Whatever your goals are in college, do something to make it happen


Reading Time magazine, 9/22/2014 issue, “10 Questions, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.”

Q: If you are stuck picking up dry cleaning, what’s the best way to ask your boss to take you more seriously?
A: Say, “I love this company. I love this job. I am willing to do anything, because I am that kind of person. I do want to make sure I am progressing and taking on things that are going to challenge me more. Can you walk me through the things I need to demonstrate so I can earn more responsibility?”

Q: Why do you think women are so afraid of making mistakes?
A: When men make mistakes, they don’t internalize it as their fault, so it doesn’t hurt them as much. Because gender makes us overestimate male performance and underestimate female performance, we have more tolerance for men’s mistakes.

Q: How should college women balance exploring different interests with focusing on career goals?
A: It can be either, but you have to be explicit. Maybe you want to use college to …. But don’t let life happen– make it happen.

In other word, no matter what your goals are, do something to make it happen.



College “should be preparation for a thoughtful, well-examined life”


I read this article not long ago, “Ivy League miseducation,” by By Anthony Zurcher. Here’s part of it.

“In a lengthy article in the latest issue of the New Republic, former Yale associate professor (and Columbia graduate) William Deresiewicz says that the prestigious private colleges dotting the US, particularly in the Northeast, are creating a class of entitled ‘zombies’.

The author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to Meaningful Life, writes:

Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.’

‘The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them.’ William Deresiewicz The New Republic.

Ivy League colleges and their ilk, says Deresiewicz, have created an education-industrial complex that processes the children of privilege from cradle to diploma and beyond.

‘The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them,’ he writes. ‘The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk.’

College shouldn’t be this way, Deresiewicz writes. Instead of four years of career training, it should be preparation for a thoughtful, well-examined life.”

It is a very good article, much worth reading and thinking…



A very friendly alumna club gathering


Yesterday, Saturday, 8/10, we went to a party organized by the local alumna club of my daughter’s college. The party was held for the two incoming students in our area, but the other one didn’t show up. In fact, she didn’t have any communication with the local club president at all.

We not only had a good lunch, but also got to know some people there and learned a lot about her college. Most of them graduated from that college. I had good chats with some of them — one graduating this year, one in year 2007, one 1994, one 1997. The one who graduated in 2007 went to law school at KU and is working here.

They made great efforts to be helpful and friendly, answering questions as best as they could, which made the party very successful. We had a good time there.



College cost, investment into your child’s future


I had a monitor visit yestoday. Before starting his work, he asked me about my trip home and what I did back in China. I told him my daughter went back with me this time, right before she went to college this fall. So we did some sightseeings for her sake, as she doesn’t go back as often as I do.

When the monitor asked about my daughter college, I told him where she would go. From there, the conversation turned to the cost of college. His children are still young, one being 10 years old, the other 12. Still, he was shocked at the cost. He said he would discourage his children from going to these expensive colleges. His wife is still paying on her college loans after 20 years of their marriage.

I shared with him my idea on investment in education. The money we put in stock market fluctuates everyday. Sometimes we lost over ten thousands in a matter of a few days. It is never the safest investment. But I trust investment in education is the most worthy and safest one. My daughter is 18 years old and understands the sacrifice that we have gone through in supporting her college. I am sure she will make most out of this experience.



Majoring in debt stories, sad ones


I read this story on Huffingtonpost on 5/2/2013 — a group of young college or post graduates having one thing in common: a huge debt on their backs.

What is disturbing to me is this sense of unjustice or being misguided or being abused or this I-am-not-to-blame attitude. Like a girl who has borrowed deeply for a creative writing major says, “I’m all for paying high prices for good value — and my education was certainly of quality — but I’m not in the market to be abused. From interest rates to the ease of borrowing, to confusion of terms and steadily climbing price of college tuition, I guess I have to thank all of the higher education system while I have the floor to speak. To the loan companies, the banks and private colleges: thank you. I and my peers will forever be indebted to you.”

Furthermore, she questions “why are my poor peers and I being punished for wanting to do what we love in the first place? Is my generation not one of information-hungry self-starters? Are we not the focused dreamers raised on Harry Potter and ADHD medication?” I would say she punishes herself for getting herself into this situation.

Sounds like a bunch of dreamers out there, not knowing they need to grow up, make a living on their own and be financially responsible in the first place before they can talk about their grand impractical dreams. Somebody got to pay for their immaturity and not doing research on job market before plunging themselves into a life of debt burden.



The high dropout rate of US college students cost billions


I am all about college education now because my daughter is going for one of them this fall.

Last week I read this article written about a year ago, “11 Public Universities with the Worst Graduation Rates” by BLAIRE BRIODY, The Fiscal Times.

“Just 56 percent of college students complete four-year degrees within six years, according to a 2011 Harvard Graduate School of Education study. Among the 18 developed countries in the OECD, the U.S. was dead last for the percentage of students who completed college once they started it ― even behind Slovakia.”

“An American Institutes for Research report last year estimated that college dropouts cost the nation $4.5 billion in lost earnings and taxes.”

The reasons for college dropout ranges from the cost to unpreparedness. Even for those who complete college education, many of them are burdened with debt, equipped with few skills and employment opportunities. Some call America’s for-profit universities “dropout factories.”

