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28 February 2018

Every Road Leads To Rome

Aleck Kwong (BSc in Quantitative Finance 2008) achieved full scores in the HKCEE with 10 A’s, and was admitted to CUHK through the Early Admission Scheme. Upon graduation he landed his dream job as a stock analyst at Morgan Stanley. Just as his career seemed to be moving on the right track, it dawned on him that his true passion did not lie in finance or investment but expressive arts therapy, which is what he studied as a pastime. He eventually became a registered therapist to promote the mental wellbeing of individuals through the expressive arts. Though some may think that Aleck took a huge detour in life, he found the scenic route more satisfying.

Aleck (left) developed a deep interest in music and drama from a young age. He plays the guitar and sings live in a play in 2012.

Hard Choices at a Crossroads

People often run into forks in the road with no clear signposts in life. Aleck struggled choosing his major after getting 10 A’s in HKCEE. With a keen interest in astronomy and art, he was tempted to go with physics or music, but concerns over his future career changed his mind. Since law and medicine did not appeal to him, he set his eyes on quantitative finance at CUHK. The major allowed him to take advantage of his strengths in mathematics and science and his desire to work with people. In addition, the prosperous Hong Kong financial industry offered no shortage of opportunities.

Aleck (back row, 2nd from right) was involved in student societies. He poses with fellow executive committee members of the Business Administration Society of Chung Chi College at University Mall.

Although Aleck studied economics and accounting in secondary school, he felt inadequate in terms of business knowledge and dedication compared to his peers, who were admitted for their A-Level performance. He worked diligently to compensate for his weaknesses and pick up what he missed. He reset his mind and studied investment and financial news to strengthen his knowledge. He also minored in Japanese for fun, and little did he know it would give him an edge later in his career.

Aleck’s most memorable experience was his exchange trips to Canadian and Australian universities in Year 3. The knowledge he acquired from the new overseas experience complemented what he learnt at CUHK and benefitted him immensely.

Aleck (1st row, 2nd from right) worked at different financial institutions after graduation.

Ups and Downs in the Financial World

Aleck was ready to flex his muscles in the financial services industry when he graduated in 2008. Unfortunately, his plan was derailed. Investment banks imposed hiring freezes as soon as the Financial Tsunami struck, resulting in a near miss with an offer. It took him a year to get a job at a private equity fund management company as an analyst. Aleck was grateful for the knowledge imparted by his boss, and after work he also began performing in plays and writing music to balance his work and personal life.

Two years later, the investor of the private equity fund withdrew, leaving Aleck and his boss unemployed. The crisis gave rise to a new opportunity. Aleck was invited for a job interview with global financial services giant Morgan Stanley. With his industry experience, programming skills and Japanese proficiency, he was hired for the job he had always wanted. He gradually gained the trust and appreciation from his boss by yielding significant investment returns for his company with his research and analysis.

However, the satisfaction Aleck got from the job could not make up for his growing anxiety. He became aware that his research and analysis did not necessarily matter because a host of uncertainties play in role in influencing market and investment returns. The contract nature of his position did not provide any job security either. These concerns prompted him to question his self-worth. The “work comes first” mentality in his workplace contradicted his desire for work-life balance. At the same time, he became increasingly drawn to expressive arts therapy, a topic he studied at leisure. After much contemplation, he decided that it was time for a career change.

After graduating with a master’s degree in expressive arts therapy, Aleck embarked on a new journey as an expressive arts therapist.

Be the Starfish Thrower

Expressive arts therapy is a form of psychotherapy. It makes use of non-verbal artistic expressions such as music, drawing, drama and dancing to help patients with conditions including autism, dementia, and post-traumatic stress disorder to channel their thoughts and emotions. Anyone can use it to release stress and examine their life.

When treating patients struggling with depression, Aleck was inspired by a drama he performed. He set up a stage for shadow puppetry with plain white cloth at a hospital activity room. The art rejuvenated the patients and encouraged them to self-reflect. Those who suffered a lack of motivation took him by surprise by showing a keen interest. They also become aware of their capability to change.

Aleck finds helping people by infusing arts with work more meaningful than being an artist alone. Enabling others to live a happier life is more fulfilling than any investment returns. Although there is only so much a man can do, Aleck sees the main character of The Starfish Thrower as his role model: He tries his best to rescue washed-up starfish and return them to the ocean because every life matters.

Aleck (1st row, 3rd from left) lectures Education University of Hong Kong students on expressive arts therapy.

Finding the Best Pace

Our past makes us who we are today. Aleck does not consider his hard work to be in vain even though he has gone from a financial analyst to an expressive arts therapist. “I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for what happened. I wouldn’t have known what was right for me without the life experience. I met people from all walks of life when I was in the business world. I understand what their jobs entail and the stress that comes along. It helps me to do a better job now.”

Everyone moves at a different pace in life. It is great if you can run straight towards your goal, but at the right pace, you may enjoy the view more. Every road leads to Rome, as long as you take each stride with heart.

Video — Messages from Our Alumni

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