Are college students too idealistic? In a recent debate, a sociology professor at NYU categorized the current generation of college grads as "drifting dreamers," individuals who have high ambitions, but no clear life plan for reaching them. They are a group of jaded young individuals who consider themselves to have the "rite of passage" in a dwindling job market—assuming that little efforts will lead to success.
In a 40-minute car ride from Beijing's university hub to my homestay in the center of Beijing, I found myself engrossed in a deep discussion about China's youth in the wee hours of the morning. Conflicted about my own personal woes for plans post-graduation, I asked my driver about his hopes for his son as he enters his third year of high school, the year of the dreaded college examination, the gaokao. His answer was simple. He had one hope for his son: that he would approach things in life with a practical attitude. He went on to explain that China's young generation was too idealistic. My taxi driver was convinced that because of this many college graduates were left with low-paying jobs and unrealized dreams. We winded through the morning traffic as he tried to explain why he had adopted a philosophy of indifference toward his son's future. We reached the silver archway that led to my apartment complex and he uttered, "I only hope that my son will be grounded in his decision making and live a happy life."
Looking for more answers, I asked a fellow Chinese-native Smith intern, Zhai, about this question of idealism versus pragmatism in the eyes of her parents. She was quick to agree that her parents, like my taxi driver, also did not weigh her down with the pressure of expectations, but just wanted her to be happy. After conversing with a few of the other Chinese interns in the office, I found that they had similar answers. One intern explained to me how her parents had always reminded her of the benefits of diligence echoed in one of Mao Zedong’s famous quotes: haohao xuexi, tiantian xiangshang—often funnily translated as "good good study, day day up up," meaning "if one studies hard, they will make progress every day." What happened to all of the tiger mothers? Where were they all hiding? All of this talk about happiness and indifference made me wonder whether young adults' idealism was a result of excessive coddling and the lack of pressure that parents were giving their kids—a phenomena that seems to be present in both the states and China.
At the same time, it made me respect my peers even more. If their parents were pandering to their every need and babbling on about happiness 24/7, and they were still this self-motivated and persistent in achieving their goals, then boy, was American youth behind in the game. All 12 of the Chinese interns had impeccable English and at least one year of experience abroad. Their hunger and drive was something I found to be missing amongst my friends back in the states. Not to say that they completely lack ambition, but there was something about my peers’ energy—it was pervasive. I always felt the buzz in the office.
It also helped that our office was undergoing renovation and all of us were crammed into a conference room. Doesn’t it resemble a wang ba or an internet café?
I am thankful for this opportunity to have been able to intern at Edelman. The people I met and the things I learned this summer have created memories I will take back with me to Mount Holyoke. When walking in the Beijing airport to board my plane to New York, I passed a billboard that caught my eye. I took a double take and realized that it was one of Edelman’s clients I had been writing monthly media summaries and press releases for all summer!