In 2008, I came to Perugia in the Umbria region of Italy to promote our international internship program. This is an ancient city located in the mountains. Every time I come here I like to watch the city form a vantage point near the city council building. In January of 2018, I came to Perugia again for the closing ceremony of the Taiwan-Italy Internship Program. My Italian friend arranged for me to stay at the La Rosetta hotel located near the city council building. In the morning, I gazed at this mountainside city with which I have grown familiar and admired its exquisite beauty. I saw a tower in the distance and told myself: “I have been here a dozen times and never visited that tower!” So I walked toward this structure I have never visited.
On my way to this tower, I encountered many small and distinctive buildings. The reason these buildings were so distinctive was that they were built on the mountainside, not on even ground, and had to be designed to fit the natural terrain. This was an illustration of another truth: Harsh environments often produce works that are truly unique.
Continuing on my way, I saw many different things, including beautiful stairways and entrance decorations, as well as parked cars that clashed with the surrounding décor. When I finally reached the tower, I saw a cross attached to the side of the structure, so I thought it was probably a church. It was very quiet in the courtyard of the building, but the silence was quickly interrupted by the loud voice of a priest. Clearly this priest does not need a microphone when talking!
I did not know any Italian and could not read the sign at the entrance. However, judging from the cross, the loud voice of a priest, and the quiet courtyard, I reckoned this must be a church. Yet, the architecture style of this building was so different from that of a typical church.
The next day I came back to the same place with a map and asked people what the place was. They told me it was a university. If I did not do any further research, I would have mistakenly thought the place was a church and passed on wrong information to others. I searched the Italian name “universita degli studi facolta di agrala” on the internet and found it out it meant “Faculty of Agriculture of the University.”
I decided to take a different route back to the hotel and discovered many interesting buildings. I tried to get people to point to the locations of these building on my map, and the response I got was: “These are too small to appear on a map.”
In the first lecture of this semester, I shared this experience to my students and encouraged them to explore and experience any beauty they encounter. Every path offers you both pleasant and upsetting experiences, like when exploring beautiful scenery, you may be surprised by gorgeous views or disturbed by filth and disorder. You can choose the life you want to lead and focus on the things you want to see. If you face something you are not familiar with, make sure you have someone to consult with or some other reference to guide you, so that you are not deceived by or misunderstand anything. The bible or any other book can only serve as a map; if you only rely on reading the bible or other books, you will never discover the beautiful scenery not in the books or acquire experiences and impressions that are unique and unusual.
In 2005, I became the chair of the accounting department at Tunghai. In the same year, two of our students, Yu-Shan Huang and Shi-Han Wu, died in a car accident. I did my very best to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy: raising money for the family of the victims, arranging counseling sessions for the classmates of the victims, and organizing memorial services on campus. When facing the grieving parents of the students at the memorial service, I was unable to offer any words of comfort. This made me seriously contemplate the purpose and meaning of my work. I still keep the materials Yu-Shan used for her debate competition near the entrance of my office as a reminder that there are bigger things in life than your profession. Every student is unique and irreplaceable to his or her parents, and it is my duty as an educator to help each student forge his or her own path.
Back then our students performed very well on graduate school entrance examinations, with many students getting into good schools like National Taiwan University and National Chengchi University. One time I found out that a mediocre student was admitted to a good public university, and to me this was a sign that the graduate school admissions process was no longer a reliable way to select talent. I started thinking very seriously about the purpose and value of pursuing a graduate degree, and this motivated me to promote the International Internship Program.
For more than a decade our goal has been to build a “Sustainable Talent Pipeline” for Taiwan. The various programs and initiatives we have launched—volunteer program that incorporates professional training, administration of the Ministry of Education’s Pilot Overseas Internships, creation of an international and inter-university internship platform, the Business Excellence Lecture Series, courses combining business administration and service-learning, seminars on social enterprise, Tunghai Care Camp, and the founding the Association of Sustainable Social Enterprise of Taiwan last year—were aimed to integrate learning, internship, and employment, and to guide students to improve themselves through helping others.
Last year, we received substantial support from the University for our work; room M008 of the College of Management was assigned to the Center for International Internship Development as office space. In addition, with the support of Chairman Ming-Da Hsieh and President Hsing-Hua Chu of the Corporate Synergy Development Center, the management of the internship platform was transferred to Tunghai University, allowing Tunghai to play a key role in the internship education in Taiwan.
Innovation is often met with adversity, but also presents opportunities to gain new experiences; it also attracts both skepticism and goodwill. I understand that problems also create opportunities, and limitations gives us the chance to create advantages. As long as we focus on the problem, do not lose sight of our original goals, and continuously improve and innovate, we can achieve something that is truly extraordinary.
Taiwan was extremely poor in the 1960s, and most parents sacrificed themselves, led by example, and worked hard without complaining. The youth back then were very proactive in their pursuit of education and strived to better themselves, thus providing the human capital necessary for the economic boom in the 1970s. There are a lot of resources available in Taiwan, and I hope people can set aside their negative feelings towards society, rekindle their passion and utilize their intelligence to build a greater society in Taiwan.