This provides both parents and college-bound students a serious food for thought.



The cost of higher education is skyrocketing while a college degree is losting value


I was considering funding my daughter’s college when I bumped into these facts. Some of the colleges that my daughter was planning on going are in the list.

Top 10 most expensive colleges:
1. Sarah Lawrence College, Total Cost: $61,236
2. New York University, Total Cost: $59,837
3. Harvey Mudd College, Total Cost: $58,913
4. Columbia University, Total Cost: $58,742
5. Wesleyan University, Total Cost: $58,202
6. Claremont McKenna College, Total Cost: $58,065
7. Dartmouth College, Total Cost: $57,996
8. Drexel University, Total Cost: $57,975
9. University of Chicago, Total Cost: $57,711
10. Bard College, Total Cost: $57,580

Business Insider shows “The 20 Most Expensive Colleges In America,” by Julie Zeveloff. The expenses include tuition, fees, room and board in 2011-2012
#20 Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. $54,988
#19 Haverford College in Haverford, Pa. $55,050
#18 Boston College in Boston, Mass. $55,079
#17 Washington University in St. Louis, MO. $55,111
#16 Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. $55,135
#15 Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. $55,276
#14 Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. $55,300
#13 Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. $55,365
#12 University of Chicago in Chicago, Ill. $55,416
#11 Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. $55,450
#10 Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. $55,556
#9 Barnard College in New York, NY. $55,556
#8 Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. $55,592
#7 Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. $55,742
#6 Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. $55,865
#5 Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. $56,006
#4 Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. $56,268
#3 Columbia University School of General Studies in New York, NY. $56,310
#2 New York University in New York, NY. $56,787
#1 Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY. $59,170



Well-educated generation but not optimistic


Yesterday, I posted one on top-notched universities suing their graduates, which show a depressing job market for well-educated young people.

The situation is not going to improve in the near future. With the recent prolonged economic downturn, more and more seniors, who have seen their savings cut by half, hold on to their jobs as long as their health permits.

The longer they stay on their position, the less opportunities for the younger generation to move up. Unfortunately, in this fight between senior and the young, the latter might suffer most, even though they might be the most educated generation that the country has ever produced.



Yale, Penn and George Washington University have all sued former students over nonpayment


On 2/4/2013, I read an article, “Yale Suing Former Students Shows Crisis in Loans to Poor,” by Janet Lorin.

Many college graduates, unable to find a job upon graduation, “are defaulting on almost $1 billion in federal student loans earmarked for the poor, leaving schools such as Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania with little choice except to sue their graduates.”

The worst part is the record high defaults on federal Perkins loans “may jeopardize the prospects of current students since they are part of a revolving fund that colleges give to students who show extraordinary financial hardship.”

Perkins loans are earmarked for students with extraordinary financial hardship. They are administered by colleges, which use repayment money to lend to other poor students. Yale, Penn and George Washington University have all sued former students over nonpayment.

I have learned that not just the government but also the universities that will go after those who can’t pay. But given the current job market, what can they get from suing their graduates who are unable to pay back their student loans?



Education without opportunities means waste of money and time


I am so preoccupied with education that I never let go anything on this topic before my eyes, though I am sure I have read this and probably have written on it before. Huffpost Business reports on 1/29/2013, “Half Of Recent College Grads Work Jobs That Don’t Require A Degree” by William McGuinness.

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity concludes in its report that while college-educated Americans are less likely to collect unemployment, many of the jobs they do have aren’t worth the price of their diplomas.

The harsh reality about college degree and employment is: “of 41.7 million working college graduates in 2010, about 48 percent of the class of 2010 work jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree, and 38 percent of those polled didn’t even need high school diplomas.”

The data calls into question a national education platform that says higher education is better in an economy that favors college graduates. But when people spend a large amount of money on education, the country is not capable of providing adequate opportunities for the college graduates.

It is a waste of both money and time for a college graduate to end up with a job that only a high school degree will do.



Nothing is guaranteed to you when you go to a college


On 2/14/2013, Valentine’s Day, I read this sad story about a college graduate applying for food stampts. “Young, Privileged, and Applying for Food Stamps,” by Karina Briski, 5/29/2012

She has a Bachelor degree in Sociology, which, according to her, “has fed many early curiosities, giving me the adequate chops for things like fighting cultural myopism, defending Marxism, and buying my professors’ books.” All these fun stuffs but nothing practical or nothing that could bring in paychecks.

After graduation, she spent over three years chasing entry-level work with nonprofits. She saw no success after some more years, though she has “gotten really good at scraping the gunk off of ketchup bottles.” Having failed on nearly all fronts, she turned to government handouts.

Her failure to make a decent living after a college education comes from the myth that many have held, that is, “the educated middle class as automatic recipients of middle class incomes” and “the assumption that college is some great equalizer (was it ever?).”

I hope college students keep this in mind, that is, nothing is guaranteed when you go to a college or when you graduate from a college. Your major, your hard work, your network, your connections, and your accomplishments during these four college years all play key parts in the outcome and in the life beyond college.



Where is the American dream?


Yesterday I talked about college degree and its following debts for many graduates. On 12/3 I read another even more depressing piece of news “Downward mobility haunts US education” by Sean Coughlan.

