Thomas F. O'Neill
Working as a teacher in, China, I have seen firsthand the value of acquiring higher education. I have also witnessed how education, raised the standard of living for millions of people here. There are now over 550 million in China that have a middle-class income. That is more than the entire population of America and the standard of living in China will continue to rise due to the growing educational opportunities. Unfortunately, the middle-class in America is shrinking due to a widening gap between those who have much and those who have little in terms of a good quality of life.
A half-century ago the average high school graduate in America could find a job and achieve a middle-class income. A person seeking employment today with just a high school diploma will most likely earn less than the average college graduate. Good employment opportunities will be harder to find for those lacking a degree, especially in today’s world. With high unemployment, (due to the Coronavirus) many in America are and will continue to struggle to find decent-paying jobs. The number of underemployed may continue to rise as well.
I tell my students that a College degree shows potential employers that they possess critical thinking skills and that they value their education. There are many in America and China that question whether the high cost involved in earning that degree is worth the time and effort. Those same people will argue that there are many job seekers with degrees who can’t find work in their field. But people who enter the job market passing up an opportunity to go to college are most likely shortchanging their future for the here and now. Some choose to return to school in later years but find that it is harder to earn a degree with the added responsibilities that come with raising a family.
There is a growing number of adults returning to school though to better themselves by acquiring trade skills. They understand that it is their only option for better employment. Within the past thirty years or so education not only raised the standard of living in China but also had a profound impact on China’s growing economy. The economy here is on fast forward and it's growing exponentially with no sign of slowing down, it now has the largest domestic economy in the world. This is also adding to the higher standard of living in China due to higher wages being spurred by the rising job market.
More students in China are also traveling abroad to continue their education, not because education is so much better outside of China but rather, they understand the value of experiencing other cultures. Some of my students have commented in my cultural diversity class that learning new languages is not enough to get by in our global economy. You must also understand the cultures of those countries you want to do business with through international commerce. To be successful in business you must understand the cultural preferences of the corporate buyers on the global market. That is just one of the reasons why China is so open to the cultural exchange programs of various nations.
Throughout history, many conflicts among nations have occurred due to a lack of cultural understanding. An Educated society though can help its citizenry overcome negative preconceived notions and negative stereotypes that have led to national conflicts in the past.
Many cultural exchange students who traveled abroad experienced firsthand how their negative perceptions of foreigners changed to positive experiences. This occurred when foreign students simply interacted with one another while studying abroad.
There are many cultural exchange programs sponsored by American and foreign Universities. They are helping students from all over the world come to a greater understanding of the various cultures that make up our human race. When we gain a deeper understanding of other cultures, we in turn gain a deeper understanding of our own culture. That knowledge is truly valuable because when properly applied it can forge alliances build a deeper understanding of the cultural norms and customs of people throughout the world.
The appreciation of a country’s art, food, literature, and music is also part of the cultural experience. China is influenced by western music, western artifacts, classical literature from the west, and American food. American movies are hugely popular as well and they have had a profound impact on China’s perception of America. When the Chinese come to the U.S. the first thing, they realize is America is not like what they see in the movies.
In America and China, College students are gaining a clearer understanding that by placing themselves in the service of others they gain a stronger sense of their self-worth. Volunteerism lends itself towards boundless opportunities. Utilizing the students’ skills, knowledge, and education not only enhances the community but it also opens countless doors towards enhancing the student’s wellbeing. Upon graduation, it shows potential employers that they take civic responsibility and pride in their community.
In America, just like in China, many University educated individuals may not land those high paying jobs fresh out of their University, but many will turn to non-governmental service jobs. They will gain a sense of civic responsibility and work experience that is vital for landing jobs with higher pay.
Statistics show that educated individuals are more likely to vote and get involved in the political process. College graduates fresh out of school are also more likely to work for community agencies helping the less fortunate better themselves.
A college education can also lead to a life of continued learning and an appreciation of the opportunities that come with that learning. Many adults return to school not just for higher degrees but to simply take courses for self-enrichment to learn new skills or pursue hobbies and interests. Self-enrichment cannot be financially quantified though especially when that education is achieved throughout one’s lifetime.
A child’s education is vital to America’s future and our national wellbeing. Adults must do all that can be done to encourage the youth of America to continue their learning and to put their education to good use.
When students of mine get accepted to foreign Universities they feel as if they achieved something of extraordinary value. In reality, they have, because a great education cannot be measured monetarily it can only be freely shared through one’s character of achievement.
I tell my students that the true worth of a person is not measured through one's salary or what they spent on earning their degrees. What a student learns in the classroom will not ultimately define who they are as human beings either - but how well they live in communion with others will in the end define their true character. In other words, a person’s true worth can be measured by how well they spend their lives in the service of others. I have discovered over the years that what we give to our community, we, in turn, give to ourselves. When we enhance the lives of those in need, we, in turn, enhance our own lives - because what we give to others comes back to us in greater fold.
Fools will continue to strive for the material possessions they do not have but wish to gain. The wise on the other hand will develop what they already possess within themselves.
Higher learning is the means of developing the skills, knowledge, and understanding, that is truly needed in developing one’s true potential and in gaining a fulfilling career.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
U.S. Voice mail: (410) 925-9334
China Mobile: 011 (86) 13405757231
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