Asian Kids and the Confidence Factor

I’m letting out a secret today. Some people will hate me for this. Some will take the opposite position and defend it to death,  while others will say I am stereotyping. Maybe. I don’t have the stats on this (do you know where I can find it? If not, they seriously should conduct a study!)

Generally speaking, Asian kids have less confidence in themselves. We feel inferior, a lot! There, I said it. I’m fully prepared to take your criticisms as well as constructive comments :)

I should clarify though. I don’t mean all Asian kids. If you are of Asian descendance but born in Canada, US or Europe, then I don’t mean you (and hopefully I’m right). I meant kids like myself who grew up in Asia (like Vietnam.) There are exceptions of course. Broadly speaking though, I’m willing to bet that statistically, Asian kids have lower confidence scores than our counterparts. Here are some reasons I think causing this:

1. Cultural Belief. We are raised under the understanding that the world is a dangerous and cruel place where everyone will take advantage of you if it’s beneficial to them. Therefore, our parents do their best to tell us that we don’t know how evil the world is, that we need to be cautious with everyone and that every good opportunity is likely a trap, that every step we take forward can be wrong and detrimental.In short, we don’t know anything about anything. This ties into no. 2

2. Education. What our teachers teach us are mighty and must be true. One of my teachers used to say: if we took a different approach to a problem, even if it came to the right answer, it still deserved a zero. We go home and our parents say: Listen to your teachers and don’t talk back. Always. Even if we knew they are wrong, accept it anyway! So what’s the result? We take in information, memorize it and agonize not to forget. Because if we do forget, then we have to come up with our own thinking, which may not be the same with that we are taught. Which is wrong.

3. Social Comparison. There is immense pressure upon us from our parents, relatives, neighbours to succeed. We are constantly bombarded with news about this kid down the block just scored a prestigious job at a prominent bank, or that kid next door who just got a all-expenses-paid scholarship to the-big-college. And our closest people say to us “be that guy. Study harder. Do more”. And when we don’t… In short, we can’t fail. In fact, sometimes, it’s better that we don’t succeed as opposed to risk failing.

I know this first hand. I’ve been converted (somewhat) though. More confident than before definitely. And now, seeing the new students coming from Vietnam, I can see myself 5 years ago through them. An invisible voice in their head just keeps telling them that they are “not good enough.”

What’s funny is that, the only way to fix this is to be more confident.

The Net is Still About Them. But That’s About to Change

Here’s one of my “daydream” moments. It’s about the internet and how we use it.

The internet is fantastic. I say it is the most important invention of mankind. It has changed lives (and will continue to), it is attracting billions of dollars in investments (ask Tim Ferriss, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, or any tech savvy entrepreneur and investor.) It’s social, it’s connecting people and everything. But it’s still about “them”. It’s still about the CREATORS of the internet, and not (yet) about the USERS of the internet.

Imagine this. You want to get onto Facebook, because your college friends all use it to share drunk pictures. Unfortunately, you are from Vietnam (like me) and the government blocks Facebook. So all your Vietnamese friends spend their time on Yahoo Pulse (god I’m so grateful that my Canadian friends don’t use Yahoo Pulse, it would be a painful switch!) But I digressed. So your Vietnamese friends use Yahoo Pulse, so you create another account with Yahoo Pulse. And then your other friends use Friendster, Hi5, etc. In the end though, it is YOU that your friends want to connect with. Why can’t there be 1 social network (aka Facebook) that everyone use? We have got only 1 Earth to share. Why not share 1 social network?

If my point is still not clear, I hope this will do the job.

Picture this. You are browsing through cute cats and funny babies videos on YouTube. You see a funny video and “favorite” it. Then your friend email you a link to another video. Unfortunately, this friend is tech savvy enough that he uses Vimeo. You see the video and like it so much that you also “favorite” it. Your other friend is on DailyMotion, your grandmother is on Yahoo Video (man isn’t she behind the pace of the web?!)