For many people, a part of the American Dream is the upward mobility through education. If they didn’t have college education and have been trapped in their economic status, their children will move upward through college education and that the children will always be better educated and more prosperous than the previous generation.

With the depressing job market, the prolonged economic downturn, and heavy student debts, that American dream, that upward mobility in the next generation is under serious threat.

“Andreas Schleicher, special adviser on education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), says the US is now the only major economy in the world where the younger generation is not going to be better educated than the older.”

Instead of moving upward, are we going to see “downward mobility?” as some people suggest. The author cites many examples to reach this conclusion — yes, we will have “the opposite of a Hollywood ending.”

This is a serious matter for the future of U.S. economy and of course for the coming generation.



College degree, cost, investment and returns


On 12/10/2012, I read an article by Jill Martin “US student loans: The trillion dollar debt trap.” The article cites some depressing yet also familiar examples of young people heavily burdened by student debts.

One 27-year-old with a PhD and $150,000 debt. She is expected to pay monthly payments of $1,600. “I just cannot pay that amount,” she says, and having tried to negotiate with several lenders without success, she is losing her will to fight. When I read this, I was thinking “If you cannot make that much to pay for this degree, why did you borrow for that degree in the first place? Why couldn’t you get scholarship for it?”

She is very much representing the widespread student debt problem of the nation, a one trillion dollar headache for the US economy – and it is only getting worse.

“As the cost of a university education soars, default rates are on the rise. Some estimates say that more than five million borrowers in the US have defaulted on their student loans. Almost 375,000 people defaulted in the latest year alone, the US Department of Education says.”

Indeed, if the young graduates cannot find jobs to even make a living, they have no other choice but defaulting their debts.

This once again forces us to consider the question of investing in a college degree, its cost and its return, and for some people, whether or not this investment is worthwhile. If you cannot recoup the cost of that degree in the next decade or two, ask yourself if you are better off investing your time and money elsewhere.



College admission process, part II


It is so easy to become cynical about community service and other extracurricular activities. In that, people see the volunteer work as not really being voluntary, as doing it only for the purpose of getting into, going through the motions without real interests, of course no passion involved.

I have to say it takes certain level of maturity to adopt a positive attitude toward what you are doing. The bottom line is to be able to answer the question: what you want to do with your life and what kind of person you want to become.

First, a mature and responsible person would try to squeeze more value out of the time he/she throws in for the large schema that she has for her life. Whatever she gets involved in, gets 200 percent involved  instead of marginally involved.

Second, do what you are interested in and do it creatively. If say, you like to eat certain foods, try to create your own version of that food or think of a way to benefit others who might share your like.

Third, other than hitting books, you absolutely need to do something to enhance your ability, to explore and expand. These activities increase not only your  marketability but also your chance of being admitted. If you don’t start doing this in high school, you will have to make it up in  college. I have learned a couple of cases where students fail to make a living  upon graduation from top schools.

Finally, be a real good person, kind and unselfish. I bet that’s what you really are now. Don’t be afraid to show how good you are because that’s what everybody likes.

 



College admission process, part I


On 10/10/2012, I heard from NPR morning edition “Justices Return To Affirmative  Action In Higher Ed” by Nina Totenberg. There are some information on college admission process. The university normally combines two scores when considering admission.

The first is the Academic Index, based on grades and board scores. The second is the Personal Achievement Index, based on two independently graded essays plus six other factors: leadership potential, honors and awards, work experience, community service, extracurricular activities and special circumstances.

Only this last category, special circumstances, can include consideration of race or ethnicity, or, for that matter, economic circumstances, or whether the applicant comes from a home where English is not spoken.

The overall Personal Achievement Index score, a maximum of 6, is combined with the  Academic Index score, and then plotted on a graph. Based on the available number of seats, everyone above a certain combined score on the graph is admitted, and everyone below is rejected.



You will get there as long as you don’t give up.



Last weekend, I went to Costco, where I met a Chinese couple. About two years ago, they were certain their son would be accepted by MIT, but that didn’t happen. The mother was very upset and the son felt hurt. The incident reminds me of this Chinese poem.

I didn’t ask them about their son as I was not sure how they felt about it now. Much as I was anxious to share with them some of my thought on college education, I did not say anything to them. I thought it a good policy not to offer advice when I am not asked to.

If the boy were my son, I would tell him to work hard during the first year of college at KU, then transfer to MIT with both your high school and college achievements. That is, if MIT is the place of his dream.

If that doesn’t work, get your bachelor in three instead of normal four years, graduate summa cum laude, apply for MIT graduate program.

I am sure there are more than one roads leading to Rome. You will get there as long as you don’t give up. In the long run, being resourceful, resilient and persistent will help you more than anything else.



Almost half of students fail to complete their college degree in 4 years


On 8/26, Sunday afternoon, while at Barnes & Noble’s with my daughter, I read this piece of information, which I might have read before but without paying attention.

Almost half of American college students fail to complete their college degree in four years. Almost a third of them drop out of college.

I am no longer surprised now after I learn from my son that many of his high school and college friends graduated this year instead of last year. Many college students, without helicopter parents, fail at least in time management, self-regulation and self-control.

I think of my son, which took seven required classes in his last semester, plus a trip to Europe and job interviews. Whoa! What a crazy life! Something for my daughter to think about.



