Wednesday, August 29, 2012

An Autobiography

Running With the Pack
On the Other Side of the World
Young Justin Hsu

        During a chilly autumn morning in Murray, Kentucky, I was born to Cheng-Da Hsu, a student majoring in molecular biology, and Ching-Ying Chen, an architect in the making. Within a few months, our family made the move to South Bend, Indiana. As an infant, my mother took care of me twenty-four seven while my father studied for a PhD degree at the University of Notre Dame. However, when my mother had the opportunity to study at Washington University in St. Louis, my father encouraged her to go, promising to take care of me while he finished the last segment of his doctoral program.
        My father needed to conduct many experiments; so naturally, I spent a great deal of time in a scientific laboratory. On a typical day, after my father picked me up from daycare, I would sleep on the lab couch or wander around while my father ran experiments late into the night. This special upbringing really developed my ability to adapt to different environments, an ability that was crucial to me in the future.

Elementary Years
        I was five when my father finished his studies at Notre Dame. Our family reunited in St. Louis, where I was to start elementary school. Going to elementary school was a wonderful time of my life. I performed well in school, easily finishing assignments before I even went home. With a lot of spare time, I greatly enjoyed reading and went to the county library every week. I also enrolled in our school’s gifted program. These led to me being dubbed the “smart kid” at school. School really boosted my self-esteem and gave me a great sense of accomplishment.
        Aside from school, I had many other activities. I took piano lessons on a weekly basis. The first few years of practicing classical music was an arduous experience for me. However I grew to love music and now think of being able to play the piano as a blessing. Our family regularly went to church. I enjoyed going, but it was more of an opportunity to socialize and make friends. On Sunday afternoons, after church, I also went to Chinese school as my parents greatly emphasized the importance of knowing the language.
        During my years in elementary school, I had a very smooth journey. I read quickly, learned new concepts easily, and even graduated with a presidential award! However, I developed a laid-back personality, maybe even being complacent with my ability at the time. My fifth grade teacher wrote of me on my final report card:

        “Justin is an exceedingly bright young man, but he often does the minimum amount of work required to get a good grade. Justin, Roger Bannister, the man who was first credited with running the mile in under four minutes, said, ‘The man who can drive himself farther once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.’ Unless you are willing to put in the extra effort, even when it hurts, you will always be running with the pack. To come out a winner, in front of everyone, you will need to apply more of yourself and your intelligence to the task at hand.”

I didn’t like these remarks at the time, but little did I know how important these words of wisdom would be in the next few years of my life.

The Move
        During my fifth grade summer, while I was still hyped about going to middle school, our family made a decision that would change me for life. Due to many complicated issues that I did not understand at the time, we decided to move to Taiwan. The only thing that I did understand was that I was leaving my friends, my home, and everything I had ever known.
Although I went to Chinese school in the States and our family spoke Mandarin at home, the Chinese I actually knew was very limited. I knew very little of Taiwan; the culture, the people, and the life were things I couldn’t and wouldn’t embrace. I was even more mortified when I learned I wouldn’t be going to an American school. Furthermore, I would be skipping to 7th grade as 6th grade is still a part of elementary school in Taiwan. Far from Taipei, my parents enrolled me at a local private school, Concordia Middle School (CMS), located in southern Taiwan.

        My first semester at CMS was devastating. Being used to running ahead of the pack, I found it hard to cope with homework I could not finish on my own or the numerous tests that I failed. The language barrier made the learning process painstakingly slow for me. Chinese class was obviously the greatest challenge for me, but the limitations caused by my inability to read and write Chinese extended to every other subject as well. Math, a subject I greatly enjoyed in 4th and 5th grade, became very taxing as I couldn’t even read the problems. Even English required a lot of getting used to. The teaching methods employed seemed strange and foreign to me. I also felt pressure to be “perfect” as I was the kid who had spent ten years in America.
I also lacked the mentality of an average Taiwanese student. I was not accustomed to the Taiwanese system that focused greatly on academics. I had neither adequate study habits nor a sense of what annotations I should make in my textbooks.
These challenges really forced me to rethink my life. Should I give up and transfer to an American school? Or do I have the determination to put in the extra effort?
The turning point for me came when I learned of two transfer students from South Korea. Ten years ago, they followed their parents who came to Taiwan for seminary. The two brothers knew absolutely no Chinese before coming to CMS. However, they never gave up, and eventually got accepted into two of Taiwan’s most prestigious universities. Two people who were chasing after the pack in the beginning led it in the end.
My father once said, “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.” During my years at CMS, I was blessed with two very loving teachers. My homeroom teacher, who was a math instructor, often encouraged me when I felt frustrated and openly praised me when I made small improvements. From her, I really learned how small words and compliments can really make one’s day. My Chinese teacher is also someone I owe a lot to. After knowing about my unique background, she often paid careful attention to my needs. She would even invite me to her office during lunch breaks to give extra assistance and answer questions I had about class!
Eventually, I could understand more and more of what people were talking about. I also embraced the Taiwanese culture, fitting in with classmates better than I had ever hoped. My Chinese constantly improved, and by the end of the school year, I could keep up with others. By 8th grade, my grades were good enough to enroll in our school’s high school department.
       Looking back, I realize that coming back to Taiwan was one of the best things to happen to me. Coming to Taiwan and learning Chinese has really helped me become not only more tolerant, but also a more thoughtful person. I was forced to adapt to a whole new environment, but in doing so, I am no longer dependent on things that I am familiar with. Being biculturala product of both the East and the Westhas really become one of my greatest assets.

