By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
My grand nephew just enrolled as a freshman at the University of Washington (UW). Son, you picked the right place! However, you still have a million decisions to make, which can impact your life.
I was a Husky decades ago. In retrospect, I could have done the opposite thing in some of my college experiences. Like you, I wanted to graduate as soon as possible once I arrived at UW.
“Tuition is expensive,” you said, “I want to graduate in three years.”
Common sense says it’s wise to hurry up, graduate, and save money. As an international student, paying three times more than local students, I thought it was smart to get my degree quickly and to not be a financial burden to my family.
Each quarter, I took a heavy load, 18 credits. My daily routine was to go to the library after class and after meals, with no exceptions. (Taking 12 credits was considered being a full-time student.)
A former classmate took 12 credits every quarter. I called him a “lazy bum.” Another classmate took 20 credits (even though her family was one of the richest folks in Hong Kong), and our peers perceived her overload as “diligent.” She spent all her time studying and not playing! Did she enjoy her college days? You know the answer. I considered her a fool.
My advice to you, dear nephew: Take your time, enjoy your education. Your college journey is some of the most precious times. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. I took 18 credits each quarter, but at what expense? By the end of my junior year, I had enough credits to graduate. Suddenly, I felt I was not ready to face the real world. I needed time to think about the next stage of my life. Fortunately, I already got a two-year scholarship, so I had the freedom to take classes that I enjoyed, including journalism, drama, and bowling. Yes, bowling. And I reduced the number of classes I took. Although I took seven credits for my last quarter at UW, I still had 18 credits more than the graduation requirement of 180 credits. The last two years of my college days were colorful, fun, and exciting.
You take 15 credits—smart decision—which is about the right load.
Starbucks vs. library
While it’s commendable for students who work and study simultaneously, it is not for every student. If you choose to work, what types of jobs should you work?
On your own, you have found a part-time job as a south Seattle Starbucks barista. Some of your family members are not thrilled even though you are excited about your new job.
Why not apply for a campus job, like at the UW library? It’s convenient and saves time, my relatives said.
My relatives in Hong Kong guessed that I would probably suggest you pick the library job.
I am pro-library. But what can you learn from shelving books, checking out books for others, and getting to read more books? We have enough book reading from our classes. The advantage of working in the library is, it is a steady job. When no one shows up during the night shift, you have downtime to study.
What my relatives don’t understand is, you love drinking coffee. If you can get free coffee, good pay and tips, and learn to be a barista, it satisfies your needs immensely. The job would be a mental break from your classes. It’s not a job when you love your job. It’s also a means to see the real world and meet interesting people. You could always transfer to another Starbucks after working at one, perhaps one closer to UW. There’s a lot of potential. Rather than following in your uncle’s footsteps (also a Husky) who used to work at the UW library, you venture out on your own to see the world and find a job you enjoy. It’s proof of your independence and adventurous spirit.
Thumbs up for thinking outside the box.
Seeking attention might not be a bad thing
Seeking attention was never my intent. One can attribute that to my Asian cultural upbringing and personality. After volunteering for a few stories, I got a job as a UW Daily reporter during my senior year. A reporter’s byline creates visibility. My reporter job led to another job—as a research assistant for the East Asia library. The job requires knowledge of the Chinese language. I was hired after my first interview. The head librarian, the late Karl Lo, called me up after seeing my byline and offered me a third-level student pay rate, instead of the first-level. I finished the research way ahead of time. Lo and I became friends after I graduated. You see, anything you do can shore you with other opportunities. So whatever you do, try to not just do a good job, but a great job.
Being a UW Daily reporter, you never know how readers respond to your stories. One time, I wrote an unfavorable story on the now defunct KRAB radio station. Its supporters wrote letters to condemn me and even protested in-person at the Daily’s office. I was scared.
“Wow, why do people take it so personally?” I thought. It’s just a student publication. I felt lucky that I barely missed the protesters. What I didn’t understand was when a journalist is able to arouse passionate readers with their writing, it is considered a success. When hate mail comes, some reporters perceive it as an honor—a rose and not a thorn!
Nephew, you might not be working for the Daily. But I recommend students to get involved in activities out of your comfort zone. Learn to be curious and care about UW, a remarkable institution. Get to know the president and as many distinguished professors as possible. Why and how are they outstanding? They are our role models.
A few years ago, I was appalled when one immigrant student couldn’t name UW President Ana Maria Cauce after studying there for one year. It’s embarrassing she didn’t know or didn’t care! What’s awful is, she may not be the only one!
Think about running for student office. I remember UW had elected more than one student body president of Asian descent. It may be fun to work for the Associate Students of the University of Washington. Many of the student body jobs are paid positions. It has 60 employees. Those can be dream jobs with good goals—having the desire to better the school and students’ welfare. You can learn more about the campus and its system, and meet many friends who share the same values.
UW has great partnerships and exchange programs with overseas universities. Some of my young friends had studied in Italy, Germany, and many other countries for a quarter or even a year in their junior year. All their living expenses and airfare are paid. It would be a wonderful education and travel experience. In my days, participating in exchange programs was not that easy. Now, there are so many available, and not enough students to take advantage of them. Just go to your department and check out those opportunities. UW is a big school and has much to offer. You never know unless you discover what is out there for you.
No drugs or alcohol
Even in my younger days, I understood the dangers of drugs and alcohol. I would agree totally with your family that drugs should never be a part of your college life. As for alcohol, it’s a bad idea, too. I know it’s hard to resist under peer pressure. I never inhaled while I was in college, even though I was offered a few times. The smell of weed irritates me and alcohol irks my stomach. I made the right decision then, no drinking or smoking, and it served me well. When your mind is being distorted by drugs or alcohol, you do foolish things, which you might regret later. Just Google the number of tragedies caused by excessive smoking and drinking for college students, and you will understand. Now it’s time to practice saying “no” to alcohol and drugs.
Are grades the most important thing?
In my younger days, I thought so. I would say, grades are important in college, but not the most important. It depends where you are at, what stage in college. I had friends who took certain classes just because they knew they could get a sure A, and not how much they could get out of the class.
I did not get an A from some of my classes, but I learned a lot and had deep satisfaction. Some of the eye-opening classes were Native American history and history of India.
Having good grades is important because it got me into UW. It also helped me to get my scholarships for my junior and senior years. I don’t worry about you at all. So far, you seem to make the right choices.
Develop diverse friendships
The first day you landed in Seattle, we took you along for lunch with my Black friend. Later, we went to dinner at a restaurant and I accidentally bumped into another Black friend.
My circle of friends are my sounding board for critical issues. I couldn’t run the Northwest Asian Weekly without diverse viewpoints and support. I have set an example for you and hope you appreciate diversity as much as I do. Recently, I saw a photo of you with many UW friends of different ethnic groups. I like what I saw. Young man, another thumbs up for you.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.