Education, Pursuit of Your Dream, and Pure Sense and Cent


During the last weekend of October, both my daughter and I read the 10/31/2011 issue of Time magazine. She made several comments on some of the articles there.

On this article “I Owe U: Student debt is on track to top $1 trillion this year. What happens when diplomas stop opening doors?,” the author lists many sad cases in which students incur tremendous amount of debts, yet upon graduation, unable to find a job or well-paid one to meet its debt obligations.

“OMG, how could one borrow nearly $170, 000 to study documentary filmmaking? You can’t even find a job with that major. How can you pay off your debts if you don’t have a job?” my daughter commented. The sad part is we have too many unfortunate cases like this.

While I applaud for those who chase their dreams and follow their passions, regardless of the cost, I lament the hard consequence of this impractical approach to life. I believe they are much better off chasing something practical if they cannot excel by a giant step in their dream yet not-marketable field. After all, one needs food and shelter and a decent human existence before anything else.



Exams, Game Play, and the Rules of the Game


On 10/10/2011, after I got my daughter back from school, she took an hour nap while I prepared her tea and food. After she got up, I took her to Barnes&Noble bookstore on Towncenter, where she prepared for the coming PSAT.

The next day, 10/11, we did the same thing except we went to the bookstore at Oak Park Mall, where she could find PSAT practice book.

She was going to take this exam on 10/12. I told her taking this and other exams was like playing games. All games have rules. To play well, you must know the rule and go by it. A smart student is good at finding out the rule of the game and play to her advantage.



Volunteers, Ideas, Creativity and Innovation, Part IV


If your parents made you start piano lesson at age 5 or drawing or Chinese or marshall art or tennis lesson or whatever your mom was fancy of cramming on you at your tender age, after 10 years of hard drilling or by the time you enter high school, you should be good enough to torture a group of 5-year-olds with the same tenacity and dead seriousness, as if they paid you a million dollar for doing that. Trust me the benefit goes far beyond any monetary measurement.

How? Go to a local primary school or library or nursing home, tell them you have skills and are willing to share them with the children or senior citizens, free of charge. You offer to organize kid’s club, teaching whatever you can brag about. People love freebies, especially now when money runs so low. Parents embrace it when their youngsters are learning something without their having to pay for it. Don’t forget to hold a performance party at the end of the activity as a report and showcase to the parents of how great you are.

During holiday season when you hear the extreme boring money-begging bell sound from Salvation Army, you volunteer to marshal a group of primary school children, teach them some crafts and sell their work. The handsome proceeds go to the Salvation Army.

If you love, say math or English, go to an elementary school and share your enthusiasm over it by offering free tutoring in math or whatever you are crazy about. After all, what’s the use of your good math skill if you don’t put it to good use? Like an investment, the earlier you put your skills to good use, the higher the return will be.

The key is be creative, be a passionate leader and be daring and original in a good way. Be one of a kind. Never ever follow the crowd like one of the mindless herd. Of course, it is always safe to follow the beaten path. But don’t you hate the idea of being safe among a crowd? I told my children security is for senior folks, definitely not for the daring youth.

Finally, your volunteer experience can potentially be a great topic for your college application essay. Now high schoolers, rise to the occasion, make difference and do something marvelously good to your otherwise boring existence.



Volunteers, Ideas, Creativity and Innovation Part III


I once heard this saying, somewhere I forgot where. It goes like this: the highest reward for your work is not what you get for it, but what you become because of it. An event or experience always means more than what it appears on the surface.

First of all, to the admission officer, the process of seeking volunteer opportunities reveals more of you than the fact you donate unpaid time to some place. You should make full use of this opportunity to let your outstanding character shine through your narration of this process.

Secondly, for volunteer ideas, your mind and soul must be out of the conventional box. You must believe there is an inexhaustive gold mine in you and search for this wealth inside you. If you don’t have this bottom line self-confidence, you are better off without any big dream, which is perfectly okay. After all, not many people have big dreams.

Next, think of anything you can claim to be capable of doing and are willing to share with those who is so eager to be on the receiving end as long as it is free. By the time you enter high school, you got to be good at something.
To be continued…



Volunteers, Ideas, Creativity and Innovation Part II


First of all, what do you want to show to the world through your volunteering activities?

1) You are unselfish when everybody tries to get something for nothing and you give something for nothing.

2) You have time to donate to a good cause that you believe in. That’s also good.

3) You are willing to make all kinds of personal sacrifices in order to get into your dream college.

If you don’t have anything other than these three reasons, this is almost the dead end for you. Because (1) it is not a challenge to come up with this; (2) it shows you are so one of the crowd, so banal, so empty of ideas and creativity or anything shining that we want to see in a leader that we don’t see the promise of a bright future in you.
To be continued…



Volunteers, Ideas, Creativity and Innovation, Part I


Last Saturday a Chinese parent talked to me about volunteering work for building up high-school resume. It seems an almost banal routine item that a child got to have on their resume if they aspire to any good college. The problem is — this is far from being enough.

As this parent told me, some awesome, church-attending kid going to all kinds of volunteering activities with straight-As throughout high school, yet was rejected by the college he was so ready to spend next 4 years in. “What is it that they want?” she asked.

What I see in this type of children is they are too conventional, too much of a product of a routine, going through the motions, without a demonstrated real passion for something of their own.