Over the years, you will have accumulated a list of “favorite” videos on each of these video sharing sites and here’s the question:

Today, you are so bored after reading my blog post that you just want to watch a “favorite” video of yours. You don’t care which website, you just want a list of ALL videos you have “favorite” over the years…

It’s impossible. As of now!

In the end, the net has to be about ME. I don’t care which networks I am on. I want to be able to see ALL of my friends in the world. I wanna listen to my favorite music regardless of which music streaming sites I am on. For now though, I have to keep a playlist at each site!

This is why switching cost is so high. You have to rebuild your playlist (the songs may not even be available on some sites), you have to rebuild your contact lists (from your old email address), etc. If any industry should have little or no switching cost, it has to be the internet. But the switching cost is still high as hell. Too much in the case of my Facebook profile. And yours too I’m guessing.

There are development that are helping with this though. Yahoo Pulse lets you log in using your Facebook credential. Or Blogger lets you use Google account to log in. OpenID attempts to create 1 address for you, so you can sign in to different websites with 1 address.

Even though it is still relatively unknown because each website has to adopt the OpenID technology for it to work, it should be the way the internet works.

Google Ranking Anyone?

I admit it. I google my name once in a while. My Facebook profile used to come up one the first page. Now? My Twitter profile. Fourth on the list :) Who said Twitter is useless? Now what that means is that I’d better revamp the Twitter page for my job search, as it would be the first thing potential employers see. Hmm. Who would have thought even 2 years ago?

Happy tweeting!

On Being Canadian

I am an aspiring aka Canadian wanna-be. And I work in the awesome office of UFV International. This section is dedicated to what my Canadian colleagues feel about the question: “What does being Canadian mean?”

Number one. Here’s an image quiz. What is the boat on the Canadian dime called?

It’s called the “bluenose.” Huh?

The Push and Pull Ways of Education

Do you know the meaning of the term “rote”? Me neither. Last week, Andy told me about it. I have done it for about… 11 years but never knew the proper term for it. It’s “learning by memorization.” Ahhh, I used to be so good at this (now, I can still get by, but I’m getting rusty!)

It makes me think about the ways of the Education. To use a technology term, there are the “Push” and the “Pull” ways of learning.

“Rote” learning is Push. Gobs of information are stuffed into students’ heads and the only way to get a decent mark is to memorize it. Lessons are pushed down. And you guessed it, Asian countries (like mine) are known for learning by memorization. I did it for 11 years, sloppily though. I barely remember much now. Everything just blurred together. When I hear of something these days, I have a feeling that I MIGHT have learned it before but simply can’t recall if I have. This is the mechanical way of learning. The rather not so creative. Facts, figures, stuff like that. If you asked an Asian kid when World War II broke out, if he’s been studious (which is very likely) he can probably tell you. But if you asked him WHY World War II, he wouldn’t have a clue – I still don’t – Wikipedia it.

And then there is the Pull. This is more associated with Western education. In the Pull education, students are encouraged to reach out and grab the information that they need and make critical thinking. That’s why I call it “Pull” education. It’s creativity, problem-solving and thinking outside the box. It’s what Sir Ken Robinson’s advocating for. His speech at TED about how School Kills Creativity is fantastic by the way.

We’re facing with quite some issues lately. The Oil Spills (yep, more than 1 actually – which is surprisingly getting away from media attention,) US spiraling state of economy, natural disasters, and then people die from just plain silly competitions.

Can these problems be solved with the “What I tell you is true and all you can (and should) do is just to remember what I say” way of learning?

Sir Ken Robinson said in his video that 60 years from now, no one will know what the future looks like. The truth is, we have no idea how any of these issues will impact us tomorrow, not to mention 60 years on. But he does have the solution that I agree with. We need more of the right brain thinking to save the world. Not just for the creativity, but we need “emotional right brain thinking” to be more humane in our quest of making money and corporate profiting to save us.

Struggling with English? It’s never too late!

