I’ve been living here for over 30 years, and I’m at the point where I’m very settled and established. However, I did go through seven years of very difficult times, which I document in my memoir, particularly emphasizing how, with resilience and courage, I overcame the harsh treatment and stereotypes I experienced as an immigrant, a woman, and a minority leader running a successful business. I think that through these seven years I learned a lot of important lessons, which have made me who I am today. Also, I’m doing well financially. I can retire, but I choose not to, because there are things that I still want to do. I want to be able to give back, because this country has given me so much — I choose to teach, publish helpful books, and share life lessons that will help other business owners and entrepreneurs be better leaders.
I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sarah Y. Tse, an immigrant from Hong Kong, having come to America at the age of 18 for her education. She received her M.A. in Marketing from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and her B.A. in Computer Graphics Design from Biola University. She co-founded TSE Worldwide Press with her late father in 2004, and established United Yearbook Printing in 2008. Sarah takes pleasure in mentoring and teaching others the art of self-publishing, especially with those who are first-time authors, teenagers, or community leaders such as police officers, school administrators, and school teachers. Above all else, Sarah is passionate about empowering people to see and activate the God-given potential which resides in each of us. Sarah’s motto is “You can do it!”
In March 2020, Sarah released her book, “7 Years on the Front Line,”which shares her personal experiences in business. She hopes to teach others how to make wise decisions and avoid the mistakes she stumbled into while running her business.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/7e29c17e3fd9a03ac3ad997938c27fdc
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Hong Kong. I was born with a lung disease, so I spent my first year in the hospital. After I got released I was diagnosed with a learning disability, because being separated from my family and not having any social contact during my first year meant I never learned how to communicate with others. I was diagnosed with autism, and I remember I had to go to a lot of counseling sessions. This may sound strange, because people look at me now and see me as very talkative and communicative. This inability to communicate went on all throughout my time in elementary school. I remember there was a parent / teacher meeting one day, when I was maybe only 8 or 9 years old — one of my teachers, an older gentleman in his 60’s, told my mom to really nurture me, because he knew I was going to succeed in life. And now I think “Wow, that was prophetic.” My parents took this to heart, and they started putting me in a lot of activities and tutoring in order to help me excel both academically and socially. By the time I graduated elementary school, I was at the point where I started having friends and could finally keep up academically with the other kids. So I grew up in a very simple, normal family with two very dedicated parents. My parents could have aborted me when they learned of my lung disease during my mother’s pregnancy, but they did not. And, through perseverance and academic giftedness, I got a chance to come to America to continue my education.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
Yes. In 1989 there was social unrest in Hong Kong because of the events at Tiananmen Square. It was June 4th when the riot erupted in Beijing, and that incident triggered a lot of fear for people in Hong Kong. But I think the timing was also right for me because I’d just graduated from high school, and I knew I needed to make a decision about my future. I knew that I wanted to go to college overseas, because at that point I felt that there was no future for me in Hong Kong, as far as education goes. And Susan, one of my closest friends from Hong Kong, was already a freshman at Biola, a university in southern California. She was one year ahead of me, and she was the one who made the greatest impact on my decision to come to America and continue my education. So, to make a long story short, the social unrest in China paired with the knowledge that I needed to continue my education made it very natural for me to make the decision to move. I was 18 at that time, and I was already working, so I remember I was the one who paid for my one-way ticket to go to college. This was in 1989, and the day was August 18th when I landed in America as an international student at Biola University, the school I decided to attend.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
In the previous question, I explained how my friend Susan was instrumental to my decision to study abroad. The experience of coming to America was very exciting for me — there were a lot of unknowns, but I was more excited than afraid of the future’s uncertainty.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I didn’t really have that drastic of a move — I really only had one piece of luggage and a teddy bear when I came. I would say that the person who played a big role in my decision to move to America was my friend Susan. She wrote me during her freshman year of college, and she would send me pictures and letters about how wonderful Biola was, telling me about the campus, the beach, and the food — so I was really fascinated with all the stories she was telling me, and I still have those letters that she sent me. But I still had to get my parents’ blessing to come here by myself, so Susan got her father involved. Her father was actually the principal of my high school in Hong Kong, and he was also a good friend of Dr. Clyde Cook, the president of Biola at that time. So my father talked to Susan’s dad about me moving to America — I have no idea what they specifically talked about, but my father finally said yes and gave me his blessing. We’ll always have people who are advocates for us, in one way or another, and in this situation Susan and her father played a crucial role in my life by advocating for my education.
So how are things going today?
I’ve been living here for over 30 years, and I’m at the point where I’m very settled and established. However, I did go through seven years of very difficult times, which I document in my memoir, particularly emphasizing how, with resilience and courage, I overcame the harsh treatment and stereotypes I experienced as an immigrant, a woman, and a minority leader running a successful business. I think that through these seven years I learned a lot of important lessons, which have made me who I am today. Also, I’m doing well financially. I can retire, but I choose not to, because there are things that I still want to do. I want to be able to give back, because this country has given me so much — I choose to teach, publish helpful books, and share life lessons that will help other business owners and entrepreneurs be better leaders. And I think I’m at a point where I can focus more on projects that better society, whether that’s through helping others publish their work or by helping the younger generations fulfill their dreams. So I’m very intentional with the way I spend my time, because I’ve decided to utilize my experience as a business leader, mentor, and teacher in order to reciprocate the opportunities that have been given to me. Even though the journey hasn’t been easy, there are verifiable lessons that I have embraced and plan to teach others.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I would say that, in order to bring goodness to the world, the person who has received my help must understand that kindness gets passed on from one person to the next, and that the person who has received will be the next to give. So I don’t think it stops with me. When people I’ve helped come back and ask me “What can I do for you?” I always tell them to pay it forward — that’s the best way to reciprocate what you have received. I received help when I first came to this country as an 18-year-old, and now I feel that I’m in a position where I can give back and help others.
