In the morning, I wake up from my bed. Despite the rain and wind outside, a heater keeps the room comfortably warm. It’s a bit dark, so I turn on the lights. Because I have access to running water, I can brush my teeth and take a shower. I notice that my toothpaste is running low, so I make a mental note to purchase more. I have access to a car, so a trip to the store isn’t a big deal. Maybe I’ll buy a few extra tubes this time; I have enough money to cover it. When I come out from the shower, I change in my clothes for the day. It’s still raining, so I put on extra layers. I’m not worried about the cold, though, because I have enough clothes to keep me warm. At breakfast, I eat as much as I want. After I breakfast, I head to my class, where I have the opportunity to learn and ask questions. After class, I head to my room to study for a test I have later in the afternoon. I skip lunch, but it’s okay because I know that I can eat more at dinner. After all my classes, I unwind by listening to music in my iPod and maybe even catch a few minutes of TV before dinner. I’m a bit hungry, but I know that any hunger that I will feel is only temporary. Because every few hours, there’s another chance to eat. At night, I do my homework on a computer—with knowledge of the world and beyond lying right at my fingertips. As I grow weary and slip into my bed, the world rewinds and an 18-year-old girl begins to wake up in the past.
Her name is Bai Mei Yu, and the year is 1952. She is living with her parents and her nine siblings in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. When she rises from bed, she is careful not to wake up her three younger sisters who lay beside her. It’s still dark, but electricity is expensive so she gets ready without light. She forgoes a shower and quickly brushes her teeth to save water. She notices that her toothpaste is running low, but without a car, she faces a long walk to the store. She counts the coins in her pocket and hopes she has enough. As she changes into her school clothes, she begins to shiver. She goes without an extra jacket, so her younger sisters can have enough to wear. She skips breakfast and packs a small bun for lunch. The university she attends is two bus-rides away, but she eagerly steps on the bus. Women in colleges are a rarity, so she cherishes every moment of class. After classes, she has no time for rest; instead, she works a secretary in a bank close by in order to pay for her college tuition. Her parents don’t have money to spare, and scholarships are hard to come by. Late in the evening, she begins to write her essay on the bus-ride home. The sky is dark by the time she reaches the house; her siblings are hungry and her parents are still working, so she cooks a meal for the entire family. After dinner, she retreats to the room she shares with her sisters and studies. When she finally sleeps, she dreams of becoming the first woman in her family to earn a college degree.
Back to 2012, and I receive a phone call from Bai Mei Yu. She is no longer 18, but her voice is youthful as she asks me about my life in college. She says that she’s proud of her granddaughter for working towards a college degree. I thank her for showing my mother and me that it was possible.
I don’t express this enough, but I am grateful to the 18-year-old girl in Taiwan who decided to make education a priority so that her children may learn to pass it on. So here I am, in college, working towards an undergraduate degree, and talking to you from a newspaper—all in the hopes of sharing her message.