Painting a fresh coat

He moved here from his native country when he was 9 years old. It wasn’t supposed to be a permanent move. That is, until his dad – back in Taiwan – died.

Senior Peter Chang, his two brothers and his mother moved to the United States, planning to stay only for the four to five years it would take his mother to finish school, Chang said. His dad had stayed in Taiwan to work to support the family.

When his dad died, they didn’t really have any reason to go back to Taiwan, Chang said.

His dad’s death was sudden – he died of cancer, which he wasn’t diagnosed with until his family had moved to the United States, Chang said.

He said he has many fond memories of his dad, recalling one of his particular habits.

“Every day he’d eat at least three apples,” Chang said. “He came home from work … I’d always see him peeling an apple.”

From there to here

Chang grew up in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, which he described as a huge city with skyscrapers.

Taipei has a population of 2.6 million, according to the U.S. Department of State Web site.

Living in Eau Claire, a city with a population of about 64,000, according to UW-Eau Claire’s Web site, is a lot different.

Chang still is not a citizen here, but is considered a permanent resident. He has a green card, and is allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely, he said. Not being a citizen means he is ineligible for certain privileges, such as running for office or voting.

Chang is eligible to take a citizenship test, but is unsure about whether t he wants to.

“It would be nice to participate politically,” he said, adding however that travel around the world would be easier as a Taiwan citizen than a U.S. citizen and the citizenship test costs money.

“It’s not like I’m opposed to it,” he said. “I’m in a good spot here, and it’s not that big of a difference.”

Living on the bare minimum

When they first moved here, nobody in Chang’s family could get a job in the United States because, at that time, they were not considered permanent residents, Chang said. The money his dad left them provided their only financial support.

Chang’s family first arrived in California, where they stayed for six months before moving to Eau Claire because his mom had planned on going to school here, he said.

With no income, his mother was not able to afford much for the family, so he grew up poor, Chang said.

“Growing up I had to take a lot of responsibility because my mom didn’t provide for us, except for food and shelter,” he said.

His relationship with his mother was ultimately not very good, he said.

Finding ways to provide for themselves, Chang and his brothers, picked up odd jobs here and there in order to buy clothes, he said.

Despite the hardships of his childhood, Chang said he didn’t let it get the best of him.

“You could either be ruined by the experience or grow from it – for me, it really shaped my values,” he said, adding there were many teachers and friends who were there when family was not, inspiring him to be more active in the community.

Getting out

Chang and his older brother, Jack, both moved out on their own, leaving Tim, the youngest, living alone with their mother.

Their mother moved to Michigan with Tim, hoping to get a fresh start, Tim Chang said. They even looked at high schools – but inevitably Tim wanted to move back with his brothers.

So, he moved in with Peter.

“It was kind of a dream come true for me,” Tim Chang said. “Ever since I was little, I could never imagine my life without my older brothers. And, after my older brothers moved out, it was pretty bad, things went down hill pretty quickly.”

His time in Michigan took a toll on his schooling, Tim Chang said. He spent about a month there, and thus a month out of school.

When he got back to Eau Claire, his course load – full of AP and other advanced courses – turned out to be too much for him to catch up on, he said.

“To miss that month of school coming back I had straight F’s, I had a stack of homework like you wouldn’t believe . it basically killed my will to try to get back to where I was,” Tim Chang said.

To be living with his brother in an environment that gave him more freedom and less discipline, made focusing on school one of the last things on his mind, he said.

However, Tim Chang doesn’t blame his brothers and would never hold them accountable for that kind of parental responsibility, he said. In fact, he rejoiced in the time that he was given with his brothers.

“It was great, it was a much needed break from living alone with my mother, so I really only have fond memories of that time,” Tim Chang said.

Providing a home for his brother also influenced Chang’s academic career.

Chang eventually applied to UW-Madison – although not right out of highschool – and was accepted. But, instead, he stayed in Eau Claire because he didn’t have the money for tuition and livnig expenses in Madison – and his brother needed a home.

Chang was also very fond of the experience, saying it’s the only family he has in Eau Claire.

“Just me and my brothers,” he said.

Paving his own path

When Peter Chang graduated high school, attending college was not a top priority, he said.

Instead, he took a job as a computer-aided drafter at Watson Industries, 3041 Melby Road, he said. But, his confidence pushed him to start up his own business.

He began a painting business and named it University Professionals, he said. It was a private, small business through which he employed four students.

Chang said he learned a lot about the business world that summer, as he experienced difficulties that taught him it’s not always a bump-free ride.

“It was a good summer,” Chang said. “(But) a lot of work, a lot of headaches – and things didn’t go smoothly.”

I think I can, I think I can

Chang’s first experience owning a business didn’t deter him from future attempts. In fact, it did just the opposite.

“I wanted to re-do it and prove to myself I could,” he said.

Then, when he worked for a company called College Pro Painters, he said. It’s a painting business – similar to his own – but this was the first he had heard of it.

After seeing how the company worked, he decided it was something he could do, Chang said. Now, he owns his own franchise.

Owning a franchise of the company means he pays fees to fund services the company takes care of that normally are part of owning one’s own business, he said. It’s a little less responsibility, making it easier to stay in school while owning the franchise.

Since College Pro Painters is a residential painting business, it’s really only about a six-month commitment, with most of the work in the summer, Chang said.

In February, Chang starts planning, hiring and advertising, he said. Once school gets out and summer starts, then it’s time for training and production. Last summer, Chang said he employed 14 people.

Last year, Tim worked alongside Peter.

Tim Chang said this experience gave him a better understanding of the hard work put into managing a business.

“I wasn’t just one of his painters, I helped him micromanage everything I possibly could,” Tim Chang said. “We seriously put in like 90 to 100 hours a week.”

But, Tim Chang said doing all that work was uplifting in ways.

“It was a great growing experience for both of us,” Tim Chang said. “I had never handled so much responsibility up until that time.”

His profit goal for this year is $25,000, Chang said.

However, Chang continuously reminds himself what is important in life.

“I always try to keep work segregated from life,” he said. “College Pro – in the end – is just a job. I don’t want to be defined by my job. It’s a constant struggle, but I’m trying hard to keep it segregated.”

Whatever makes you happy

Reflecting on his childhood, Chang said such an upbringing really showed him the bigger picture.

“Another thing you realize is that money is not that important,” Chang said. “Your own experiences and health is more important than an occupation or going to school for that matter.”

Chang chose to become a music performance: violin major at Eau Claire without knowing if he would actually be able to pursue it professionally.

Now, Chang said he realized pursuing his major on a occupational level isn’t very realistic, but that didn’t down play the importance of his learning experiences.

“I think the art itself is really important,” he said. “I just want to learn more – it’s rewarding – something I’ll be in the rest of my life.”

Nobuyoshi Yasuda, associate professor of music and director of the University Symphony Orchestra, said Chang currently is the orchestra’s concert master.

Although Chang is a reserved person, his dedication to the orchestra illustrates his passion for the music, Yasuda said.

“From looking at him working with other students . his attitude shows that he is very passionate about it,” Yasuda said. “He doesn’t have to do that because he owns his own business and he’s a busy guy. He really always wants to be the best of the best.”