Lingnan Stories

James Wong
Programme pursued at Lingnan University: Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Visual Studies 2010
Present career: Director, James Wong Studio

James Wong

The professors at Lingnan were very helpful, patiently explaining to me what to do, showing references and recommending books.

James Wong

Business and the sciences are generally recognised as fields which offer good job opportunities, solid careers and high earnings, so it’s little wonder that James Wong’s parents pushed him in this direction during his secondary school years. But things changed when it was time to choose what to learn at university.

Campus life hones skills for business life

“I had been studying science and business during my entire education up to then, because my family thought it was easier to find a job in those fields. I didn’t really want to study that anymore and, finally, they allowed me to choose arts,” says James, who now lives in London and runs his own business in photography.

Entering Lingnan University, he found the school energising, where discussions, team projects and fast turnaround times stretched his abilities, brought him closer to his classmates and taught him useful skills, which he would make good use of later in the “real world of work”. “I was a freshman and had many questions … The professors were very helpful, patiently explaining to me what to do, showing references and recommending books,” he says.

He also spent three years living in the university hostel, where he was a member of the committee with responsibilities of receiving newcomers and organising and promoting the hostel’s regular and ad hoc activities, visualising ads, printing flyers and dealing with the printing shop. “I didn’t even think of it at the time, but I was developing myself. It boosted my social, organisation and leadership skills,” he says, adding that the practical experience of marketing and promotion really helped him later to kick off his business. James says the biggest challenge at Lingnan was to keep a good balance between studying and having fun, as there were so many tempting programmes to enjoy.

Deciding on a life-long occupation was not easy. After graduating with a BA in Visual Studies, he considered joining the international 4A advertising agency where he previously interned. The company was impressed with his work and offered him a job. He found it exciting to work on projects for big brands, such as Marriott, Coca-Cola and Western Union, but the long working hours worried him: once he even worked for three days in a row without getting any sleep. “The working hours were so crazy. In addition, this kind of commercially oriented job was not my cup of tea at the time … so I was quite lost,” James says. Finally he decided to do an MA at Central Saint Martins, in London, hoping to gain a better understanding of his own interests.

While the global exposure he received at Lingnan via international exchange students and faculty helped him to fit in, studying for an MA at the highly rated art and design school was a far cry from his former socially active life. One-on-one tutorials, writing papers, doing readings and research were all solitary activities and he missed the camaraderie of teamwork.

Spotlighting a career in photography

On graduation, James was still not sure what he wanted to do. His passion for photography was only ignited two years later, when he joined a photo studio as a photo retoucher and got a break first as a photo assistant and later as photographer, learning about wedding photography. For two years, he observed how to run a studio as a business and decided to set up his own. His impeccable work and social skills helped him to gain customers by word of mouth, and he realised how important the skills learnt at Lingnan were in running his business, such as communication, leadership and problem solving skills, as well as teamwork and time management. He also came to appreciate the opportunity the school gave him in the hostel, where he was promoting programmes and designing leaflets, and by arranging his internship, where he picked up many ideas on advertising and marketing. “To make a living, you have to know marketing. It’s mostly about advertising, marketing and finding new clients,” he says.

James credits his success to the many opportunities received and competitions he won while studying at Lingnan. The one which stands out in his memory is a high-profile joint exhibition with a Polish artist, promoted through an in-house e-mail he replied to. James strongly advises prospective students to grab every opportunity and check their e-mails carefully every day. “The school sends out lots of useful and important messages. It would be sad if you missed a good opportunity just because you didn’t check your e-mails regularly.”