Around the World With the Xchange Fellowship

The Xchange Fellowship is a program that takes three young HKS professionals from their home offices and relocates them to a different office for three months, every quarter. From San Francisco to London, Washington D.C. to San Francisco and Shanghai to Washington D.C., 2018’s Q1 fellows have stepped out of their comfort zones to experience new cities, new countries and new work, all with the goal of becoming stronger designers with broader perspectives.

We checked in with Alison Francis, Rebecca Soja and Alan Xu at the end of their fellowships to see how things went. Read on to see what the Q1 fellows have taken away from the Xchange experience.

What was your goal going into the Xchange?

[Alison] I wanted to become a more well-rounded designer. When I first got to London, I started helping with education, which was brand-new for me, and I’ve also worked with the hospitality and sports sectors here. I recently got my WELL accreditation and I’ve been helping with the WELL documentation for the London office. It’s been good to be able to put those skills to practice. Moving to the London office, I also had a personal goal to travel as much as I could.

[Rebecca] As a co-chair of the Mid-Atlantic Design Fellowship, I wanted to inspire and plant the seeds of a new design fellowship on the West Coast. We’ve gained tremendous value from our fellowship back east and I’m excited to see how the San Francisco and Los Angeles offices can benefit from it.

[Alan] I’ve traveled to the U.S. before, but I’ve never lived or worked here before. My biggest goal was to experience new work styles and a new lifestyle, and I’m very satisfied with the time that I’ve spent here. I’m mostly a designer in the Shanghai office, but now I’m working on medical planning and I’ve learned a lot of new skills.

What’s your most memorable experience from the Xchange?

[Alan] There’s an HKS hotel project just two blocks from our D.C. office. We took several tours around the construction site and it’s been fascinating to watch the project materialize. I’ve already decided to take a trip to Washington D.C. in the future and I’m going to stay at that hotel. Another memorable experience was a five-day meeting with a client from Egypt. They’re building a hospital, not for themselves, but for the whole country. I learned so much listening to that discussion that I felt like I was back in school.

[Alison] Traveling throughout Europe for the first time has been such an amazing opportunity. I’ve been exposed to so many cultures. One of my most memorable trips was to Barcelona, where I spent the entire weekend visiting as many Gaudi structures as possible. I have this obsession with him, so it was amazing to sit in the Sagrada Familia and take it all in. It’s truly different being there versus reading about it.

What kind of impact has the Xchange had on you as a designer?

[Rebecca] I’ve learned a lot while working on an office renovation in downtown San Francisco. I’ve been a part of the project since the initial field verification and I’ve put entire drawing sets together for bid and permit. It’s been exciting to take on more responsibility, and it’s boosted my confidence to work through design challenges and be the problem solver that I know I can be.

[Alison] Working with London’s hospitality group has been a great opportunity. I’ve learned a lot during the Xchange and I’ll be able to implement that knowledge back in San Francisco. I’ve also put my WELL AP certification into practice by helping with the documentation and coordination of the HKS London build out. That’ll be useful for any future WELL projects that we pursue.

How has the Xchange affected your life on a personal level?

[Alan] I’ve traveled to several cities and I’m leading a much healthier lifestyle. I’m a very big NBA fan so I see a lot of games here, which I’ve never been able to do before. I’ve traveled to cities like Miami, Orlando and New York, seeing and experiencing a lot of things that encourage me to travel more in the future.

[Rebecca] I’ve been going with the flow and not letting my routines dictate my experiences since I arrived in San Francisco. That’s a big thing for me because I’m such a regimented and disciplined planner. Having that attitude more integrated into my lifestyle is helping me live more in the moment.

What kind of advice would you give to future Xchange fellows?

[Rebecca] Expect some challenges, but also a lot of excitement and exposure to new experiences. This is an opportunity that a lot of firms don’t offer, so it’s something to take advantage of. It’s a way to broaden your connections within the firm and there are opportunities to diversify your work and life experiences.

[Alison] Expect a warm welcome into a new HKS family. Be open to new challenges and know that there’s always someone to help guide you. It’s an opportunity that not a lot of people get in their career and it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone.