1. It all started from the worries of an ordinary student
I am a final year student, an ordinary student about to graduate in this June. Every night, or at least almost every night, I keep turning and tossing, thinking about the steps I should take after graduating, things I have to learn to enrich my knowledge or what I have to finish tomorrow.
I come from a middle-class family. It means that my parents do not have much money to send us abroad studying or enjoy vacation trips frequently as many other families often do, we are still worrying about balancing the budget to satisfy lots of arising needs in our life or feel scared whenever the wedding season is coming to town. Despite the difficulties we are still facing, I have nothing to complain about and I always thank my parents for all their great efforts to facilitate us such a good condition. They managed to immigrate to the city and tried their best to build a decent house and provided us with proper schooling. Given that they grew up in the countryside, you should perceive everything they have done to us as great achievement.
So what I am worrying about? I will make a simple analogy between a country and a kid of the first generation immigrants. A country that wants to develop, it has to be aware of a very dangerous trap, which is called by the economists as middle-income trap. Middle-income trap is a term in development economics, referring to an economic development situation, where a country which attains a certain income (due to given advantages) will get stuck at that level. A kid of the first generation immigrants, naturally, will not accept to live the way their parents have lived. They will try their best to live a better life than their parents. Their parents struggle to earn a decent life but they want to have a better life than this. Their parents can accept to do the jobs even when it does not fit their desire but their kids somehow want to pursue a career that leads them to not only prosperous but also prestigious life. They do think about helping other people in difficult financial straits but it sounds more natural for people to help themselves before thinking about the others, doesn’t it?
Well, it is what I want but how could I get it? The second generation kids know that it is still a long journey for them to get down on before they can reach that prosperous and prestigious life. They understand the power of dream but they are also afraid of that all of the beautiful life they are heading for just exists in the dream. Not everyone possesses enough talent to reach it. They are taught that they can obtain success in many ways (according to the theory in US movie) but in practice, this theory seems to have little use in Asian countries like Vietnam.
2. Success theory differences between Asian countries and the USA
So it leads me to make a comparison between the success stories in Asian countries and the USA.
First of all, let’s take a look at this article:
Although the article mainly points out the differences between China and the USA but we can see the similar images happening in other Asian countries such as Vietnam and Korea. Young people in Asia countries, as influenced by their previous generation and the media, are often heading for the opportunities of quick prosperity by trying their best to move up the career ladder in large corporations, sourcing for opportunities of working in large multinational corporations and in specific industries like finance, investment, real estate, while young people in the US seem to be inspired to create their own venture, pursuing their own dreams with start-ups. They can make fortune in many different fields of life such as technology, healthcare, etc. And somehow I feel they, the US young people, create the real value and they accelerate the innovations of the world.
Second, it makes me recall a movie named “The story of Du Lala’s promotion”, which tells about Du Lala, a brash, 30-something Chinese woman who successfully breaks the glass ceiling in the macho corporate world. The movie was adapted from a very popular novel with the same title, which is considered to be more inspiring and practical to young Chinese people than the stories about Steve Jobs. This novel is just among hundreds of novels in the “workplace” genre of novel, which are said to crown bookshops all over China. “They drive people towards utilitarianism and materialism,” she said. “They fail to pay attention to something more important, such as rebuilding positive cultural values. They may emphasize personal strength, enduring hardship, tolerating unpleasant human relationships, but on the journey for the pursuit of success, what is left at the end?”[i] Said Liu Jianmei, an associate professor of modern and contemporary Chinese literature at Hong Kong University Science and Technology.
Third, just have a quick look at the popular movies you have seen on television nowadays. Korean movies often try to depict the images of a charming chaebol kid, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, heir to a large fortune created by his grandfathers. Life seems to be easy with them. Earning an MBA, speaking fluently 4-5 foreign languages, they win the heart of the main female characters. Uhm, wait, life is tough for them at some times, well; you know some ups and downs, mainly taking place in the relationship between him and this girl. And in the end, the drama usually has a happy ending, the prince gets married to Cinderella or princesses sometimes and they are happy ever after. This ending is considered to be a success or a dream for almost every young people in Asia. The US movie, however, depicts a wider variety of characters. The characters in the movie may be an ordinary television producer, a retired television presenter, a teacher or a ballet dancer. Their stories are not the same from movies to movies. They have to lose something to realize what is important in their life. There is no perfect ending for the movie. We still can foresee that lots of difficulties are waiting for them. However, as the audiences are well-prepared during the movie, we, as the audiences, believe that they will overcome all the difficulties in the future. Life, for them, is a journey and they do not seek for specific destinations but enjoy along the way.
3. The stories of Vietnam
There are some stories that made me think a lot recently.
First story is about a young man, named Nguyen Van Hanh, in the countryside of Vietnam, managing to set up his own business. I could not find the link of the video online but you can find the documentary of the same series by searching for “Sinh ra tu lang” (Born in the countryside). He only has VND 70,000,000 to set up his own business, earning for VND 1.2 billion a year. His business helps create more jobs for the villagers and improves the living conditions for his family and his villagers as well. The story is inspiring, isn’t it? But is it practical for the kids growing up in the city like us, pursuing careers in finance or investment? He found lots of difficulties in raising the capital and his business is still strongly affected by natural disaster. VND 70 million is a huge amount of money to many rural families but it is just a little amount of petty cash of the new chaebol kids in Vietnam. I just think that if the money wasted in the casino by the rich could be allocated to the young people like Hanh, our society would be different.
The second story is about the successful girls brought up in rich families in Vietnam. [ii] Le Diep Kieu Trang, Nguyen Ngoc Nhat Hanh, Dang Huynh Uc My.
Le Diep Kieu Trang is an exceptional girl. She is intelligent, born in a rich family and enjoying a very good schooling. I really admire her as I have seen that she has tried her best to create a career on her own efforts. Though the support from family is undeniable, we still have to realize her efforts. She has left McKinsey to work in a start-up to create high-tech wearable devices that improve our lives. This story has much more meanings to me. I may not be as talented as her but I believe that I could try my best to a certain extent.
The story about Nguyen Ngoc Nhat Hanh is totally different and somehow confusing. Except for IELTS 8.0, what is her talent? She possessed a large amount of stock but does she earn it herself or by her father’s money? And how has she managed this large fortune so far? Is it good enough to have her name mentioned on the media? I may miss some information about her but as for me, her story is not inspiring and practical at all but annoying.
4. It comes back to the worries of an ordinary student.
What is the role model for me to follow? I am not a chaebol kid, the story of Nguyen Ngoc Nhat Hanh is obviously not applicable to me? I also cannot apply the story of Nguyen Van Hanh or Le Diep Kieu Trang. I know there are lots of successful students who have a same situation like me and I should take lessons from them while creating my own path to success.
5. How about the young people of Vietnam?
Young people of Vietnam will be like Korean or the US guys? Will we have our own start-ups and develop them to be the world leading corporations or we will enjoy moving up our own career ladders in large multinational corporations? In Vietnam, there have been lots of entrepreneurship competitions, but the irony is that few business proposals become true and the winners just utilize them as the stepping stone to get into large corporations after graduating. The stories of Steve Jobs are usually mentioned on the media but it would take a long time for us to see the similar things happening in Vietnam.