Lessons from the students at the Asian University for Women
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to give a talk at the Asian University for Women's Career and Internship Fair. The university is based in Chittagong, Bangladesh - a busy port city in the country's south-east - so I flew from Bangkok to attend the Saturday event.
After meeting and talking with many of the university's students in the days leading up to the Career Fair and on the day itself, I was inspired by the stories these students told. Stories of courage, stories of hope and stories of acceptance. In my time at the university I think the students taught me far more than I could ever teach them! Now as the class of 2017 graduates, here are some lessons the students taught me:
A diverse community is a strong community
I spoke to students from Vietnam, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. The easy sense of community these students had with each other, the way they bonded together and supported each other's learning, goals and dreams, truly inspired me. Together they learn and grow, respect each others differences and celebrate their similarities. Their strength is in their diversity.
Respect is key
A melting pot of ethnicities, religions and social norms, the residential university and it's students celebrate a vast number of cultural days, ceremonies and traditions. The students understand that respect is key to their community and they embrace diversity with open-mindedness and withholding judgements. This open, honest respect was refreshing to be amongst and made me hopeful that the rest of the world, where the news headlines are all too often dominated by injustice and hate, might eventually follow this example of peaceful respect.
Personal health is a #1 priority
As I sat with a group of students after my speech a question about time management came up. One student was struggling with how she managed her time, she was always late to class and she never felt like she had time to call her parents. So I began a conversation around priorities. Together we built a list. School work was number one, followed by family and calls home. Relaxation and time with friends came third before shopping and other recreational activities. Suddenly a student interrupted. "What about health?" she inquired. Where did that fall on the list? I looked to the rest of the group. It should be number one they agreed. Without strong physical and mental health, the students felt they couldn't complete anything on the rest of their list to the best of their abilities. This served as a great reminder for me. Often in our hectic lives, simple health and wellbeing gets put last as we try to juggle our busy lives. Health should definitely be #1 on all priority lists!
Practise what you preach
Right at the beginning of my talk I asked the students a question - what do you want to be when you grow up? There was a little fidgeting, a few nervous laughs before I went on to tell the audience how when I was young I hated that question and the label it tried to put on me. I confessed to the students that not having an answer to that question made me feel directionless, anxious and under pressure. As I went on to tell the students how the old paradigms of work, career and professions are shifting and no longer is a career path a straight upward trajectory, I realised that I also needed to remind myself. I needed to practice what I was preaching, give myself a pat on the back and acknowledge the diverse skill sets that I have as a professional.
We are all teachers
As the group of students sat in a circle discussing time management, it reminded me of something that I knew to be true but which I had forgotten until now. Simply, that we are all teachers in one way or another. Each of us has different perspectives, wisdom and knowledge to impart. These students were all teaching each other and it's the job of educators to help create an environment in which that can happen.