The Grace Place
        In 8th grade, which was my second year in Taiwan, our family found the Grace Place, a small church that had recently been established. The most unusual thing about that church was that we had two very different pastors; Pastor James, who was a native Taiwanese, and his mentor Pastor Dodd, who was from Portland, Oregon. Our family took an immediate liking to this church which featured both Chinese and English.
As our church had only recently been established, I was the only teen at the Grace Place for quite some time. This gave me many opportunities to serve and help out. I regularly played the piano during services and taught Children’s Sunday School. Since we had a number of foreigners who attended our services, I also helped out with simultaneous translation.
The Grace Place holds a special place in my heart as my faith greatly deepened. I came to realize what my true identity as a Christian is.

9th Grade
        While technically 9th grade is still a part of middle school in Taiwan, it was an important year for me as I made the transition to high school. I undertook many new responsibilities in our class. I had the honor of being the class president of my 9th grade class. I was in charge of attendance, announcements, and basically the well-being of our class.
        Aside from playing a prominent role in the classroom, my leadership skills were also put to the test when I was selected as director and script-writer of our 9th grade English drama. I had a great time writing the script which was based off of a Chinese parable. Directing, however, was a very demanding task. I had to pay attention to many aspects of the performance; my scope had to be greater than others. In the end, our team fared quite well in the county competition, garnering first place.

        CMS has continually supported Holy Light School, a school in Lashio, Myanmar (Burma). For the past five years, our school has sent teams consisting of ten to twelve students and four teachers to go to Myanmar. I had the privilege of going during my 9th grade summer vacation. During our week-long stay in Myanmar, we taught science, Chinese, and even computer to students and teachers at Holy Light School. We also visited the homes of students we taught.
        This trip was my first to a third-world country. Myanmar, a country which has suffered from long-term military rule, really shocked me! I witnessed first-hand the lives of people who did not all have the right to be educated. I met many teens who dropped out of school to find work in order to support the needs of their families. I visited schools that lacked many professional teachers, teaching resources, and a complete curriculum. The schools I went to didn’t even have PE class for their students, but what did that matter to kids who trekked through miles of mud and water every day just to get to school? Just seeing how much people had to do to make sure there was food on the dinner table every evening really made me rethink my life, my values, and my priorities.
        The people there had to endure physical hardships every day, yet they gave us a wonderful reception, preparing the best food, making sure our accommodations were comfortable, and giving their best effort to meet our daily needs. Despite not having the best material comforts, their simple and honest outlook on life greatly moved me. Although Myanmar has more than its fair share of problems, are we, citizens of first-world countries so much better off? Are we happier? More content? Just what is an “advanced civilization”?

10th Grade
        10th grade was the busiest, but also most fruitful year of my high school experience. During this year, I participated in a plethora of activities and competitions, each giving me the chance to hone different skills and abilities.

        The Taiwan Young Physicists’ Tournament (TYPT) was one of the major contests I took part in. The TYPT is Taiwan’s version of the International Young Physicists’ Tournament (IYPT). In the TYPT, we were assigned twelve physics problems that covered a variety of topics. Problems included optimizing a balloon-powered toy car’s distance, removal of adhesive tape, and the study of how bubbles affect the buoyancy of a floating object. We were required to come up with our own theories, design relevant experiments, and organize everything into a novel research. Preparation for the TYPT took our team of five nearly half a year!
During the actual competition, we competed in preliminary rounds called “Physics Fights” (PF). In each PF, three teams competed, each playing a different role. The three roles were Reporter, Opponent, and Reviewer. One representative from each team would take the stage while the other team members provided technical assistance and physics support. The Reporter would give a ten to twelve minute presentation of the team’s investigation on one of the problems chosen by the Opponent. After the report, the Opponent would engage in a fifteen minute discussion with the Reporter, attempting to find faults and illogical reasoning in the Reporter’s presentation. The Reviewer, after witnessing the discussion and listening to the ideas of both the Reporter and Opponent, would give his/her own opinion and general comments of the PF.
The TYPT was a very intense competition, forcing me to analyze my team’s work critically. Not only did we need to have sufficient background knowledge of each problem, but being able to react quickly was of utmost importance. Teamwork was also greatly emphasized. A good team consisted of members who excelled at giving persuasive presentations and others who had good grasp of physics concepts. Our team received 2nd place out of twenty-four teams. I was also nominated to be a part of Taiwan’s national team that would attend that year’s IYPT. Although I didn’t make the final cut, my passion for physics blossomed because of this contest.