For a starter, here are the problems with this church-going kid and also here are some of my volunteer ideas that guarantee to push them to the frontline among thousand of applicants.
To be continued…

PS. today I took my daughter to Leawood library after school. I saw the same girl volunteering there with the same listless look, which reminded me of this posting.



Words from MIT Commencement 2011


“If your dreams do not intimidate you, they are not big enough.”

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it’s happened.”

Anshul Bhagi gave salute and presentation of the class gift, at the end of which he quoted a poem by Rudyard Kipling, part of it actually.

IF by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Anshul changed the ending to “you’ll be an MIT alumnus, my son.”



MIT Commencement Address by Ursula Burns and Others


To be sure, the whole MIT commencement process was very inspiring. I hope that all the participants feel this way. The speech made by Ursula Burns was one of these moments. Below are the quotes from her speech.

“Keep it real, keep it short.”
“Do not be discourageous… extenuate the positive, eliminate the negative
“Have fun–do the career that gives you pleasure.
“Change but be true to yourself in the process

Set your sights on changing the world

“Leaving this planet a little bit better than you found it. Believe in something larger than yourself. Make a difference. Live life so that at the end of your journey, you will know your time here were well spent, that you left behind more than you take away.

“Don’t do anything that won’t make your mother proud.”



Summer is the Occasion for Many Activities Part II


Summer is the best occasion to enrich children’s life’s experience. Summer activities could include the following:
A summer camp
An internship
Self-initiated volunteer activity (Don’t ask others to give you volunteer work. Create your own)
An oral history project with a local organization
A personal project by yourself or with your friend
Pursuit of a hobby
Start your own business
Work for others
Travel + travel-log
Set a goal for the summer

For a high school student, if you plan well and manage your time, you can have an accomplished summer even if you have not attend a summer school. When you look back, you will have a very interesting story to write about, much more interesting than a classroom can offer. Very often, compared to the richness and diversities of outside world, life spent in a summer classroom is a bit boring and lack of varieties, which reminds me of the time when I had to take summer school, sitting by the window, my eyes following the flying birds and my mind wandering thousand miles away.



Summer is the Occasion for Many Activities Part I


On the evening of 5/17/2011, I went to a neighboring Chinese family to give her some of my vegetable plants. I was in a hurry to go back, still she wanted to chat about children’s summer plan and preparation for college, all the fun stuffs that we Chinese parents like to worry our heads off.

Since she asked for my advice about summer activities, I told her briefly that summer was the best time for many meaningful activities. Both of my children went to summer school during their high school years. Still, I would not recommend going to school in summer if you have something better to do.

I believe two semesters classroom learning in a year are good enough. Summer school is for those who don’t have any place to go or don’t know how to make good use of their time or who have to take some courses as they have either failed to take or failed to pass these courses. Remember we learn things not only via books but also through a variety of experience. My advice is to plan well for a fruitful summer outside school.



The Crucial Role of Good Oral Communication Skill


During the weekend of 9/26, I read an article by Karen Burns entitled “21 Secrets to Getting the Job.”

To be sure, this is a very long list and most of them are not even relevant to me. What captures my attention is number one on the list — Become a decent public speaker.

“What better way to shine at job interviews, or in staff meetings, or at business luncheons than to express yourself clearly, confidently, coherently, and concisely? Speaking makes you visible. Speaking makes you memorable. Speaking can even make you look smarter than you really are…”

Rightly so! In fact, being a good speaker also benefits a person who is not in job market. A good speaker always feels good about himself, often with overblown ego and higher-than-sky self-esteem. Without ever practicing public speech, a person often finds himself unable to find his tongue in public or even fear of hearing his own voice.

That’s why I have emphasized to my children the importance of good oral and written communication skills, encouraging them to take either speech or debate class.



Tyler Clementi’s death and The Thought


the 18-year-old committed suicide after his sex activity was filmed and posted online
I was speechless when I heard of Tyler Clementi’s tragic death, too sad to say anything. I was struck by the following.

(1) How frail and sensitive is a human mind at this tender age and how easy it is to break the ultimate limit and crush his will to live! When the parents think the boy has turned 18 years old and become independent, they are wrong again.

(2) One can never under-estimate the vulgarity and the mean-spiritedness of some human beings who film and post online the on-goings inside one’s bedroom. They are shamelessly repulsive to the extreme!

(3) Technology, specifically what goes live online via youtube, without any filtering or censor, also plays a role in this tragedy.

It leaves so much for us to ponder. How should we prepare our youngsters for th cruelty that they might encounter after they leave home for college?



Keep the Tie with Your College Kids


This is a fit topic for back-to-school week. On 8/13/2010, I read an article — “More college students mentally ill: The number of college students with severe mental illness, including those on psychiatric medications, is rising.” by Shari Roan, carried on Los Angeles Times. The report was based on the data presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Assn. in San Diego in August 2010, with the lead author of the study, John Guthman of Hofstra University.

“In 1998, 93% of the students seeking counseling were diagnosed with one mental disorder, compared to 96% of students in 2009.”

Here are two kinds of problems that college students might possibly face. That is, from what I can observe.

