play down my Korean and Asian heritage. Up to that point, I experienced it as the root of unwanted attention and it was more of a burden than anything. Going to college was the first time I really started feeling a sense of pride, especially by way of missing the country, the language and certainly the food.

Growing up in heavily immigrant communities between Queens and New Jersey, I saw how people really depended on each other for everything: jobs, food, childcare, just any kind of support. My parents had no other family in the states for the first several years they were getting established and so they connected with neighbors and made friends until we had our own ad-hoc extended family. Now that I’m an adult, living with that spirit of humility and generosity towards strangers is absolutely core to my being, because that’s not just how we survived but how we were able to thrive. Thankfully, I don’t have to contend with as many of the barriers that my parents’ generation had to so I can apply myself widely to a diversity of causes I really care about. I do, however, bring it back to my roots through the Korean-American Scholarship Foundation, a small 100 percent volunteer-led organization that helps provide small, need-based grants to high achieving students. It’s especially close to me because my mom, who was an exceptional student and had high aspirations, had to sacrifice her hopes for college due to her family’s financial constraints.

Diana Choi, People Operations Manager
Diana’s first birthday party in her family’s house in Elmhurst, Queens.

What traditions does your family have that are important to you?

There’s Lunar New Year and Chuseok, a fall harvest Thanksgiving-like holiday. They revolve around massive amounts of food which is how we qualify an important holiday. The kitchen is really where we convene and where my fondest memories take place. My first jobs as a toddler were to clip off the heads of dried anchovies and to pound garlic. My sisters and I have to Google the dates each year though because they go by the lunar calendar. My dad even still goes by his lunar birthday which means I’m on the verge of missing it every year.

One of the things I didn’t grow up with but is feeling more and more important is the annual memorial service. We’ve done a version of this memorial service for my grandparents over the years, whether it’s at the beginning of spring or on the anniversary, but it’s a really lovely way to commemorate your loved ones. Whether in the states or at their gravesites, we prepare favorite foods and liquor and get together to share memories and a meal. The ritual aspects shift every couple of years and also depend on whether we’re here in the states or able to actually visit their graves but either way, I really love that we can genuinely celebrate someone’s memory even while grieving their loss.

Why did you join BerlinRosen?

I was really sold on the work and the people. On the work side, the projects are so often mission-driven and cutting-edge. We also have this great New York representation in clients which makes me feel especially engaged as a New Yorker. It’s also been really fun to join BerlinRosen in a pivotal growth moment as that’s where my day-to-day gets especially interesting. And as for the people, everybody I met as I was getting to know BR and everyone I continue to meet is just so clearly whip-smart, accomplished, and yet so incredibly earnest and warm.

Describe what you do at BerlinRosen.

I’m on the People Team which then feeds into the wider Operations stack. A lot of what I do sits at the intersection of people and operations, like building out and launching new systems, policies and tools, essentially anything that is meant to make both employee life and our backend operations function smoothly.

What have you been doing to cope during the COVID-19 crisis?

I’ve been reading some good fiction and trying to keep a healthy distance from falling into news cycle rabbit holes. I’ve definitely pursued baking in a way I haven’t before since I can nurture a starter and be oven-side all day every day. A friend of mine works for She Wolf Bakery (my number one favorite bread purveyors—shameless plug) so I got some starter through them to pursue sourdough English muffins with inspiration from some BR colleagues.

Tell me a life-changing moment that helped shape who you are today.

I took a fellowship right after graduating from college with a bi-lingual education nonprofit in a small, semi-rural town in Brazil. Up to that point, I think I took for granted the built-in communities I inherited through school and work and other programs. For the first time, I experienced feeling really alone and really vulnerable. I ended up relying on the kindness of my neighbors and fellow teachers and genuinely became a member of my small community, going on family trips to other cities and participating in birthday parties, barbecues, and reunions. Coincidentally, I met Yann (Hatchuel, Director of Marketing) in Rio de Janeiro all those years ago. Yann wasn’t working at BerlinRosen yet either, which was why it was such a pleasant surprise to bump into him while I was interviewing!

⚡️ Fast Facts

  • Last TV show I binge-watched: High Maintenance
  • Restaurant (delivery) I’d recommend to close friends: Look By Plant Love House, a Thai place in Prospect Heights. They make a very salty Isan sausage, among other things that I love.
  • Best concert I’ve ever experienced: I saw The Flaming Lips when I was in high school here in NYC. There was confetti, a giant hamster ball, laser lights…just a stellar show.
  • Book that changed me: The God of Small Things.
  • Movie I’d pay to see again and again: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, because I do pay to see it again and again as I always rent and never buy. 
  • My hero is… My mom. She really had to fight for opportunity. She made a lot of sacrifices and took a ton of risks to get to where she is today as the founder and CEO of her global womenswear business of thirty years. 
  • Advice I’d tell my young self: Invest in your relationships with people and have a generous spirit.