Take Five with Germaine Choe ’95

Germaine Choe_cropped
Germaine Choe ’95 is the founder and series creator of Language Together, a bestselling publisher of children’s foreign language books. Choe’s books have won numerous awards including the National Parenting Product Award, Brain Child Award, Academics’ Choice Award, Mom’s Choice Gold Award and Creative Child Magazine Product of the Year Award.

After graduating from the College, Choe worked for two years as a consultant at Accenture before she decided to pursue her passion for books and made a life-changing switch to publishing. As a first-year assistant at Living Language Random House, Choe’s salary was half what she had made as a consultant (she subsisted on hot dogs while trying to make ends meet in NYC!); but she was excited to go to work each day and has never looked back. She eventually became director of marketing for Lightbulb Press, before moving on to manage international distribution for Harvard Business Publishing, publisher of the Harvard Business Review. Today, Choe lives in Boston with her husband and two children, trying her best to juggle her responsibilities as a company founder and a mom.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I was excited to be young and alive in New York City. Growing up in Hong Kong, I had seen and read so much about Columbia and the city, so it was a major dream come true to actually be there, surrounded by all these smart and interesting people. I was enthusiastic, earnest and quite naive! I was somewhat known around campus for my oddly matched, rainbow-colored outfits and my Bugs Bunny backpack that I wore to class every day. (Imagine me giving a piggy-back ride to a life-sized Bugs Bunny carrying books in its bulging stomach!) I got lots of compliments on that backpack and made lots of friends that way.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I was lucky to be assigned a big, sun-drenched room in Wallach that looked out on the tennis courts and the statue of Alexander Hamilton CC 1778. Beyond the courts, I could see Butler Library and the grassy fields where students liked to gather. It was always really pleasant to study in my room with that beautiful view and the sound of friendly tennis matches and laughter in the background.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

I loved all my Core classes, but if I really had to pick, I would say Art Humanities had a special impact on how I see (and experience) the world to this day. Through its survey of influential art and architecture across the centuries, the class helped me appreciate beauty in all forms. It helped me grasp how art is an expression of human passion, and how it can transcend boundaries of geography, culture and time. All people can instinctively understand beauty, human grace and imperfection, regardless of their background. Coming out of that class, I developed a love for wandering in museums and in nature, firstly in New York, and then later, anywhere in the world my travels took me. The class taught me to pause and savor a beautiful line or vista, in a drawing, in a piece of sculpture, in a building or along a hiking trail.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

The Steps with the Alma Mater statue — perhaps the most iconic view of Columbia that one can imagine. Every spring, after a long cold winter, all these pale, eager students would venture out of hibernation, gathering on the Steps in T-shirts, shorts and sundresses in the still-chilly March weather. People would bring out books, food, homework — even guitars — and hang out together until the sun went down. It felt like the ideal college experience.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

The adventures of the larger city always beckoned. I spent a lot of time exploring the city and all it had to offer — it was hard to resist all the restaurants, museums, shows and latest attractions. Now, 25 years after graduation (eek!), I have come to realize that we only get four years in college and the rest of our lives to be out in the real world. So in hindsight, I would have spent more time on campus, eating at the cafeteria, hanging out at the student center or going to the party right next door. On the other hand, it was an amazing experience to be in my 20s in New York City and I couldn’t wish for better memories!