You know, one of the things I absolutely love about travelling is the broadening of the mind.

sun jingfeng

Random picture of my BFF! At Tokyo Disneyland.

Make no qualms about it– Even though I travel widely, I get culture shock all the time. The more I experience or learn something, the more I realize I don’t know anything, or worse–the more I don’t know what I don’t know!

But I noticed something recurring with regards to education, in three countries who topped the 2014 PISA tests:

  1. Having been educated in Singapore most of my life, I’d always been taught that it is a virtue to work hard and be efficient in everything you do, even at the cost of your personal life. I’d always been exposed to individuals who are very focused in what they are doing.
  2. The experience of studying in Japan for a year made me see how non-academic most Japanese universities are. University-life in Japan seems to be more about networking, enjoying life, drinking, socializing…wayyy more than actual academic work. Wayyyy more than the effort Japanese high-school students put in to get into that prestigious university. I hear that it’s the same in Korea, too.
  3. Studying in Finland now showed me a totally new thing altogether. Finns work very little hours, get paid even more than SIngaporeans do even with that crazy tax-rate, and actually do have a life outside work!

I used to think that there is a trade-off between productivity and unemployment, but now I’m challenging myself on that unsubstantiated theory. The original theory is that if a country has many productive people, there would be more unemployment because there can only be X number of jobs. So, you either have some higher-than-other-countries-salaried folks and higher unemployment rate, or more average-paid folks and lower unemployment rate.

But perhaps this theory isn’t true after all! Because if this theory is true, it means that the government might be suppressing the citizen’s real potential. Take some time to think about it.

After coming to Finland, I realized that most Finns view Asia as a land with “cheap labor” and “low productivity”. In Singapore, both attributes would have been euphemized as “competitive wages” and “excellent work ethics”.

And also, how does the Finnish society support higher unemployment in a society when fewer people are working, and still function decently as an economy? In Singapore the rhetoric has always been that you must work very very hard, the state cannot afford to take care of you. Yet, we see so many rich folks around, on the same land.

I’m appalled! It’s culture-shock all right, but honestly, I suspect it is only the beginning of more culture shocks to come!!