Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Work Ethic: A Lesson from the Taiwanese

I was raised in a family of hard workers. My parents, who began having children at a young age, both worked full-time and went to school while raising us, setting good work ethic examples for me and my sisters.

Yet somehow, I still didn't come out with the hardcore working habits I think I should have. Well, at least not during my school days anyway. When I was in high school, and later in college even, I was not the most serious student. I wouldn't say I was a bad student, just not particularly hard working. I did what I needed to to maintain a decent grade point average, but I could never find the motivation or will power to really put in the effort needed to be a stellar student. I often wonder where this laziness of mine came from, since I had two good examples to follow at home.

While I am certainly not absolving myself from any personal responsibility I have in my work ethic, I think that a large part of the reason why I developed a habit of slacking off in school was because I could. Unfortunately many, if not most, schools in America today do not require any kind of serious hard work from their students. I don't ever remember having any long nights of homework during my high schools days, and later, I was pleasantly surprised when I realized university wasn't nearly as demanding as I had thought it would be. Most people I knew weren't much different from me in that way, either. There weren't, it seems, many societal pressures to develop strong work ethics during those years. But of course I never thought about it then. It wasn't until I came to Taiwan that I was able to understand the importance of a society as a whole valuing hard work.

I knew that studying Chinese would require a lot of effort and time. I was planning on taking this endeavor very seriously and maximizing my time here learning. I also knew that I would have to change some of my previous study habits, and become a more serious student, if I wanted to achieve this goal. And although I can attribute some of the success of my accomplishment to my own determination to improve my work ethic, I must say that a large part of my inspiration to become a harder worker has come from being here, surrounded by people who are probably some of the most dedicated achievers in the world.

Whether young children, college students, or adults, the Taiwanese at any age have impressed me with their work habits and dedication. First graders practice character writing at home every night. They don't have a choice. With a language as complex as Chinese it's the only way to achieve a successful literacy among the population. By third grade they can read and write this complex language quite well, and are now conquering math problems that, as an American student, I wasn't introduced to until fourth or fifth grade.

My students who are in junior high and high school study for hours each night with dedication. They read complex passages from ancient Chinese writings, and their clear understanding of advanced math and science always impresses me. They go to evening school or hire a tutor for the subjects in which they need improvement. They have piano class or violin class, or sometimes both. And all of this is after a 7 to 9 hour school day. Did I mention they rarely complain?

Many of the adults I know are no different. One of my students is an anesthesiologist at a well know hospital here in Kaohsiung, where she works every day. She is also getting her PhD at a good university in Tainan, and studies English with me twice a week. She has two young children who are quite remarkable, and she always looks lovely. Another mother who I know has her PhD in English education from the US. While her family did live with her there for sometime during that period, she also spent a lot of it alone. She now works full-time teaching English at a university, and sends me one or two research papers a month for editing. I could go on citing many more examples, like my boss and my Chinese teachers, but this post is long enough already.

So, how could I, living here in Taiwan, in a society whose population is comprised mainly of people like this, even think about slacking off? I was inspired by all of the hard working people around me to be like them. I enjoyed listening to all of their accomplishments and I wanted to emulate their strategy of attaining them. I felt guilty sometimes even, when I wasn't feeling "motivated" to study. "How can I be so lazy, when my junior high school students do more work than me?" I quickly reprimanded myself in this fashion, and opened my books.

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