Live to learn with passion and have no regrets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2007, 12:00am

Businessman George Ong Kai-hin vividly remembers the passion that motivated him throughout his four years at the Polytechnic University. 'At times I felt that even sleeping was a waste of time,' he said.

Fourteen years after graduating with a first class honours degree, Mr Ong is chief executive officer of AxiSoft (Asia-Pacific) and responsible for 180 employees across the region - and he advised students following in his footsteps to savour every moment.

'University life is short - you only have three or four years,' said Mr Ong, 38, whose former university's faculty of engineering is celebrating its 70th anniversary. 'My advice to any student is to enjoy yourself, and have a passion for studying and learning. If you don't, then in 10 or 20 years' time, you will look back and regret it.'

With an unashamed rush of nostalgia for his undergraduate days, the businessman added that it was 'a wonderful time, and I have a lot of good memories. If you can have a passion for one or two subjects or projects, it will be something you remember for your whole life'.

Even for a star student like Mr Ong, Polytechnic University life wasn't all plain sailing, particularly in his 1989 freshman's year. 'I tried to play hard and spent all my time enjoying extra-curricular activities. It was quite a scary experience. I almost didn't make it to year two,' he said.

As a computing studies undergraduate, much of what Mr Ong learnt has been overtaken by technology. What his time at Polytechnic University gave him, however, was the ability to learn things by himself and the discipline to manage his time - skills that have served him well in his successful business career.

Mr Ong graduated more than two decades after Dr Ir Tso Che-wah completed a five-year part-time day release course at Polytechnic University, then known as the Hong Kong Technical College - but there are similarities in some of the lessons in life that both men took away with them upon graduation.

Dr Tso, who is the general manager (projects) with Hongkong Electric, was serving a four-year apprenticeship at the Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering when he began the course that led to a Higher Certificate in Mechanical Engineering in 1970.

'The course taught me to think, analyse and tackle engineering problems which proved very useful in my career development,' Dr Tso, 58, said. 'I also had the opportunity to talk to and learn from practicing professional engineers who were part-time lecturers ... this helped me map out a clear career path.'

Today's students are much more fortunate, Dr Tso believes, and have far more opportunities to study. With those opportunities came different challenges, including the need to develop different skills, he said.

'Students must find out their own strengths and weaknesses and accept the need to be creative and innovative to adapt to the challenges ahead. I would strongly advise students to develop the drive for self-learning and the ability to analyse and solve problems,' he said.

Both men believe that today's undergraduates have a golden opportunity to spend time in the company of international students that did not exist in their student days, particularly with the influx of mainland students.

Interacting with those students and using the opportunity to improve language skills could give undergraduates the edge when they ventured out into today's cosmopolitan and increasingly China-centric workplace, Mr Ong said.

Dr Tso said: 'With one in five jobs, including engineering jobs, in developed societies tied to international trade, the ability to speak other languages and appreciate different cultures is essential. I urge students to take the initiative to interact with staff and students from the mainland and overseas.'

For all the changes in university life over the decades, when graduates eventually make their way out into the world, old-fashioned values and 21st century skills will determine their success. 'Trust and respect will have a pivotal effect on their accomplishments - and those two things can only be earned,' Dr Tso said. That maxim is as true today as it was in 1970.