An Educated Guess
Angela Cheng-matsuzawa, co-founder of Punch Detox, is no stranger to new challenges. She tells Kate Springer how, during her formative years, she transitioned through four schools in three countries, adapting at every turn
rowing up, Angela Cheng-matsuzawa’s parents really knew how to keep her guessing. She moved between four schools and three countries in 10 years—making new friends and tackling diverse curricula along the way. The co-founder of cold-pressed juice brand Punch Detox and Harvard Business School graduate collected life lessons at every stop.
After spending her early years at Marymount Primary, a local Chinese school, Cheng-matsuzawa faced a rocky start at German Swiss International School (GSIS), also in Hong Kong. “Literally, for the first three months, I didn’t understand anything because the language gap was that big. Some things are better taught in English, like chemistry, but man, the times tables. Cantonese all the way!”
After a dizzying first few months, Chengmatsuzawa says that GSIS actually ended up being a great fit. The curriculum granted her more freedom and creative outlet and armed her with critical thinking skills. The best part? There was no uniform to button up every morning.
In 1989, with many Chinese and Hong Kong families emigrating abroad, Chengmatsuzawa found herself at Ascham School for girls in Sydney. As if high school wasn’t hard enough already, Cheng-matsuzawa was back in an itchy uniform—complete with tie, blazer and a house badge. Entering Year 8, she found it hard to make friends and felt self-conscious about her race. “There were very few Chinese students in that school and the headmistress liked to keep us together. Frankly, I felt a bit segregated.”
Social drawbacks aside, Cheng-matsuzawa has fond memories of the science teachers at Ascham School. “They had a strong programme for environmental studies; I still remember things taught by my science teachers.” Other crucial lessons learned include: how to balance her workload, develop organisational skills, and camp like a champ. “I went to the compulsory Outward Bound course. It was far from glamping. No showers. No heaters. We had to swim in the river,” she remembers. “There were a lot of crying girls, but it was an amazing chance to test yourself and see what you’re made of.”
When her grandfather fell ill, Cheng-matsuzawa moved back to Hong Kong and re-enrolled at GSIS. Just over a year later, she was off again—to the US, where she finished high school at Phillips Academy, an independent boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts. “Phillips Academy was another animal. There were over 140 different student clubs there and this doesn’t even count their sports, music and theatre programmes,” she recalls. “I was like a little girl in a candy store. Except the little girl was 16 and the store sold classes!”
Surrounded by opportunities, Cheng-matsuzawa thrived, even managing to emerge unscathed from the blustery New England winters and cramped dorms. “My favourite thing about Phillips Academy was that they let us be independent and explore our own interests.” The approach paid off for most of the students, including Cheng-matsuzawa. “I look at my friends from there and a lot of them became what they wanted to be— people’s dreams came true.”
Cheng-matsuzawa’s determination and education took her far as well—the entrepreneur moved on to the University of Pennsylvania and later to Harvard Business School. “Learning to make friends and be adaptable proved to be extremely useful at work and in life. But it’s important not to lose yourself in the quest to assimilate. Because my educational experience was so diverse, it allowed me to see different perspectives and learn from different people, so much that I know that there isn’t one version of success. As long as you are confident and you know who you are, then you can thrive.”
Returning to Hong Kong in 2005 was yet another kind of culture shock, but Cheng-matsuzawa came back to her hometown ready for anything—becoming a wife, mother of twin boys, and business owner.
“I think you can be a feminist as well as a stay-at-home mom. An atheist and a philanthropist at the same time. A wine lover and a yoga teacher. As long as you know who you are as a whole, you can decide what the world sees and when. And the rest of the time—just keep them guessing.”