The Culture of Part-Time Jobs at Harvard

The Culture of Part-Time Jobs at Harvard

Endless struggles between the reality and ideals are part of the common experience of many students in the United States. To achieve their dreams, many of them would overcome many obstacles, including all their financial needs, on their own by splitting the seconds to create time they need beyond 24 hours a day. That’s how Jasmin did it. That’s how my nephews and niece did it. That’s how my students at Harvard did it. And that’s how I did it.

Unlike in Korea, many undergraduate and graduate students in the United States do not expect to be pampered by their parents. Many of them have to earn not only their living expenses, but also their tuition. Bursaries, student loans, and scholarships provided by universities and other organizations are inevitable parts of a student’s life. Many of these students earn their living by doing a wide range of work, including translation, waiting on customers at restaurants, serving as security guards at buildings and clubs, and so forth. Students literally toil away cleaning building floors, washing dishes, and flipping hamburgers for the minutest possible hourly wages. Once my daughter came to tell me about how some of her male friends at school worked.

“Mom, do you know who cleans the bathrooms in our dormitory? It’s the guys from my class. They clean the women’s bathrooms in our building.”

“Are you serious? Why are they cleaning women’s bathrooms?”

“It’s their part-time job.”

“That’s unbelievable!”

“I’m not kidding, Mom. Students who can find work at McDonald’s are lucky. Others have to take out garbage and clean bathrooms to pay for school and living expenses. Can you imagine these Harvard students sweating themselves while cleaning ladies’ room? It’s kind of funny, when you think about it, that some of these cleaners may go on to do something big for the world once they are done with their years of toiling and studying at Harvard.”

I didn’t find the story funny, but rather inspiring. At the same time I felt worried for the future of students in Korea. Used to having their parents pay for their education until they graduate from colleges or graduate schools, many Korean students would find the anecdotes of students laboring at Harvard unbelievable. How will the pampered Korean students be able to compete with these lions in making, who will have been so accustomed to hard work and real life by the time they graduate from colleges in their early twenties? How will the pampered Korean students survive in the cold-hearted and fierce competition of today’s globalization? Are parents doing any good by paying for their kids’ tuitions and helping them out while they are still at colleges and universities?

Strong children spring from strong parents. We are often so overwhelmed by our love and tender feelings for our children that we literally want to give everything of ours to them. What we often forget in pampering and indulging our lovely children is the simple truth that we are mortals and we cannot be with our children forever to protect them from the harms and insults of the world. Families may go bankrupt. Parents can suddenly die from accidents and diseases. A child left suddenly alone in such a way will feel even more devastated and helpless if he/she has been brought up being discouraged from doing anything independent. Simply because we cannot protect our children from the fear, loneliness, sorrows, and profound desperation that define the human life forever, we have to teach them how to fight these things and still to manage to find joys in their lives on their own. That is ultimately how we can show them we have really loved them.

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