Nic and I recently met for coffee to talk about his involvement with Toastmasters, his thoughts on personal development, and the beautiful game.
D: Alright, do you mind telling us who you are?
N: My name is Nick, and… who am I? That’s like asking a.. that’s a big question.
D: *laugh* Let’s back it up then. What’s your last name?
N: My last name? *laugh* That’s like asking my first name. Li, like Sarah.
D: Oh, are you related?
N: *laugh* No haha.
D: Alright, and what are you studying?
N: I’m currently in mining engineering, but I think I’m going to switch out of this major, I don’t really like it, not really my thing. I think I might switch into civil (engineering), mining is a little too broad, and you can’t really focus on one basic thing, and it’s really all over the place. The things that you’re learning you can’t really apply, and you can really only learn properly in the field. I like to be in the field, I worked in mining engineering, and I learned a lot, but when I came back to class, I just knew that I couldn’t do this for the rest of my life. And when I came back to the classroom, it was like, “Holy ****, these guys don’t give a **** about what they’re teaching us” *laugh* So I think I’ll transfer into civil, maybe integrated, finish my degree, and then see where things go. But I’m also interested in kinesiology, how the human body works, how muscles work, dieting, all kinds of health stuff, typical Vancouverite *laugh*
"...I had heard that the engineering program at SFU was whack, totally whack."
D: Human engineering *laugh*
N: Yeah! Something like that, that’s a good way to put it.
D: So, that means you’re in what, fourth year?
N: Yeah, technically fourth year, taking third year classes, since I went on co-op.
D: Okay, and how did you end up at UBC?
N: How did I end up at UBC… Well, with UBC, i find that a lot of people want to come to UBC for its prestigiousness, and I know my parents were a little bit that way as well, but I knew, since I’ve lived here in Vancouver my whole life, having heard so much about this place, I knew this was the place I wanted to go. When I was like, eight, ten years old, I hadn’t heard anything about UBC, and I came here and was just awestruck, starstruck. And then I went to check out SFU and was just like… **** that place *laugh* I mean, it’s a good school, but it just wasn’t the right vibe, and when I came back a few years later, trying to decide what I wanted to study, it just seemed that UBC was the place to go. And since I knew I wanted to go into engineering, I had heard that the engineering program at SFU was whack, totally whack. When I was in high school, this guy who had already graduated, he told me over Facebook, when Facebook was just in its ascendancy, that SFU engineering had its own like.. Facebook group suicide hotline because there was a bunch of them just in that head space. I don’t know if it was true, but he told me about it, and I just got a bit freaked out, like that was a little much.
D: Okay, and what got you interested in engineering in the first place?
N: Hmm.. that’s a good question.. I’ve always been a really hands-on type of person, I like to build stuff, I was into building electronics when I was younger, and I like it because it’s structured. They call it applied science, because that’s what it is. You just take science and apply it. You take an input, some observations, some data, use some techniques, or in my case, many techniques, and if you do it right, you get a result. Which doesn't always happen, in science you sometimes have to make approximations, and in science you’re looking for more of the process, the process of finding the answer, which is what university is all about, its about the process. But engineering, the way I think about it, its more structured compared to say… science, or to the arts. Arts isn't very structured at all I don’t think, I mean, it’s very interesting, the stuff you learn, and I don’t mean something like.. economics, I guess I mean more the humanities, or the fine arts.
D: Okay, so you like the structure, you really like having a concrete, final answer, the results.
N: Yeah, it’s part of my work process, I like having a… reward, y’know? I like the right result, though in university I learned that it’s more about the process that matters, that’s how you learn. If you give someone say, the information and the results, what are you supposed to do with that? So I was always like that in high school, but now, I realized that its a lot different.
D: Cool! And how does Toastmasters fit into that? Is there a final product you’re looking for from Toastmasters?
N: No, I think Toastmasters is a little bit different from the reason that I got into engineering, I think being in Toastmasters has more to do with one of my hobbies, which is to learn new things, wanting to improve myself. My motto is “every week, I want to be 1% better than I was the week before.” Which doesn’t sound like much, but when you learn something new, it’s like “that’s one percent right there!”. So throughout the years, you get incrementally better, so say in a month, you’ll be 4% better than you were at the beginning, and at the end of the year, you’ll be.. let me do some math real quick… I should really know this *laugh* 52% better.
D: *laugh* UBC engineering everybody
N: *laugh* I haven’t done math in so long, it’s ridiculous. But yeah, I think being in Toastmasters, and public speaking, being able to be confident and charismatic, you see it in the movies all the time, or in places like TED Talks, and I think that if you want to be successful, you need to have that.
"You just have to work for it, and so I look at that, and I think that I can at least be a little bit higher than where I am currently..."
D: And I think many people would agree with you!
N: I mean, try and think of anyone who has been really successful without being able to communicate- I can’t do it. Bill Gates, any of the big names, Steve Jobs, they were great at it. Well, except maybe Stephen Hawkings.