A lot of international students at UFV want to transfer to UBC and SFU. A good portion of these students want the transfer for reputation’s sake. Back home, nobody probably hears of UFV. UBC and SFU will give them a better chance at being recognized. Another portion of the transfers though, is because these students can’t get into the degree program. And I have been told that it’s because they struggle with the level of English. Here is my story of learning English and I hope after reading this, you, international students if you happen to stumble on this post, will feel that it’s never too late to try.

I practically learned English in 4 months. I woke up after a big sleep, and I realized I had 4 months left to learn English before the TOEFL exam. UFV required that the TOEFL score to be at least 88 out of 120. I came out at 94.

I came to Canada in October 2005, at Saskatoon airport – Saskatchewan. My host family was wonderful. Ken was a friendly and quiet farmer. Gisele worked at a credit union. Ken would make the most amazing bbq ribs I have ever had, and Gisele would make me a sandwich for lunch every day. I was “culture shocked” though. Coming from a 7 million people city – HoChiMinh city (or Saigon), I couldn’t believe that it would take 15 minutes to drive to our nearest neighbour.

The house was lovely next to a small lake. I loved watching the sun’s reflection at the bottom of the lake every day coming back from school. Ken and Gisele didn’t get home until 6 or 7pm, sometimes even later. I got home at 4pm and sat on their computer to chat, email, and play game until 2am the next day. I woke up at 6 or 7am and the cycle repeated itself. I had no idea how much I racked up their phone bill (the internet was on dial-up.) All I knew was, one day, my English teacher told me if I didn’t improve, I might not pass the grade. She got me a tutor after school too. I was so ignorant that I completely forgot why I was there.

When I woke up, 4 months have passed, and I still spoke English like I have never been in Canada. And I only had 4 months to go, before I had to write the TOEFL exam and apply to UFV. Here’s how I did it.

– Completely forgot about Vietnamese. Everything I did, I meant everything, was in English. Except about 10 minutes a week talking with my parents back in Vietnam. This included: reading the news, listening to music, watching movies, emailing friends. And the most important is: THINKING in English. If you don’t think in English, there is no way you will ever speak as well as an English-born.

– Made friends. Actually, people came to make friends with me, because they were the friendliest people I have ever met. You can’t stay in your groups, international students. If your friend portfolio doesn’t include 50% English-speaking friends, then you are limiting your language ability to the ability of your friends’.I hung out with my friends (which were all English-speaking by the way. There weren’t any other Vietnamese in my town) every day and almost all weekends. I have made some of the best friendships that still last till today.

– Realized WHY I was there. I was there to learn the language, and the education. In order to learn the education, I had to master the language first.

In the end, it is all about making the best out of what you got. After all, we, the international student population is tiny. As of Nov 2008, there were 60,000 Vietnamese students studying abroad. That is 0.1% of the 15-65 aged population. We are the only few who were given the opportunities to see the world. Why not make the best of it?

Finding Time

We’ve all done it. At one point or another, we all have said “I wish I could do that but I don’t have time!”

I have just spent 2 hours sitting in a class reading stuff online. I have them all saved in my Read It Later account (I went from 11 pages down to 9 pages btw.) A week ago, my list was 26 pages. Now it’s down to 9. I would like to think that I do a lot of reading. Most of them are articles and blog posts. I never really paid attention to what I LEARN from these readings though. Just recently I realized that after so much reading, I dont actually retain or extract anything from them. That is a waste of time then, because otherwise I should be spending my time reading the classics. Like this, this, and this.

So I made a point to remind myself of that I have learned from my reading, regardless of what forms.

1. The Super-Star effect: the difference between the best and the second best is huge. This post explained how a high school kid with GPA at the bottom 10% and minimal extracurricular efforts got into Stanford by being the best of his own niche. It sounds like an impossible task at first – how can I be the best in whatever. To reap the benefit of the super-star effect, you don’t have to be the best in the world. You only need to be the best in your closed circles of friends, colleagues, families. As Seth Godin would put it, the best in your tribe. Fascinating. The trick is, what do you want to be the best in?