School Fellowship
During 10th grade, I also earnestly attended our school’s on-campus fellowship. Bringing classmates who did not know the Lord to fellowship was one of my main focuses throughout the year. Being a member of our school’s fellowship, I had the chance to lead worship during our school’s weekly worship services. In addition to leading worship, I also regularly attended mini prayer meetings each day. During breaks between classes, a group of students and teachers would gather at our school’s prayer wall to pray for the school and each other. Being in fellowship with other students really taught us how to be supportive and attentive to the needs of others.

30 Hour Famine
        World Vision’s annual 30 Hour Famine has been a part of our school’s Easter tradition. Each year during Easter week, students refrain from eating and drinking for thirty hours to experience starvation. During the 30 Hour Famine, our school organizes rallies and assemblies to help raise awareness of starvation around the world.
        I was honored to be chosen as the student director of the 30 Hour Famine. However, it was a tremendous responsibility. I was in charge of organizing the rallies, activities, and shows during the event, which over a thousand students would attend. This was the ultimate test of my ability as a leader. I really learned how difficult it is to make good plans and how much harder it is to execute them. Many of the volunteers came from different classes or even different grade levels. This made it challenging for me to organize drama practices or choir rehearsals. This really frustrated me, but I finally learned that as a leader, I should not be upset with what I don’t have. Rather, I need to be grateful of the people who could come and help out, and just try to make the best of what I have and improvise.

11th Grade
        11th grade is a time of great pressure for Taiwanese students. Looming test dates dictate most students’ lives. However, in the midst of all of this academic pressure, I managed to find time to attend the TYPT once more. Our team only managed to get 9th place this time around. However, I made it onto the national team this time. Our competition was held in July in Germany.

The IYPT-Training
        Training for the IYPT started in around April, a month after the TYPT was held. Each week, we would go to Taipei during the entire weekend to discuss and learn from different professors. The members of the team were finalized after one month of training based on a final one-on-one Physics Fight with another candidate and an interview with the professors. Out of ten people, five were selected. Making it into the team, I was thrilled and grateful at the opportunity to be on the same team with four other outstanding students.
After the school year was over, I spent a whole month living in Taipei for an intense preparation camp. Day after day, I was either in the lab doing experiments, discussing with professors and teammates, or working on PowerPoint presentations. Though the month was very exhausting, I look back and realize how amazing and fruitful that month was. I learned a lot of physics, presentation techniques, and experimental methods, but even more important was the camaraderie I developed with my teammates, the professors, and friends at National Taiwan Normal University. Working late into the night with other guys, having professors coming to the lab during their free time, I really felt that we had an amazing bond.
However, it wasn’t all fun and games. We obviously encountered many droughts when conducting our experiments. There was also friction between teammates at some points. However, those unpleasant memories helped me to know what it means to me a good team member. During those down times for out time, I had the chance to encourage others and help resolve problems. I am grateful to God that I had the opportunity to introduce others to my Christian faith.

The IYPT-Bad Saulgau
        The IYPT was held in a rustic town in southern Germany known as Bad Saulgau. Upon arrival, I was delighted to be in such a beautiful place, but even more so to compete against so many elites from other countries. I met a lot of friendly and outstanding people. Taiwan ended up sixth among twenty-eight teams, receiving the silver medal. I learned a lot from each country we faced, especially the three gold teams; Singapore, Iran, and Korea.
Singapore really impressed because they put in so much effort into their work. What others did twice, they would do twenty times. Their solid work ensured that the luck aspect of the competition had no effect on their final ranking. Iran showed humongous determination in preparing. While other teams had plentiful resources and a team of teachers and professors to provide assistance, the five team members from Iran had one college student and a high school laboratory to work with. Their aggressiveness and resolve made it clear that they were winners. Korea, the champion team (again), taught me how important expressing yourself is. In addition to having the traits of Team Singapore and Team Iran, their presentation skills really tipped the scales in their favor. Choosing from hundreds of slides, each PowerPoint presentation in their arsenal presented all of their work in the most effective manner and showed how “good marketing” is critical to a “finished product”.
What does it take to compete at an international level? How do I make myself a valuable asset to my team in a society where countries are tethered to together? Having the chance to tour Germany and being a part of the tournament really opened my eyes to what the future holds and what it will take to be a contender.

Looking back
        My years in Taiwan have really shaped me into the person I am now. Coming back and facing language and cultural barriers, I was really forced to change. As a result, I have become a very versatile person, adapting to unfamiliar situations quicker than most. With globalization in all fields becoming more mainstream, creativity and the ability to integrate various concepts is increasingly important. Being in two very different parts of the world has helped me to look at things from different perspectives.
        The greatest challenge in coming to Taiwan was that I had to start behind the pack. The entire experience was extremely humbling, but I am grateful that I had the chance to learn the importance of “the extra effort”. I hope that through hard work and perseverance, I will one day be able to run ahead of the pack.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.