You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
I officially became a US citizen in 2009, which took me a really long time. It also took me a long time to become a green-card holder, since my application with the INS took over ten years to go through. A normal processing time for cases like mine may have only taken five years, but in my situation it took far more. So I think that, especially regarding the processing time, there should be more accountability with the INS. They’d always tell me that they lost my papers, but how could an agency run by the government give that sort of response? How could they lose my papers multiple times? But again, I always had advocates, and I remember that when my application was past the appropriate waiting period, I was introduced to Congressman Gary Miller at my church. I went to his office and filled out a form, explaining my situation. His staff contacted someone from the INS to question about the long delay of my green card application, and after they got involved my green card was approved in three months, maybe even less. I had all my paperwork, I went through all the interviews, my education and my work experience entitled me to receive a good green card, and yet despite all these qualifications my application had still been delayed for ten years. So I think that there should be more accountability within the immigration system.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
First of all, you need to be honest — you need to work towards being a person of integrity. I think that that’s the foremost important thing. Early on in my career, when I was a graphic artist, I had to work really hard because I was a freshly graduated woman working in an industry that was dominated by older men. I realized early on that I needed to prove to my peers and supervisors that I was capable of doing the job. So I worked hard and, within a very short time, I was able to gain the trust of my supervisors. One year after I graduated from college I received promotions, making me one of the youngest leaders in my company’s art department. I was given the responsibility of training over 20 other staff members. So, firstly, if you want to receive promotions and benefits, you need to have integrity and a very strong work ethic. This is how my father raised me. The second key is, don’t be afraid of doing more, of finding ways to better yourself and bring good to others. The third key to achieving the American dream is, do not hold back from trying something new. Step out of your comfort zone and do something that may not be very customary for you. I am Chinese, and there are certain cultural norms that could have held me back — for example, an aversion to being in the spotlight. This mentality of being highly withdrawn can have negative consequences when applied to cultures outside of my own. If we are unafraid of stepping out of our comfort zones, then we can grow even more. We can gain more life experiences, and we can gain more opportunities. I never thought I would be doing the work that I’m doing today, but if I had let my gender and age hold me back when I graduated, then I wouldn’t have been able to achieve today’s success. The fourth key is, learn to appreciate different perspectives, experiences, and cultures. California is a very diverse state, but when I first immigrated here as a student I only ate Chinese food and hung out with other students from Hong Kong. However, if you want to flourish in new environments, then you need to learn to notice and appreciate the good parts of other cultures. Try different foods. Make friends with different sorts of people. As a result, you’ll end up being a more well-rounded person with a wider worldview. This mentality really helped me with my company, TSE Worldwide Press, which conducts business all over the world. I’ve learned to appreciate and respect other people’s cultures, and the more I experience the more opportunities I have. Some of my best customers are from Israel, and they are very good business people — I’ve learned so much from them, and they are also some of my most loyal customers. So appreciate, respect, and learn from people who are different from you. The fifth key to achieving the American dream is to take good care of yourself. As immigrants, all we know is working hard. However, by the time we reach our retirement age, we don’t know how to enjoy life, because we’re so accustomed to working. We may even end up not having any friends in retirement, because all our focus during life as an immigrant was on working hard and not having a social life. I think we need to have a really good balance of mental, physical, and spiritual wellness, and we need to be the best version of ourselves in order to achieve more. I think that whether your 20, 30, 40, 50, or even in your 70s, you can still continue to work on yourself and fulfill your American dream, because at different stages of life you can focus on different tasks and goals.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
America’s legal system is very developed, and I know this because I personally went through an appellate court case, which I talk about in my book. Through that experience, I realized how strong the American legal system is, especially on the appellate court level. This strength has given me hope for the future of this country. It encourages me to know that there is a higher level of court that will deliver justice in a case that has been ruled incorrectly by the lower courts. The supreme court is also, I feel, a very strong system because of how it interprets the constitution. So I think that, with the well-developed upper courts, I am optimistic. We may continue to experience challenges in this country, but we know that we have a very strong system within the appellate and supreme courts. The second thing I’m optimistic about is that there are some really good, dedicated lawmakers out there, and I’m seeing more and more that are stepping up and speaking out about issues that matter. They do not necessarily represent either one party, but they are individuals that genuinely want to make a good change to America — these lawmakers are advocates for certain groups within the population, and I’m even seeing that some of the students that I mentor want to utilize their legal skills in order to make a positive impact on society. I’m very excited about the leaders that are standing up and acting on their desire for change and advocacy. So those are two things that I am optimistic about.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.
I’ve given this some thought. I would want to have breakfast with Denzel Washington. I want to let him know that his commencement speeches are very impactful, and that I’m making an example of them and using them as training materials for my office and staff members. So I would like to have breakfast with him and ask him questions. One of the things I recently learned from him is the importance of claiming your blessings, which I’ve started doing. So he is an individual that I would like to have a private meal with, because I think I can learn a lot from him.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can follow me on Instagram or Twitter –
That was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!