What is happiness? Older people say happiness is memories of childhood. Children say happiness is playing during the holidays. Traveler say happiness is returning home. Everyone has a different definition of happiness, but we are all in pursuit of it.

For five years, since junior college, I was studying at the Zhaoqing affiliated school at the Guangdong branch of the Open University of China (OUC). I am from the countryside, and started to work at 18 after graduating from technical secondary school.

Due to my low academic qualifications, the kind of work I preferred was unavailable to me. But I believe that learning and reading can change one’s fate. That is why, five years ago, I enrolled at the OUC and began to study while still working.

Yan Jiahui, female, 26, Administrative Management major at the Guangdong branch of the Open University of China (OUC)

I remember that I had no friends when I first arrived there, and was shy. However, I was lucky that my teachers were not only knowledgeable and responsible, but also concerned about their students. One semester I could only afford half of the tuition fees; I felt anxious and helpless, and wanted to give up. The class councilor, after learning of my situation, helped me out by transferring her money to my account without saying anything. My teacher also encouraged me. She said that young people should have a dream and belief. Difficulties are temporary, and as long as one persists, everything will get better and better. The help and encouragement of my teachers has been a continuous motivator for me.

Most OUC students study while working, and face all kinds of difficulties. For the past five years, I have tried to balance my work, studies, and other aspects of my life. I have refused invitations and even dates, and was asked once by a friend: “Is learning really so important to you? No matter how well you study, you’ll have to get a job after that.” But I am sure one needs a goal, and even an ordinary person has the right to pursue an extraordinary life.

Many OUC students have to overcome difficulties to be able to attend school again. One of my classmates, a mother, came to class with her six-year-old twice a week, and he would sit at the back of the classroom, doing homework or reading. It is amazing that someone like her could persist in her studies and finish them successfully. She said, "I am studying to pursue learning on the one hand, and to get a diploma on the other. Above all, I want to set an example for my child." What more powerful model could there be?

Looking back on my five years of studying at the OUC, I see that I have made great achievements and gained valuable experience. If one thing stands out, it is the time I spent serving as captain of a team of volunteers from the Zhaoqing affiliated school. We often participated in city activities related to mourning, environmental protection, and cultural performance. Above all I remember once visiting a poor and remote mountain area. In a rough house without furniture, but with walls papered with awards, a thin girl lived with her paralyzed father, and when I offered her reading materials and a new schoolbag, she burst into tears. I gently wiped them, and told her, As long as you have confidence, you will find your way. I still clearly remember the longing eyes of that little girl. Not everyone has the resources to help such people, but a small act like that can light hope in a child’s heart. The happiness and pride I felt are still present in my heart. Since becoming a volunteer in 2012, I have participated in more than 200 activities and provided over 800 hours of service, gaining a Certificate of Gratitude from the Zhaoqing Civil Office and a Gratitude Plaque from the Southern Public Welfare Forum; I was also named Excellent Volunteer.

Last year, I completed my studies and graduated with a Bachelor degree. At the OUC I not only gained learning, a diploma and friends, but also became a better person. I have still a long way to go, but I know that continuing to learn, and to serve society, is the path for me.

General Secretary Xi Jinping has said that "Happiness is a product of hard work, and the new era is an era for forging ahead." I am happy to have been born into such an era, and to be able to study and to realise my dreams. I can serve society with what I have learned, and this is the definition of happiness for me.

I feel proud of the OUC, and the OUC will be proud of me. (This speech won third prize in the OUC “My Learning Story” speech contest.)