Katherine Lam is not only a successful solicitor working in the City of London, but also is the host of her very own podcast show called What They Don’t Teach You. Her show provides a platform for stories told through the voices of diverse individuals from diverse backgrounds and sheds light on various issues including the immigrant experience, mental wellbeing and sexuality.
A passionate advocate for diversity, Lam loves learning about others and discovering how they face life’s trials and challenges. We interview Lam on her show, facing discrimination, as well as her adventures backpacking in China.
YW: What made you decide to start your own podcast show?
KL: I am an avid listener of podcasts and love the informal, chatty medium which podcasting provides. It feels like you’re listening in on an intimate discussion between people. I was living with a roommate at the time who produced podcasts for his work. I mentioned to him that I’d considered creating a podcast. He encouraged me to get some basic equipment, learn how to edit and to get outside my comfort zone. That’s how my podcast started!
My podcast is called What They Don’t Teach You. Every episode, a guest comes on sharing some life experiences they’ve learned, outside of school that is. What They Don’t Teach you features authentic, open and intimate discussions on all topics I’m passionate about: experiences as an immigrant / minority, navigating the workplace, mental wellbeing, relationships, sexuality, cultural differences and what it means to be a female in today’s society.
They’re topics I think other millennials are also working through themselves. As I try to figure out my point of view on the world, what my values are and what a meaningful life means to me, hopefully it helps other people figure out these things too. It’s available on all podcast apps and it’s also on Facebook (What They Don’t Teach You), Instagram (@WTDTY) and Twitter (@PodcastWTDTY).
YW: How do you select participants for the show?
KL: It first began with close friends of mine whose qualities I admired and whose life experiences I wanted to showcase as I thought listeners would be able to relate and get something positive out of it. It was really interesting to have people remark that they’ve met that individual quite a few times and yet never gotten into these deep discussions to get to know who the person really is.
It’s funny how easy it is to develop superficial relationships without ever really finding out what truly makes them tick. For instance, the first episode features Jo who dropped out of school and left home at 16 but who has turned her life around and is now a doctor having studied medicine at a leading Russell University. Not many people knew the challenges and obstacles she had to surmount to become the woman she is today.
I now interview individuals for What They Don’t Teach You whom I find inspiring or with an interesting point of view. I want to give a voice to people’s experiences and points on view on social issues I’m especially passionate about: cultural differences; gender equality; mental health and wellbeing; career growth; and relationships and sexuality.
I think sharing different points of view is necessary to make our world a more understanding and better place, in a way that violence and conflict can never effect.
YW: Have any stories in particular resonated with you? Why?
KL: I see What They Don’t Teach You as a vehicle to discuss topics that are often more taboo in society and to open up my listeners’ points of view. In terms of sexuality, for instance, Leela discusses in episode 2 her experiences growing up bisexual in England and her attempts to explore different types of relationships.
In episodes 4 and 5, Toshe discusses his homosexual experiences, including being in a long-term homosexual relationship, and reconciling his sexuality with his traditional Bulgarian origins. In episode 8, Paula bravely shares her lifelong battle with depression and discusses ways she’s found to help herself.
Creating my podcast has helped me become a better listener and to be more open minded in considering other points of view. It’s been a great way for me to get to know others more deeply.
YW: How do you juggle your time between being a lawyer and hosting your own podcast show?
KL: Honestly, it’s not always easy! It’s difficult managing my podcast, work, sports, friends and time for myself. What They Don’t Teach You is currently a hobby and so I try to be kind to myself when I’m not posting episodes as often as I’d like! It’s been a great gateway to meet new people, to consider new points of view and to become a better listener, all things I am very grateful to receive.
YW: You backpacked around Mainland China after you qualified as a lawyer. How was that and what were your favourite memories?
KL: I absolutely loved my time backpacking around Mainland China. I’d already studied for 3 months in Beijing a few years earlier but prior to that, even though I’m ethnically Chinese, I didn’t have much of a connection to mainland China at all. I was born in Singapore and lived in Canada for most of my life before moving to the UK and spoke English at home.
Traveling around Mainland China was my way of reconnecting with my roots, getting to know my culture better and brushing up on my mandarin. I loved the food (especially all the spice in Sichuan!) and making friends with the locals. I love Chinese modern art and the tea culture. China is changing a lot and now a lot of younger females travel solo – it was great to befriend and even end up traveling with some newly made friends. I most treasured how kind and friendly the Chinese locals were.
YW: You are active in your law firm as part of its multicultural initiatives. Why is diversity important to you?
KL: As an immigrant to Canada (at age 8) and then later to the UK (I went to London for university), I became very aware of being an ‘other’ and being different from others. Kids used to laugh at the Asian packed lunches my mum made me and the way I spoke. It seems it’s human nature to identify differences between people and to reinforce these differences through various forms of inequality, whether through class, race or cultural differences.
Having lived in three continents now, I consider myself a third culture kid or, as cheesy as it sounds, a citizen of the globe. I think diversity is important, necessary and beautiful even, but it requires a willingness to understand different points of view and cultural differences.
YW: Where do you see your podcast show going in the next few years?
KL: Ideally I hope to post episodes on a consistent basis, currently it’s about once a month. It would be great if I could find a way to get sponsorship and monetise it. I’ve also thought about hosting follow up creative workshops which provide a safe space to create art in alignment with themes discussed on my podcast.
At the least, it will be a great time capsule of memories I’ve made with people and a record of how my perspective has developed over time!
YW: Have you ever faced discrimination? How have you dealt with it and what lessons can we learn in improving acceptance?
KL: I have definitely faced discrimination in the past, from people pulling their eyes up at me in a slanted fashion and saying ‘I hope your people are ok’ in a derogatory manner soon after the Japanese tsunami on a night out (to confirm, no, I’m not Japanese) to people constantly asking the worn out and overused question: “But where are you really from?” I remember an English lad asking me this when I was traveling in South America.
I was so angry when he did as I’d been enduring weeks of being called ‘Japa’ whenever I was out in public and a hostel staff member questioning how I could be from Canada and pointing to my eyes. Unfortunately this English bloke faced all my pent-up fury from weeks of micro-aggressions and I angrily informed him that asking me where I’m “really” from minimises my story and who I am. I definitely don’t want to just put my head down and let people mistreat me in the way my parents’ generation seem to allow, but looking back, the anger I displayed also wasn’t an effective way for me to educate this bloke and to get him to understand my point of view.
I wish everyone would listen better. I know I always appreciate it when my point of view is listened to and understood. I’m still learning how to strike the balance between asserting my personhood and communicating in an effective way.