How many can say that almost their entire life has been filled with happiness, treasured moments, and experiences that forever change the way they view the world? I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but I suspect very few. One of the things that I think makes us happy is actually doing what we most want to do, accomplish, or experience. Having determination and commitment along with that simple want is an important start. It can also end up being simple luck or our bodies being in harmony with the world.
For most of my life I was happy, or at the very least content. I had a great group of friends at home that joined together at least every weekend. We'd play computer games, go out to movies, or just have simple dinners. Then there were the summer vacations, such as camping with the family, dipping my feet in my uncle's swimming pool, or relaxing in the backyard all afternoon. Winter too provided interesting experiences with the friends or family, my favorite being a good skiing session on the slopes of Nordic Mountain.
I have had a great family and friends that I would never trade for anything. There are always bumps on the road, but only once have I experienced a situation so severe that I questioned my own life and what I was meant to live for. That was when I realized that life, living, and experiencing happiness are all in the power of yourself. Not some magic force or mark of destiny you hope will come along one day and whisk you away to that magic place.
I had to understand what I wanted and do my best in achieving it. I took it upon myself at the turn of the century (sounds profound, yet it was just sheer coincidence in timing) to complete another college degree, this time a full Bachelor's. Then I set about focusing more on the industry I wanted to be a part of (game development), and one year ago embarked on an adventure that I would soon never forget.
As all of this was happening I still wasn't entirely sure I knew what I wanted. At the time I felt I had no other options, so I set about doing what was most evident to my future, even if I wasn't sure if that would be positive or detrimental to my life. Sometimes you just have to take the chance, as there is no way to be entirely certain. It took a lot of guts, a lot of hard work, and a lot of risk. But in the end it paid off for myself, and here is why.
One year ago, to this day, I began discovering alternatives to the rather mundane jobs I was working in Wisconsin. I checked out the local game industry (quite promising), game industry alternatives farther away, and then took another look even farther and discovered Asia. "Hmm, Asia... what's over there?" I said to myself. We all have perceptions of other places, but not until we go to those places can we truly understand their position in the world. I also wasn't sure what to do once I got there, if I could even get there in the first place!
Fortunately, I discovered a teaching program that apparently set everything up for you. All you had to do was pay a program fee, meet at a location with other program members on a certain date, and you were ready to go. My first thought was, "This is either too good to be true or I'm in for an experience I may not soon forget", and the latter part wasn't too positive at the time. I couldn't have been more wrong about my assumptions of the program, nor of China and Asia.
The program has been everything and more that it has advertised. I came directly to China with new-found friends, trained with them in exotic places such as Weifang and Beijing, and explored half of eastern Asia with them as well. Even though we somewhat split up in Shenzhen, China into our respective schools after our training was complete, we still see each other on a regular basis. In fact, tonight is pizza night for our group!
I have seen so much in Asia that it has forever changed my perceptions of the far east, as well as given me more world/life experiences than I ever thought it would. What were those perceptions and learning experiences before and after? Alas, another bullet-point list for you for easy comparison! Keep in mind I come from the United States, so my opinions and perceptions are exclusive to the U.S. and those countries I have visited:
1) Asia's technological infrastructure in developing countries (especially China)
Before: Backwards, primitive, sparsely connected, early stages of technological development, basic needs only, very few "luxury" elements.
After: Forward-thinking, carefully designed cities, extremely interconnected cities, moderate technological development, resources and "luxury" items are almost as available as in the states. Schools are pushing students strongly in scientific knowledge as well, which will almost certainly lead to a very strong future in the ability to continue building their society. They have a long ways to go in this however, as many things are "cheap" and underdeveloped.
2) Asia's culture and population in developing countries (especially China)
Before: Tons of culture, cities with more "traditional" architecture, an extremely dense population in all areas, a simple and more primitive people that are just beginning to understand the technological world and themselves.
After: Not as much culture in the major city areas, but as you get out a little more can be found (this is one of those things that is moving "backwards"... a natural determinant to any technologically developing society), the density of the population was just as I had imagined, but the way people act is quite a bit different.
While I suspected people were more simple, and in some ways they are, they copy and do many things that are considered "foreign-like", while still keeping with primitive traditions such as spitting on the street or walking in random directions across the road when cars are coming straight towards them (they do this prominently in China at least). The traditional way of life and the technological way of life are clearly clashing here.
3) Developed countries technology, culture, and population
Before: As advanced, or in Japan's case even more advanced than the United States technologically, while the population in terms of social elements was still developing in all countries, except again for perhaps Japan.
After: While I have found only Japan to be significantly advanced compared to the United States, in ALL Asian countries I've visited I have found that the culture and the integration of that culture with advanced technology and high-standards of living has a long ways to go yet, even in developed countries.
There are no houses in most of Asia, and many conveniences that you would find in the United States simply do not exist here. Yes, there are McDonalds, Disneylands, and some Wal-marts, but the banking systems, insurance systems, as well as some of the "freedom" based elements we enjoy in the United States are still developing in most of these countries.
4) What I have learned
The world is a place that needs to be experienced if you are to truly understand it. I had so many misconceptions and interpretations about Asia before coming here that are completely untrue. It really worries me what others' perceptions are about the world. I am someone to read the news on a daily basis and to try and understand the world, yet so many perceptions were still wrong.
Teaching is also much more demanding than I thought it would be. To understand a classroom of kids when you speak their language is one thing, but to try and teach and control them when your only tools are a piece of chalk and physical descriptions, is an entirely new ball game. However, I have successfully done it and came away with a new-found confidence in not only teaching a group of students, being able to coordinate projects and develop creative lesson plans for the school, and be able to speak with confidence in front of large audiences.
International travel has also been something I've come to understand. Before coming to Asia I had little to no experience with a passport, visa, and how airports and connecting flights worked. Again, it's one thing to travel within ones country and obtain help via your own language, but quite another when you are visiting a foreign airport in a country that requires a visa and their kind of money upon your arrival. Both of which I did not have on my adventures in Cambodia. I was so close to being deported, but fortunately ill-prepared foreigners such as myself are commonplace, so they had a solution for me.
What will I do after this year is complete and I am ready to return home for the summer? I do not know, just yet. My true goals and dreams are in the heart of the game industry, so that is the ultimate destination for myself. However, I am still young at (almost) 28, so I have time to continue teaching if I wish, stay at home to focus on various game industry projects, move to Europe and better understand the game industry there, or a combination of these in some form.
There are options, and that is what I hope to project to those that are interested in doing what I have done, or are simply looking for another adventure in their life. Options, there are always options, so find a life-long focus, figure out what goals will take you there, then take the risk and go for those goals, and in the end I think that you will reach that ultimate focus. While I am not there yet myself, and may never be, coming to Asia has made me realize that it is possible, and that I am fortunate enough I think to be able to make it happen.