First of all, not all the college kids can adjust well to life away from home. When they suddenly find their freedom, they don’t know what to do with it, or they will feel lonely, isolated and are unable to make new friends when they are cut off from the old ones.

Secondly, the stress of college courses is new to nearly all of them. Some will freak out when they feel too much overwhelmed with the course load. I learned of a student from China here who failed in one after another course and simply locked himself in his apartment, going deeper into his despair and depression.

To be sure, college life, once in lifetime, away from home, surrounded by young and handsome and hopefuls, should be fun and enjoyable. You would assume so. But with the rising cases of depression and mental disorder, parents should get the warning message and start realizing that life is not as carefree as we imagine. We still need to check on them to make sure they are in good mental and emotional shape, even if they are away from home.



Life Is Too Short to Live Other People’s Dream


Some of my friends asked for my son’s resume so that they would know how to help their children for college application. I told my son of this. He made some comments, which is very sensible. He said, “You must have your own dream. Find out your own passions. Life is too short to live other people’s dream and not your own.” I wish parents can take heed of this advice.

On one Saturday afternoon, I read Success magazine while waiting for my daughter’s art lesson. There is an article asking “How Have You Reinvented Yourself?” The answers are below.
24% answered started my own business
22% managed stress better and focus on the present
31% lost weight
17% took control of my finance
6% devoted more time to the family



Your Excellent Academic Records are Only a Reference


Last Sunday I took my daughter and a neighboring girl to skating. From their conversation I learned of two Chinese children who were excellent academically but were rejected by their dream places — MIT and Harvard. They are excellent at least in the eyes of their parents.

On Monday evening, the mother of this girl talked to me over the phone on how to get into a good college. Why were these children rejected, with their extraordinary academic achievements and plenty of extracurriculum activities? The following is what I shared with her. I would suggest parents read my postings under College for further ideas.

(1) Keep in mind one’s perfect SAT score plus a bunch of excellent AP results are only a referencce for the admission officers. They guarantee nothing, especially if the child is an Asian American and there are too many of this kind.

(2) Admission officers evaluate the whole person, qualities like responsibilities, independence, maturity, commitment, leadership, dream and ideals. From this grand schema, academic behavior is only a small part of the story.

(3) The children may have devoted a large chunk of time to extracurrilum activities, but what admission officers look for is they do it because they have passion for it, not because they feel obligated or they just want to impress the admission officers.

(4) In the end, this is what I want to tell both my neighbor and all parents — there is no one sure way to reach the top, no guarantee whatsoever, with so many uncertainties that are beyond our control. If a child is excellent, he/she will shine no matter where.

Finally, it is always nice to know that all roads lead to Rome. Just remember it is the child’s own journey and make sure the child enjoys his journey to his goal. As my son put it, life is too short to live other people’s dream.



College Expense, Children Appreciation and Parent Responsibility


Last Saturday, 8/21, we went to a friend’s house for a potluck. As usual, such a gathering consisted of healthy eating and talking; no alcohol and smoke, nice and clean. Since all three families have college kids to support at the moment, we inevitably moved from the topic of the economy to college expenses.

While very few American families give full financial support to their college-bound children, most Chinese families here try to relieve their children of any financial worries while the kids are in college. Even a Chinese neighbor of ours working at a restaurant satisfied whatever their college daughter wanted. As long as we can afford it, we don’t want our children to get student loans with a high interest rate and a heavy burden upon graduation.

To be sure, it is definitely a priviledge for the Chinese children to have such supportive and self-sacrificing parents. On the other hand, it is expected that children appreciate what their parents are willing to do for them. I have heard more than once that the children take for granted what the parents have done for them as if the parents just do what they should do. You find similar cases in China, too.

It is sad to hear such stories. On the other hand, it is up to the parents to teach their children to appreciate their parents’ support and not to take for granted their parents’ loving care.



A Depressing Way to Start Life After College


I read an article on 6/1, by Ron Lieber, provided by The New York Times. “…a 26-year-old graduate of New York University, has nearly $100,000 in student loan debt from her four years in college, and affording the full monthly payments would be a struggle. For much of the time since her 2005 graduation, she’s been enrolled in night school, which allows her to defer loan payments… This is not a long-term solution, because the interest on the loans continues to pile up.”

It is so dreadfully depressing to start life with such a heavy financial burden. There are many cases like this. I don’t have the heart to spit out further unkind words toward those already unfortunate people. Still, I see this the result of ill-advice and unwise decision on part of both parents and the children.

First of all, always keep in mind this hard truth: education is an investment in money and time. You don’t invest heavily in anything that does not promise greater return. It is tantamount to nothing but high degree of stupidity if you think of college education as years of merry-go-round free spending partying life.

Secondly, don’t take on the attitude of borrow-and-spend now and let devil take care of the bills later. Don’t borrow in the first place, if you can help. If you have to, borrow as less as you can even if it means you have to tighten your belt and forsake new dresses and other forms of luxury. It is called delay gratification and not putting on the airs on borrowed money.

Third, work and study while you are in college. It enriches not just your purse, but also your work experience, so that you are ready to jump on some employment right after college.

Fourth, boost up your grade and apply for scholarship whenever there is a possibility. There are all sorts of scholarships. You just have to exhaust your search for it if you believe you are qualified.

