Friends of Ben: Maria Pacana

Name: Maria Pacana

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One of my favorite things to do when traveling overseas is to talk with American ex-pats who are fully integrated into the local culture. I recommend this tactic for all Americans traveling internationally. I can usually do this via my blog, since I have readers in many countries and they may be ex-pats or know ex-pats.

In Tokyo I had dinner with blog reader Maria and her friend Jake. Maria is a recent college grad from U.S. now living in Tokyo. She picked up Japan in a year (pretty incredible) and now works in-house at a law firm translating patent applications from English to Japanese. She studied electrical engineering at Yale but is now pursuing a part-time MBA from McGill while doing her translation work.

Maria knew of my interest in journalism and invited her friend Jake to dinner. Jake is a muckraking journalist who’s lived in Tokyo for 15+ years. An exchange program with a Tokyo university opened Jake up to the world of Japan, he loved it, and has since developed an awesome track record of covering Tokyo’s vice / police blotter for a newspaper here. Jake has a book coming out next year on what it’s like being an American living overseas covering Tokyo vice.

Maria is a super impressive person. In our two hour dinner I was struck: She’s ambitious yet humble, engages seriously with the world yet seems to enjoy it, and…it happens to the best of us…tries to find the willpower to blog. Jackie Danicki once told me she’s genuinely surprised when she meets someone interesting who doesn’t have a blog. So I’m glad Maria is working on her blog 100k by 25, a quasi personal finance / quasi living-in-Japan blog. All in all, Maria is an example of the kind of personal growth someone who’s achieved a lot of success at home can have with an international adventure.


In reflecting on our dinner which I so enjoyed I realized that not once has a meeting with a blog reader let me down. I’m humbled and astonished at the caliber of the readers of this blog who reach out to me.

Maria — thanks for a great dinner — please stay in touch!

Tyler Cowen on My College Process

One of my intellectual heroes, Tyler Cowen, a professor and "Economic Scene" columnist in the New York Times, has some kind words and observations on my college admissions experiences on his must-read blog. Thanks, Tyler.

Tyler’s breadth of interests makes him one of the most provocative public intellectuals. Here’s my review of his book Creative Destruction, here’s a long debate I hosted on independent book stores based on one of Tyler’s articles, here are my notes from Tyler’s talk in Zurich this past summer.

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Friend of Ben: Bernadette Balla

Last week I got an email from a blog reader who said she was 24 years old and had recently moved to San Francisco from Malaysia to pursue an MBA. In her email she said Malaysia is not friendly to ambitious women, nor is it friendly to entrepreneurial thinking. Moreover, there was an expectation that she should either become a prostitute or "find a man and become a wife." She started reading this blog from Malaysia and, hearing about my own adventures as a young entrepreneur, found inspiration in the possibilities that can await people who go off the beaten track. She wrote about me in her business school application, was accepted to Golden Gate University, and as of two days ago, is now taking night classes at GGU and interning at a technology company by day.

I asked Bernadette if she wanted to have lunch at my favorite crepe place down the street. We talked about the challenges of adjusting to a Western culture that’s more individualistic, confrontational, and brash than the East. We talked about what it’s like to live in a place where you don’t have roots — forming deep relationships is tough. We talked about the lack of a "guidebook" for aspiring young entrepreneurs.

I’m extremely impressed with what Bernadette has already done. She escaped an oppressive culture, defied expectations of what a young woman can or should be, found a place to live and place to study in a foreign country (Silicon Valley no less), developed fluency in English (along with Malaysian, Indonesian, and Cantonese), and most important, is being proactive in reaching out to people who can help.

I’m certain there are many Bernadettes scattered across the globe…But they do not have the good fortune of growing up in the most entrepreneurial region in the world (like me), or perhaps the resourcefulness to leave family and friends (like Bernadette). How can we help those equally deserving people?

When I got home I introduced Bernadette to some people I thought she would like knowing, sent her some book recommendations, and promised to help in any way I can. I expect we’ll hear a lot more from her in the coming years…

Bernadette — Go for it!

A Blog Chronicling the Fight to Survive Ovarian Cancer

My friend Carl Johnston, a successful angel investor and another person in my life who’s been so kind with his encouragement and advice to me, recently told me his close companion Suzanne Robles is fighting ovarian cancer.

Suzanne set up a blog to chronicle her journey fighting the cancer. She had some issues with the blog, so Carl asked me to help her. I did, and I suggested she dump WordPress and move to Blogger.

Now she’s up and running and her posts are honest, emotional, and gripping. She just posted about a devastating visit to the doctor. She received a frank assessment from the doctor followed by this:

She STRESSED…you must only have JOY in your life. If you wanted to travel do it now. What ever it is do not wait. You are feeling good now, but later on you wont be. This is going to be a difficult battle.
It made me realize that I was thinking, ok about 6 months of chemo and then Ill start doing things I want to do. She stressed over and over-do it now.

I am humbled by Suzanne’s bravery to be so public about such an enormous fight and private matter. Her relentless positive outlook will be an inspiration to others, cancer survivors or not.

London Party to Celebrate the End of My Travels

My friend Jackie Danicki pulled off quite a feat Saturday night, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given the generosity of all my blog readers this trip, especially Jackie.

About 20 people filed into the Chelsea / London home of blogging gurus Adriana Lukas and Perry de Havilland for a long night of drinks, food, and conversation in party timed to celebrate the conclusion of my seven week Europe tour. Though not a lot of diversity in political views, there were fun and interesting personalities. Josh Hanna, an American now in London running the UK operation of, and I had a great time watching the impressive Damian Counsell debate the personal expense account of Sherry Blair. I have a video clip, but I don’t think the language therein is appropriate for this G-rated blog ("rubbish" this and "rubbish" that). Page Sands reminded me that a master’s in e-business still exists and can be useful, and Antoine Clark confirmed and disputed some of my impressions of France. Other good chats abound.

Jackie posted a funny spread of photos from the night which ends in a digitally altered image to highlight the greedy, blood-sucking, 3rd-world-exploiting capitalist bastards we are. Other photos at Flickr. Thank you Jackie for organizing the great party and to Perry and Adriana for hosting!

(Me in foreground below. Notice upright posture, combed hair, and stylish business shoes. Yeah, I try.)

Bar Outside