Leave your bison chip wherever you go

The following post is a translation of an article written by Chen Si’an, a Taiwanese student at Fudan University who spent this summer working at Yellowstone National Park. Originally published in the Fudan Taiwanese Student Organization Monthly Newsletter. Republished with consent.

When I picked up my pen to share this story, I decided to not give everyone a day-to-day account of my summer work experience, because my story is too absolute and probably would be a bit boring. For this reason, I’ve used a simple style to give examples of the important things I came to realize from my “Work and Travel” in America’s Yellowstone National Park. I believe this will be of great benefit to everyone’s future lives and work attitudes.

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1. Be brave enough to say hello and start up a conversation with people you don’t know

Asians generally give foreigners the impression of being introverted and shy, but this kind of fixed thinking is completely without reason. When I first arrived at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful gift store, everyone, including the boss, the chefs, and the other workers would always really warmly strike up conversations with me. They’d endlessly ask: “How do you like America?” “Is there anything I can help you with?” and the classic “How do you feel today?” I really couldn’t get used to it, because this kind of excessive warmth is rarely seen in Taiwan or the Mainland.

The first few days after my arrival led me to a realization: This type of warm greeting towards other people isn’t specially focused on newcomers, but is a practice deeply planted in the hearts of every American. At first, every day hearing “How do you feel today?” while eating breakfast, “How’s everything going?” while eating lunch, and “Is everything alright?” during dinner might give one a headache. How come they’re always asking the same question? Really, though, this is a great conversation starter. It expresses your care for the other person and lets them choose to discuss the things they feel comfortable sharing with you. Following from the place they open the conversation at, this shows respect for the other person, and allows you to enter more deeply into their feelings and gain a lot of interesting and valuable experiences.

 2. Don’t be miserly about praising others, and have a moderate amount of self-confidence

The traditional virtue of Chinese people holds that one should always be modest. For this reason, when receiving praise, our reaction is always to insist “I’m not good enough, so-and-so is much better, etc.” Regarding other people’s merits, we also just hold on to them in our hearts, and rarely directly stand up and say, “Hi, I think you look really good today!” When I had been in Yellowstone for just a week, however, I discovered that Americans are really accustomed to praising others. For now, we’ll not think about whether they’re genuine in doing so or not – what can’t be denied is that those being praised will be very happy, and that this happiness will persist for a long period of time. They [Americans] can find something in everyone that’s worthy of praise. For example: “Your necklace is really beautiful, I’ve never seen one of this design before;” “I wish I had eyes as beautiful as yours;” “If my math was as good as yours, that would be great!” If praising someone doesn’t take any energy, but will bring them a good mood for a whole day and start a good relationship between you and them, then why not go for it?

When receiving praise from others, don’t be coy; smiling and saying thank you will better express your bearing and self-confidence. At the start, I would always answer, “No, I am not that good.” Afterwards, however, I discovered that this is not a very friendly answer, because it makes it hard for the other person to keep the conversation going. Don’t make the other person emphasize that they really think you’re okay. Happily saying thank you, accepting their good intentions, and complimenting them back is a much better way of cultivating relationships with other people.

3. Don’t concern yourself over working more than others, just conscientiously do what you have to do

My work at the Old Faithful Gift Store was restocking and tending the cash register. Old Faithful is the most famous place in all of Yellowstone, and every day the tourists are an endless stream. While on duty, there’s basically no time to use the restroom or even take a short break. My salary was lower than the kitchen workers, I didn’t get part of the tips like they did, and I also had to run here and there moving stock around or tending the register for, at the very least, seven and a half hours. For this reason, when I was working I’d always discover that lots of people who had the same job as me would be in the back room, resting and chatting, even though out front there’d be a huge mass of tourists out front unable to find the things they wanted.

I’d always be working and working, pushing a cart back and forth to restock, or running to grab different clothing sizes for customers. Although I wasn’t getting higher pay for this, I was getting worn out. This is a kind of work attitude, though: you’ll feel satisfaction from bustling about for a whole day and seeing the smiles of customers. You won’t feel like you frittered away a single moment. Perhaps because of this [attitude], I got training to become a cashier faster than some others, which gave me more opportunities to come into contact and chat with customers and made my work more varied. Because of this, don’t lightly suffer other’s interference; conscientiously do your own work, don’t grumble, and you’ll have a pleasant surprise waiting for you.

4. Don’t fritter away time, grasp your summer

Yellowstone’s summer is very short, and the rest of the time it’s covered by snow and ice, so the summers are overflowing with vitality. Crowds of tourists, verdant trees, and lively animals can be seen everywhere, and there isn’t a single place not proclaiming life and vigor. Human life is like this too. I had a lot of coworkers who were older Americans. A lot of them are retirees who decided to come work at Yellowstone for a short time period. There are former police officers, professors, teachers, and more, all seizing the opportunity to enrich their lives and come closer to nature. This is a life attitude well worth studying. Don’t waste away the minutes and seconds of your life. I got to meet a seventy-eight year old gentleman, who took us in in a circuit around North Yellowstone in his car during one of our days off. This type of attitude became a big inspiration for me. We’re in the most golden period of our lives, but most of us fail to value and love time and life the way those elderly people do. Youth is short, and a single year’s summer goes by in an instant; for this reason, we really need to hold onto, and not waste away the time available to us.

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The above four points are my deepest experiences from working in Yellowstone. I hope each Taiwanese student can profit from them in their studying and work attitudes and in their relationships with others. If so, my serious deliberations while writing this after eight and a half hours of grumbling work, as my eyelids tremble and I think painfully of the early shift tomorrow I have to start at seven o’clock. To conclude, I want to introduce everyone to Yellowstone’s most important animal. Bison can be seen anywhere in Yellowstone, and everywhere they go they leave their markings: bison chips. Because of this, we should sincerely study the life experiences of the bison. We all have to leave our markings: hard work, amiable greetings, sincere praise. All of these are the markings you leave behind. Live hard, grab ahold of summer and enjoy it, and make full preparations for the long “winter” ahead. Leave your bison chips wherever you go!

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