There are always ways for you to get out of trouble. You have to rake your brain to come up with some solutions. Going into deep debt should always be the last desperate resort. You go there only if you are sure you can get a big fat salary to take good care of it after college.



American Education System and Elite Society


Some time last month I read an article sent to me by a friend of mine regarding American education. There is an interesting section on American society and its education. According to the author, the U.S. is an elite society, where a tiny minority of elite dominates and rules over the overwhelming majority. They make and enforce rules to, among others, perpetuate their dominance in society.

Top colleges and universities like Ivy Leagues are supposed to bring out country’s and world leaders; those of second ranking are to train high-level employees; grass-root technicians come out of colleges of third ranking; the rest are for ground-covers, rank and filers who work for others all their lives. The assumption behind it all is if you are motivated to make it to the top at the tender age of 18, you have the material in you to be the world leader in the future. The hidden agenda of American educational system is to bring up different groups of people who will willingly follow the laws of the land, support the status quo, and hold their assigned positions in society. This line of thinking smells of Marxism, the line of thinking reveals the origin of the writer.

For parents, the sweet part of American society is that the elite group is not a fixed and exclusive one. Instead, it is widely opened to all who are willing to work themselves up the social ladders. That’s how people like Obama gained his hold in the white house and how Sonia Sotomayor became the U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and how American society undergoes changes toward a better and more democratic one, not there yet though. This is something that Asian parents should think hard when they push their youngsters to Harvard-level colleges.



Your Passion, Your Degree, and Your Potential Earnings


A few weeks ago an article on 10 lowest-earning degrees caught my eyes. It was provided by PayScale’s list. Here they are.
10. Drama (starting annual salary: $35,600; mid-career annual salary: $56,600)
9. Fine arts (starting annual salary: $35,800; mid-career annual salary: $56,300)
8. Hospitality and tourism (starting annual salary: $37,000; mid-career annual salary: $54,300)
7. Education (starting annual salary: $36,200; mid-career annual salary: $54,100)
6. Horticulture (starting annual salary: $37,200; mid-career annual salary: $53,400)
5. Spanish (starting annual salary: $35,600; mid-career annual salary: $52,600)
4. Music (starting annual salary: $34,000; mid-career annual salary: $52,000)
3. Theology (starting annual salary: $34,800; mid-career annual salary: $51,500)
2. Elementary education (starting annual salary: $33,000; mid-career annual salary: $42,400)
1. Social work (starting annual salary: $33,400; mid-career annual salary: $41,600)

My first observation is none of them are from science/math/computer fields. All are from humanity/social science.

Secondly, it is hard to combine a fat paycheck with what you are interested in. You may very well go ahead with music if that’s where your passion is, but you have to go extra thousand miles to excel in the field, to be one in a million like Lang Lang, in order to even find a decent job. If you are not ready to give your bloody best and you still want an extravagant lifestyle, you are better off staying away from the above ten degrees. By the end of the day, as always, it is your attitude and your efforts that count and that will determine where you will end up eventually, regardless of your choice.



Questions Testing Your Success After Graduation


This is the questionnaire that I mentioned on yesterday’s posting. There are 50 questions, too many to try my patience. I list below some interesting ones. The answers to the questions reveal the character, the ambition and thus the potential of the person.

(1) How many activities do you participate in universities?
(2) Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
(3) How do you react when you receive a bad grade on a test?
(4) When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you do?
(5) Before you go to bed, what’s the last thing you do?
(6) Why would you climb a mountain?
(7) How many hours a day do you spend watching TV?
(8) How would you feel when you don’t finish something?
(9) How well do you work with others?
(10) How do you prepare for an exam?
(11) How do you handle criticism?
(12) Why do you choose this college?
(13) After completing this test, what will you do?



High School, College and Life Beyond Part II


Continue yesterday’s topic…
While I was in Boston in August 2007, I was greatly impressed by the large Asian student body in that area. I learned about a quarter of them were Asian students. If that was the case, Asians must be hugely over-represented in American elite colleges and universities. Yet, outside campus, in the world of politics, economics and laws, we don’t see the same high Asian visibility. We have many Asian Americans going into laws, but we don’t have anyone like Sonia Sotomayor or Elena Kagan; in politics, no Asians have reached even to the position of the former Secretary of State Condelezza Rice, though I am sure there are millions of Asians much more intelligent than that lady. For Black Americans, even though they are over-represented in American prisons and under-represented in higher education, they have stronger and more powerful voice in American politics. They even have their own representative in White House.

There is no doubt that children from Asian families work hard and study diligently in order to get into top U.S. colleges and universities, but what happen to them after they leave university campus? Are they mainly good at hitting books or taking exams?

Yesterday I bumped into a questionnaire on the internet which tests your success after graduation. There are certain qualities that people must possess in order to succeed after graduation. To be sure, ability to study well is not one of them. Does it suggest that most of Asian Americans are not equipped with these qualities? I share with my children this phenomenon, as I don’t know what to say. I hope my children can mark my word and keep in mind going to a good college is only a means to an end instead of an end in itself. What is their end? This is the same question as asking them what they want to do with their lives. It is up to them to decide.



High School, College and Life Beyond Part I


While chatting with my son randomly, he mentioned that some of the students at MIT coasted through each day, making you wander why they were there. He believes that if you are determined to be a starlet, it doesn’t matter which college you go to. If you want to be mediocre, even Harvard cannot stop you from falling there.

