Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Different One – Exchange Student Experience in Iowa State University

I know I’m different. The different one who does not have much to say most of the time, because the indifference topic most people usually talk about. I am not interested in sharing religious believes, talking about superstitions, searching the best restaurant to eat, involving with other people’s relationships, watching sports, and shopping clothes. That’s almost all the people are talking about, and I don’t have a single word to say.

I’m well aware of that, but I’m not trying to change who I am. Because I don’t need people around me, I don’t feel lonely, and I sometimes feel more comfortable when no one can sense my existence.

But I do care about people. I care to know how we can make this world better, I care how to rethink our education method so we can make our next generation more creative, I care how to improve our government, so that our law, regulation, and policy can truly represent what people really want, I care how to change our financial system so those people who are productive can earn what they deserve.

Iowa State University is a good place for me. Not only because the great amount of knowledge I received, but also the special environment I’ve got to experience. There are nearly 28,000 students from all 50 states and more than 110 countries in this school. At the beginning of the semester, I stayed with a group of exchange students from all over the world: Mexico, Turkey, Singapore, Spain, U.K., Vietnam, Brazil, Norway, and Finland. They are the most different kind of group I’ve ever seen, but I still can share our common interest and value. After that, I mostly hang out with Taiwanese; they are the most kindness one. They do most of the help without considering any payback; even they know I only stay for a semester and probably wouldn’t ever come back. And I also have a good relationship with some Americans. They are the kind of people I have the most interest. I want to know how they are thinking about us, and what their point of view towards the rest of the world is. This is really a great place for my source of inspiration.

As my observation, all of them have very different state of mind; some are smart, with a clever mind; some are very sensitive, often over guessing the meaning of words; some are very talkative, they say as what they think; some are hard working, have to got a job so they can have education; some are dependent, but learned step by step towards independence; some are isolated, because of the culture difference; some are just good people, provide helps whatever they can; some lost their goal of life, don’t know what kind of job they should do; some are selfish, the action and reaction is all about themselves; some enjoy their life very well, have fun at every moment; some want to stay in the U.S. desperately, hoping to have a better life.

All those experience with those very different kinds remind me a little part of me. I have some of those characters some time, but with different circumstance and different level. As experiences of observation and self-examination growth, I figure that the differences of actions and reactions between people are mostly depending on every past experience they’ve got. Although this is a very complex relationship associate with their gene and mental/physical status at the time of event, there still have some clue we can find to make a correct prediction.

But its differences are absolutely what human need. Differences may often cause confusion and misunderstanding, but the differences between us also determines the value of every single individual in this century. Doing the same thing everybody can do over and over again is no longer what society need. Differences make us unique; make us irreplaceable among all 6.8 billion human beings. And Education can let us discover our potential out of differences.


The most things I worry about Taiwan is education, the most inferential and valuable investment. Because the experience I’ve got from more than 15 years of education tells me that Taiwan’s education system is not designed for inspiring creativity, breeding different individual, and preparing needs of future. Instead, the first 12 grade has unintentionally been built to imprison children’s open minds. Students constantly been told to give up what they love to follow a model of success. Even though more and more evidence show that the success of yesterday is not applicable for the triumph of tomorrow. Parents are absolutely eager to spend their money to children’s education. But they fail to spend in the right direction and twisted the whole purpose of standard test. They’ve changed education to a meaningless high cost and useless competition. Then, unfortunately, when students get a chance to decide what to learn for their future in their university, the passion of learning and desire to choice are no longer existed. The only thing left to do is continue this success model until one day it breaks.

This crisis is, of course, recognizable within this island. But during my exchange program, I found out how similar this problem we face all around the globe. Several Singaporeans told me the same things also happened in Singapore. Most of students from Asia don’t know what kind of job they want or what subject or area they are interested in. They see future as an unpredictable path lies on the production line arbitrarily assemble by their parents. Free higher education in Europe sounds like a perfect solution, but the lack of selection process (for students) and limited teaching resource reduce the effectiveness on their system. On the other hand, Americans face their own problem, too. Although their high quality of university education environment makes the whole system more efficient, skyrocketing tuition cost makes them suffer on economic level. Intense unnecessary competition among universities builds up the price. It cost more than just money, but also causes the attainment to defer and even decrease. Only 27.7% had earned a Bachelor's degree(or higher) in the United States.

I believe the solution is out there. Waiting for the emerging of internet technology, government legislation, and most important of all, the mind set of all human to change. The power is in people’s hands if they want to.

We can ask ourselves: What if we redesign our education with an eye towards the future with today’s available technology?

All world governments and education institutions should work together as a single group and pursuit one single purpose: To provide every human being all known knowledge, technique, and method towards the usage for greater good of mankind. We can’t afford to not educate people just because they are poor or their parents couldn’t pay for it. We can’t afford putting teaching resources separated in inefficient way. We can’t afford to give away our education to those self-interest politician and private profit-driven institutions building knowledge walls against open knowledge society.

We, together, should concentrate our education resources to build a world class cyber education system. Truly connect all instructors and students using information technology so feedback can be effectively sent, changes can be made, and improvement can be achieved. Funding is provided by governments to reward good instructors (examined by feedback systems), support scientific research and invention, and build infrastructure for educational purpose. Also, we should systematically eliminate protectionism within the scientific community. Human prosperity should not be sacrificed for short-term profit. Educational books and resources will neither be expensive nor scarce, learning motive will not be suppressed by local policy maker, true educator’s ability can finally reach to everybody, every one of us, on our planet Earth.


From the very beginning when I know I’m going to live in Iowa, I know it will be different. But I was still amazed by so many surprises along the way.

Experience on the first few days of activity with exchange students is exciting. In fact, those students from all over the world make me wonder: How on earth could they gather so many across this wild world? All their languages, cultures, and appearances are so much different. But all of them are able to speak the same language and have the same goal: To live in a foreign country to learn. Although we have greater language barrier and greater culture difference, we generally still have a good friendship.

International students are different. 80% of them came from China, one of the fastest growing developing countries in the world. I didn’t like it at the beginning. This makes me indistinguishable among them. But few months later after I deliberately shout out loud the name “Taiwan” on the international student orientation on the “introduce what country you came from” part in front of hundreds of “Chinese”. I gradually realized the larger picture. After all, we human all came from the same place. Divide people against each other is meaningless.

Population density largely decides the way of life. You cannot buy something hot, cheap, and delicious to eat at 12 p.m. You must travel more distance to get some services. And you find out that sometimes it’s so hard to see human on the street. Although everyone lives far away, people who want to do the same thing can always get together and make a good effort. In some ways, resource for specific activity can be easily concentrated without negative effect on others.

Walking on the central camp in ISU is a joy. In summer time, the brightest sunlight shines, and everything became so colorful to the point where you have to wear sunglasses. In fall, all trees changed its color, and leafs started to fall down. Create a whole new wonderful picture with the fading sun. And in winter, the coldest winter I have ever seen. I experienced the first blizzard in my life, and watched the blowing snow traveling a great speed at 5 degree angle across the ground. Also, I once stood in the middle of a parking lot watching and feeling snow coming down slowly. At that moment, I had no doubt that I found the true peace in my mind.

And maybe, by sharing my thought on this journey to as many people as I could, I can fulfill my duty as an exchange student.

Thanks for all the professors and many university employees on both Taiwan and Iowa who help me so much during this exchange program. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.