“Going to university was not in my plan,” Weimin (George) Yuan recalled in a recent interview. He was born in Shanghai, and when he emigrated to Hong Kong with his family in the early 1950s, at age 12, he didn’t speak Cantonese or English. That left him trying to catch up to his classmates during his first years at the renowned Diocesan Boys School (DBS) in Hong Kong. Even though he became a good student, he did not plan to continue his studies after DBS “as my parents were not in a position financially to support higher education.” Yet his DBS headmaster encouraged him to apply for a United Board scholarship for undergraduate education at International Christian University (ICU) in Japan, and to his surprise he was named one of the recipients.
“The United Board scholarship to attend ICU totally changed my life,” Mr. Yuan said. He had received a colonial education in British Hong Kong, so the atmosphere he encountered on the ICU campus in the fall of 1960 was a new world. He found an active student movement on campus, with Japanese classmates keen to debate the country’s future. ICU was proactive in promoting international understanding and multiculturalism, both in terms of its international student body and faculty and its outreach to Taiwan, Korea, and other parts of the region “ICU had a profound influence on me, with its emphasis on peace, understanding, and respect,” he said. It stimulated his interest in Asian languages and cultures, which led him to graduate studies at Yonsei University and Harvard University.
“My liberal arts education gave me a lot of strength and support,” he said. “I never really had a clear career plan, but my ICU education always helped me rebound.” Mr. Yuan’s career path took him from academic studies to banking, retail, art collecting, and trading oil and other commodities, in the United States, China, and Singapore. He relied upon the soft skills developed in his undergraduate years – such as an optimistic outlook, problem solving, adaptability, and a spirit of inquiry – to overcome challenges and transition from one field of endeavor to another. His journey should be reassuring to twenty-first century students, who are told to expect multiple career changes over the course of their lifetimes and to prepare through multidisciplinary study and soft skills development.
Mr. Yuan is deeply grateful for the education that made it possible for him and his ICU classmates to succeed. “When we went to ICU, we had only one or two suitcases of belongings,” he said, “yet we made it to the middle class.” Now, in his retirement years, Mr. Yuan feels he and his classmates should “give back,” and the United Board appreciates the support Mr. Yuan provides for its leadership development programs. “I realize how lucky and blessed I am because of the United Board,” he said, and through his generosity, these United Board programs will help talented and dynamic Asian educators nurture the intellectual, spiritual, and ethical development of new generations of students.