D: Well, even there, he’s got that robot voice, and I mean.. he’s tight *laugh*
N: *laugh* Exactly, you’ve got to be able to do that.
D: I think that’s a very poignant point; that anyone who distinguishes themselves, does it by speaking, which I think is a cool idea. And you mentioned hobbies, do you have any other hobbies, you mentioned that you like learning a lot of new stuff?
N: Well, I’m not sure if you can count that as a hobby, there’s got to be another word for it, but.. do you mean already existing hobbies, or stuff that I would like to do?
D: Stuff you’re doing, stuff you have done, stuff that you want to do, anything!
N: Alright, well, stuff that I’m doing right now, tying into the learning, I’m learning Spanish, because I went to Mexico over spring break, and I was learning Spanish before, but now I just really like it. I was trying to learn coding, but I wasn’t serious enough about it, but now, I think I understand more what learning something new actually entails, so I had failed at it, but now maybe I’ll give it another go.
D: Yeah, coding is another big one in terms of communicating nowadays.
N: Yeah, skills-wise, I really like to branch out, so languages, coding are big ones. Things like sports, I really like basketball, I don’t really have to learn that at this point, but I practice a lot, I play pick-up basketball all the time at the SRC. I’ve been playing since about elementary school, so I’ve been playing for a long time.
D: Old man on the court *laugh*
N: Yeah *laugh* I like to practice, because, ack, it’s kind of a weird reason, but… I’m okay. I’m… above average ‘okay’. But, I see players in the NBA, and they’re like, eighteen, nineteen, and they’re so good! And I’m like, I’m twenty-one years old! And I know genetics played a big part in it, but let’s get real, come on!
D: Oh yeah, I mean, I’m five-foot eight, I’m not going to be dunking any time soon.
N: Well yeah, but the thing is- you could! You just have to work for it, and so I look at that, and I think that I can at least be a little bit higher than where I am currently, so I like to shoot around a little, work on some skills, it’s always about improvement. Everything I’m doing, or want to do, you have to improve at it, it’s the process that matters. So that’s that for basketball, I tried some other sports, like soccer, but I didn’t like it.
"My parents, they take care of me, I really love them; they've been there for me my whole life."
D: Hey, woah man. I mean, it’s cool, not everyone like soccer, I know it’s only the world’s most beautiful game-
N: Yeah, yeah, I get what you’re saying, I get it-,
D: It’s universally loved by over like, two billion people all over the world-
N: Yeah, and I mean, I dig it-
D: *laugh* Naw man, I’m just messing with you.
N: *laugh* Oh, well I actually really like watching soccer, especially women’s soccer, it’s.. intense, but they aren’t bitches about everything. Unless it’s really serious, they don’t try to get that call, but you see hair pulling when the ref isn’t looking, it’s like hockey sometimes! And you look at the men’s league and its like, come on guys, get real. I tried hockey, but I found that I got hit in the shin a lot, road hockey that is, I can’t skate… but I can play guitar *laugh*
N: *laugh* Yeah, guitar is just one of those things, it’s true. The ladies, they love the guitar, and I’ve been playing for awhile, and I know I should, but I don’t really take the time to improve what I can already do, I don’t know why.
D: Well, you’ve got to explore your interests, that’s fair. What about your family, do you have any siblings?
N: Yeah, I have a younger brother.. what’s the date? Five days, he’ll be nine. He’s getting to that age where he is just starting to learn a lot, which is cool.
D: Is he still an annoying younger brother, or is he starting to get cool?
N: Actually, I don’t think he ever had an annoying phase, he was never really super annoying.
D: Okay, just me then *laugh*
N: Well, I bet your brother isn’t as old, or the gap isn’t as large. I mean, my brother is eight, and I’m twenty-one.
D: Yeah, that is quite a gap. Between me and my brother there’s only four years.
N: Yeah, I think at that point you two can kind of hang out a little bit, but for my brother, it’s kind of like being an only child.
D: Interesting, and what about your parents?
N: My parents, they take care of me, I really love them; they've been there for me my whole life. My mom is a realtor, but she and my dad used to run an import business, so they would import stuff like beauty products and sell them, and they did pretty well. I would help them out a bit, but nowadays, they’re a bit older, and my dad is running an oyster farm now, and it’s just pure labour, but it’s all his. He bought the land, and all he has to do is harvest the oysters. And I didn’t know this, but apparently, oysters are plants.
D: What, really?
N: Yeah, you take a seed, and you grow oysters.
D: Does he find a lot of pearls?
N: Well, the pearls you find, you just ****ing throw them away. You get pearls every once in awhile, but they’re nothing like the huge mother-of-pearls you see at the store. But they’re plants man.
D: I think biologists just like screwing with people.
N: Yeah, it’s crazy, they calcify over time to make their shell, and once it’s big enough you know they’re good to go, which is pretty cool. And my mom is a realtor now, because they want to provide for me and my brother, which is really impressive, and she’s doing really well, she pulled it off.
D: Wow, that’s awesome man. Well thank you for your time, and I’m looking forward to having you on board next year!
N: Thanks man!