2. Grout your day with stuff you want to learn about. Unconsciously, I grout my days with reading online – Mashable, Lifehacker, and the likes. Ever wondering why you don’t have time to do the things you say you wanna do? Because you grout your days with other things – TV, newspapers, TMZ. Start grouting your days with things you want to learn. For me, that would be listening to audio books, learning Drupal, learning French.

3. Online privacy. I have said “bullzzz” to Online Privacy before, and that companies, please take my information and give me better, more relevant ads and recommendations. This article takes the opposite side. And I agree in that there are huge tradeoffs between privacy and convenience. Lots of people feel okay with the whole privacy online NOT because they are okay with that, but because they are not aware of the trade-offs. Some times the trade-offs are hidden or complex that most people don’t dwell into, similar to why nobody ever reads the fine prints of their bank statements or EULA. That is also the difference. You should do 1 of these 2 things:

a. Stop caring about online privacy if you know exactly what you are giving up

b. If you do not know what you are giving up, then hang on to your information. It can always be released later once you’ve educated yourself about the risk.

I’m leaning toward (b).

Why Are You Here?

I am an international student. That means there are 3 things I am likely to have/experience:

1. Shyness – shy from interacting with local students, and everyone not-from-my-country for that matter. I jump to find out who else is also from my country. And I become their best friends as soon as we meet. Because that makes me feel normal and belonged.

2. Low confidence – years of preaching about respecting the superiors/elders and that I know nothing about life have produced some unwanted side-effects. I think that I can’t do anything without help from someone else. And that it’s never gonna work/it’s too hard/I don’t know how. I believe this is not only a personal issue but a cultural and generational issue.

3.  Sit on a computer all day living the life back home – I love IM-ing my friends back home, asking how their pets are doing, and who’s bad-mouthing about who. I go to bed at 2am and wake up at 11am and repeat the cycle.

Then when I talk to another international student, who is succeeding academically and having fun with this new life, I tell him that life is so hard and I have trouble fitting in. I wish I could be more like him. If only.

No. I need to stop doing these things. I need to ask myself “Why am I here?”

Am I here to live the exact life that I would be living back home?

Am I here to do the exact same things that I would be doing back home?

Am I here to go to classes and then go home right away, like I would be back home?

If I say yes to any of these questions, then why am I paying a thousand time more in tuition to be here?

Then why am I here?

I need to realize that I have the rare opportunity to change my life. To escape, or just take a break from my cultural settings to see how else I can live my life.

I need to realize that I can start dreaming big, I can defy social norms that otherwise would not be possible back home.

I need to realize that I don’t have to work in a bank, an office, or a government to have a good life.

What if my study abroad years are an experiment? I can live life the way I want to. That is different than the way of life in my country. And if I ever don’t like it, I can go back to the way it’s always been. What if this is the chance to design my own life?

Why are YOU here?

Technology Predictions

I recently replied to a Technology Prediction question on Twitter with one of my favourite firms – DelloitteCanada. Here they are, plus more:

1. Social analytics tools will be sought after, big time.

2. Filtering tools will be popping up. In the long run, we will no longer be seeking out new information ourselves. Rather, we will live in the world of filters, where our reading and discovery of information are given to us by our tools.

3. Everything mobile. Expect to take a vacation on your mobile phones, iPads, Kindles, even Blackpads!

4.  Nobody will be talking about netbooks (and nobody should). Or laptops or desktop computers. I’m inclined to also add that anything that you have to flip open will be out of favour.

5.  Mobile apps creation – you learned how to create a website with HTML back in the day? Get ready to create your own applications and send them out to friends beggin’ them to download.

6. What else people?

You are permanent online

Have you ever thought about how much work is involved just to change your addresses when you move? You have to notify the banks, the phone companies, your employer, friends, relatives, the government… That is because the address is attached to you. When you break the attachment, you have to let your world know that there is a new address attached to you.

Online it’s different though. You are attached to the address. Not the other way around. No matter how many addresses you have, people can still reach you. Sometimes nobody needs to be notified.