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By Thomas F. O'Neill

From Shenandoah, PA To China

I was born and raised in the Pennsylvania Coal Region in a town called Shenandoah in the heart of Schuylkill County. I lived in various other places over the years as well. I lived in New Jersey for five years and Maryland for ten years. I also lived in India, Australia, Malaysia, and Ecuador. I witnessed first hand extreme poverty and those experiences have shaped and left an indelible mark on my soul and psyche.

I moved back to my hometown in 2002 after being away for nineteen years and my return was quite stressful and humbling at the same time. I am now able to relate with the people of limited means in Shenandoah and what they are going through on a daily basis. Their struggles here in Schuylkill County can make one cynical and bitter about society’s injustices. Especially, when you see how corporate heads get Millions and in some cases Billions. While their companies are being driven into the ground by sheer greed.

I was in a very low place over the past few years due to various issues both personal and financial. Then out of the blue I received an email. It was from an instructor at Harbin City University - in China of all places. In the email he said one of his students sighted an article I wrote five years ago on the importance of understanding cultural diversity.

He asked if I would like to visit the University and talk to the students there. Of course I said ‘yes’ how could I pass up an experience like that. There were many phone calls and emails back and forth with the University. Eventually, I was offered a position to teach conversational English, cultural diversity, and metaphysics as a full time instructor. I will be leaving for China at the end of May and I am looking forward to going there.

The Chinese Government sees the importance of learning the American way. They understand that they must gain a greater understanding of our culture to effectively market their products to us. Learning languages in our modern time is no longer enough to succeed on the global market. In today’s world we have to understand the various cultures that make up the human race. Taking the time to learn how others in foreign lands perceive themselves in relation to the world around them, can help us Americans gain a clearer understanding of how we perceive ourselves in relation to others.

Another reason I decided to accept the University’s offer is because the politics in my home county of Schuylkill was taking a toll on me. I noticed that those who are acquiring county Jobs are people whose relatives or the Job seekers themselves campaigned for the right people during the elections. They raised enough money I should say to acquire those Jobs. Life is not always fair but we mustn’t let those injustices get the better of us. A positive attitude and the right actions can get you through just about anything in life.

Taking responsibility for ones own problems is also important because I found that most of the complainers in our county don’t vote which is kind of sad in itself. A start to bringing about change is to exercise the opportunity to vote for the change. Too many people are complacent with the business as usual on the county level and feel powerless to bring about a difference.

Our economy is not helping our region either and it’s not just on the downside in our county. Our entire nation is also facing economic challenges with people losing Jobs and means of support. In times like these it is best to build on our personal strengths and become active in the community. Volunteering for a good cause opens doors and windows toward greater opportunities.

I never lost sight of the fact that we make our living in life and what we give to our community, family, and neighbors, makes our life worth living. That is why I will miss the Pennsylvania coal region. I will never lose touch with the ethnic values that were once rooted in the region. Those are the same values that made our country the greatest nation on earth. Hopefully, those same values will be communicated and emphasized to my future students.

For those of you who think the world has become a dark place. I found that it is best to become the light in our dark time so that others can see more clearly. I also want you to know that my thoughts and love will always be with the people who crossed my path and touched my heart in the Pennsylvania coal region.

With love,

Thomas F. O’Neill

(800) 272-6464

Yahoo Screen Name for chatting online: introspective777

Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.







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