Drawing dreams in the Big Apple

05 April 2017 | EntrepreneurshipEducation
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Marilyn in New York City where she now works

When NUS alumna Marilyn Chew first packed her bags with eight other NUS students for the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme in New York City in 2014, little did she know then that this one-year stint would eventually launch her career in the Big Apple.

Marilyn was part of the pioneer batch of NUS students at NOC New York, during which she interned at e-commerce company Boxed while taking classes at New York University. When she graduated from NUS last year, Marilyn received a life-changing opportunity from Boxed to work full-time as a Marketing Associate. She deliberated for months and turned down multiple offers, before finally moving to the city on 8 March to begin her new journey. She credits her time at NUS for her success thus far.

“I’ve wanted to study at NUS ever since my secondary school days,” quipped Marilyn. The NUS Design and Environment graduate had always been interested in entrepreneurship and saw NUS as a step towards realising her goal. She has dabbled in a few businesses, from selling handmade pouches online with her best friend in 2011, to helping her family run a restaurant they had invested in in 2013. Although the restaurant business was short-lived, Marilyn does not look back on the episode with regret, admitting that she did not have the skills required to make it a success at the time. “I'm glad I failed because it made me learn how to cope with failure,” she remarked humbly.

When she learnt about NOC, she knew it was exactly the experience she was after. The fact that she was initially rejected before being granted a spot in the programme made her cherish the experience more. “I felt it was a privilege to represent my university in a great city,” said Marilyn.

While working as an intern at Boxed, Marilyn was given the freedom to explore various roles, including creating social media platforms and crafting a subway advertisement with the design team. The hands-on challenges, coupled with a supportive group of peers and mentors, gave her the opportunity to grow her skill set, especially in the fundamentals of running a start-up.

I'm glad I failed because it made me learn how to cope with failure.

The calligraphy enthusiast also attended various art workshops in her free time, and practised for hours to improve her control and consistency. After attending a workshop at a café in SoHo, Manhattan, the owner requested Marilyn handwrite all her menu signboards, which still hang proudly at the café today.

When she returned to Singapore, Marilyn started receiving requests for calligraphy lessons. “I began teaching friends and family, anyone keen to learn. As I taught more, I improved my teaching materials and skills,” she said.

Marilyn established her company, eterate.co — an amalgamation of “eternal” and “iteration”, representing her hunger to never stop learning and improving — and it wasn’t long before word spread online and referrals started pouring in. She held her first live calligraphy session at ION Orchard shopping mall for beauty company Skin Inc, and now counts big names such as SK-II, DKNY and Google Singapore among her clients.

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Live calligraphy session for the Google Premier Partner Summit

She works closely with her clients to tailor proposals unique to their customer experience, and many of them have become friends in the process. “I often turn to them for advice on how I can improve,” she said. She believes the theoretical and practical skills attained through NOC was a major factor in helping eterate.co take off so quickly.

These days, Marilyn’s time at Boxed is spent learning the ropes with regard to different marketing aspects and strategies. Outside of the office, she continues to hone her calligraphy skills and build her business by collaborating with clients based in the city and planning the launch of several new projects.  

Despite missing her family and friends, Marilyn relishes the challenge of not only adapting to her new environment in New York, but excelling in it. “I expected struggles along the way but being clear about why I moved here in the first place has definitely helped in overcoming them,” she said. Full of grit and fiery passion, Marilyn is ready to take a bite out of the juicy Big Apple.

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Marilyn (4th from left) was an active Sheares Hall resident in NUS and helped to design the exclusive Halls of NUS tee to instill camaraderie