These words remind me of what a friend of mine once said. If you want to be successful, you will eventually make it no matter where you are and how old you are. Otherwise, nothing can get you out of the rank that you allow yourself to fall into.

I am once again reminded of the huge responsibilities of parents that go beyond college admission. It is far from being enough to be able to send the children to a prestige college. You are not automatically guaranteed to be a success by any college. You might be pushed to one of the top by your parents, but the ultimate question is by the time you enter the college, you should have a good idea of what you want to do with your live in college and beyond. From there, you will either rise and fly or fall and slide away your college years.



New College Life in China Today


One of their greatest moments in life
This was from a friend of mine regarding college students in China. I know it is not a joke even though it reads like one. I have personally known or heard similar story. That’s how they fail and how they become loafers or parasites, living off their parents. Here’s the translation.

They sleep through the whole class;
So that, throughout the night, the owls are not tired.
At school cafeteria, they never wait in line;
They won’t stop texting until they are in debt.
On smoking and gambling, they know them all;
Ten bottles of beer won’t knock them out.
They cut classes together in groups.
They never have any luck in romantic relationships.
They miss everything in exams.
Long live university!



What Does a Job Mean to Young Graduates?


This may seems a rather stupid question on the surface. From the basic economic sense, a job means a paycheck or a means of living. In the word of one person that was given to me when I landed my first healthcare position, “You just found a bowl for a living.” If that’s all you can think of regarding a job and if you are content with your bowl, you are only an inch away from a dumb fool. Unfortunately, this bowl is not guaranteed for life and can be taken away any time your employer pleases. You simply don’t have any control over this. If you don’t prepare for this moment, you deserve nothing better.

On a deeper spiritual level, there must be some transcendental value to our life experience. Otherwise, that corporal mass of yours is no different from the same fleshy one found in any pigsty. That is, you should always be able to think of something above bare physical existence that a job can satisfy.

Back to the more practical side, one should always keep in mind the precarious nature of a job, which is as fragile as a glass bowl. It might be scary to think of everyday at your office as your last day there. But it certainly enhance the temporary nature and the insecurity inherent in any position that is offered to you. Embrace this risk and insecurity so that you will feel the urgent need for developing your own hidden agenda while you devote your time to your current employer.

What is your hidden agenda? Ultimately, it is to constantly increase your skills and expertise, all kinds of experience, and network and connections, making yourself a valuable asset desired by everybody, so that when the final day of employment comes, you are prepared and have the choice of going to many places. This should be your career goal and plan.

In this sense, for young graduates, a job means preparation, connections, opportunities and potential for something bigger, opportunity for learning and gaining valuable work experience and sharpening your skills, even better, for a higher order of human existence. How lovely that shall be!



Beyond Classroom and Lifetime Learning (2)


During my previous posting on this topic, I emphasize the continuation of learning beyond classroom. Now I want to point out study and work should be inseparable and what you should look for in your first job.

While you are at school, you should think about your future work or even better try to put your foot at the door of your future company. While at work, you should never stop enriching yourself.

A country has one-year or five-year plan. So should a college graduate. Ask yourself what you would like to see in yourself in one year or five years or a decade. Your long-term plan is your hidden agenda. Never for a day should you forget this, no matter where you are.

I often hear people brag about the salary of one’s first job. This is like picking up seeds while losing water-melon. The focus of your first job should be opportunities to learn and to grow, the big goal of your career development. One’s first salary should least be considered for young graduates. In fact, a fat paycheck on your first job is not always a good thing when some young people get content easily and become deflated in their will to strive for something better.

It is very risky to settle down on your first job as you deceive yourself with a false assumption about job security of 19th century! Generation-Y graduates should have known by now that the age has gone forever when a person can stay in one post till retirement. Always keep in mind this new golden rule: the only security is your skills, expert and the asset you build in yourself. While you are young and energetic, increase your own tangible and intangible assets is the top one priority. It is stupid to eat and get fat on your first job and find yourself loss of job as you are busy widening your waistline.

By the way, the trick to remember the feature of generation-Y is to look at these young people from behind when they bend forward. There you get the Y-image.



Beyond Classroom and Lifetime Learning (1)


Recently I have given some thought on graduation and beyond. Perhaps because one of the young relatives graduated here last December, another one in China will graduate this summer and go for graduate study, and a third one on the way to graduate from a master program, and my own child will be out of college next May.

As always, my heart is full of words for these young folks. Some people can’t wait for graduation while some others are dreadful of life ahead and its uncertainty. Not a few people think graduation means the end of study and the start of work, as if the two were separable and as if they have learned everything that is to learn. I must say this view is nothing but short-sighted career suicide.

For one thing, compare to the vast ocean of knowledge, college education only leads you to the door of real learning, opening your eyes to your own prejudice and ignorance and thus firing in you the passion to pursue more on your lifetime journey.

For another, even with that meager amount of learning, you might be able to use less than 1 percent of it in your future post. The 4-year education is far from enough if you intend to lay back on this for your future cushion. The world is changing everyday, so is the nature of work, which demands you more than ever before to be able to keep up with new technologies. Unless you want to put an early end to your career, you shall never stop learning no matter where you are.


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