A testimonial is a kind of writing where you explain something you have bought, done, believed, or somehow experienced. Businesses use them all the time; they love to quote "happy customers" who explain how the product or service is so wonderful. Check our website at DreyerCoaching.com and you will see some testimonials, in both English and Chinese, from satisfied parents and students. A sub-category of a testimonial is a "religious witness," where a believer explains what God has done in his or her life.
Some testimonials only explain the positive sides of an experience, but some go one step further and try to persuade, or convince, the reader to do, buy, or believe something. That is called persuasion, or advice-giving.
A student in my advanced writing class, who attends the International Bilingual School in the Hsinchu Science Park (IBSH) wrote this testimonial/persuasion piece aimed at a grade 7-10 audience:
While the bombardment of homework in school may seem endless, the truth is that it is just the beginning — the worst is yet to come. As a current junior at IBSH, I can testify that school does NOT get easier; teachers become more ruthless with homework, students become more competitive with grades, and parents become more annoyed with sub-par performances. In short, pressures mount like snow in a blizzard, you get inundated.
In response to these future struggles that you are sure to experience to a certain extent, here are a few suggestions.
Firstly, find the passion that motivates you to succeed. Sure, it may be a prestigious university that is your ultimate goal, but finding your niche in school is where one can truly blossom in cutthroat environments. For me, I followed my intuition and eventually found my second home within the realm of debating; it has taken me places I could have never imagined. Secondly, as cliche as it sounds, you NEED to recognize the importance of your school performance and strive to improve. Too many times I’ve met people who turned a blind eye to their deteriorating grades and peers who’ve already given up on their biggest and wildest dreams as a result. Grades matter as colleges and universities alike will take them into consideration when making their admission decisions, which will impact your future.
Enough of these rather disheartening pieces of advice. If you have found your passion and currently have decent marks in school, look towards other forms of entertainment, and learn to have fun! You’ll lose lots of it in the future.
--Aaron in Hsinchu, Taiwan
“Start early, don’t wait until the last minute.”
Literally every teacher tells you this and as I got older, I valued this reminder more.
Now, I think I am credible enough to give this piece of advice to my underclassmen at school.
As the cliche goes, life only gets harder. Sadly, this is true. I remember back in the day, when I was just a freshman, testing the waters of high school. With no APs to worry about or any standardized tests, I worked hard to get everything done ahead of time since my coursework was not that rigorous.
No, who am I kidding.
Admittedly, I slacked and the results were not pretty. Over the next few years, I luckily managed to pick myself up a bit but there was only so much I could do to save my atrocious freshman grades. The importance in frontloading is well… important. In elections, candidates try to put themselves out there as early as possible and political parties hold primaries earlier so their selected candidate could have more time to establish him or herself before facing off on the national stage. I know this is true because I paid attention and worked hard in my AP Government class.
Jokes aside, whether it is a project, essay, or even an application, it is important to start things early. In freshman year, one should work to bring up their grades and confidence (very important!) in order to arm themselves for the rest of high school. Sophomores are just getting there. The adjustment from 9th to 10th grade is hard since AP tests and standardized test preparation classes come into play, lessening time for extracurriculars and study. Junior year gets tougher as one needs to not only improve or at least maintain their grades, there are SATs or ACTs to be taken and more APs to study for. Oh yeah, start looking for colleges.
The summer before senior year is crucial. Try to write as many college application supplements as possible as time to do this only decreases when the school year starts. I saw many of my peers struggling to finish their applications and schoolwork while balancing plenty of AP or honors classes. I managed to finish 9 schools for Early Action and started to get acceptances (and rejections) in December, taking off the pressure of getting into college. Since I was done applying for colleges by the end of November, I was able to work on my grades and improve my stock for my Regular Decision schools.
Whether it is an assignment or your college resume, remember to frontload as that will take a lot of weight off your shoulders in the future. There is no worse feeling than consecutive all-nighters, only getting 4 hours of sleep before school. It’s hell and please don’t do it.
-- Justin in Hsinchu, Taiwan
Around Christmas 2018, my son David posted this testimonial/persuasion piece. It is lengthy, and he had mulled and revised it in his mind for more than a month. Despite its length, it has been read much, as seen by the large number of likes and comments it scored on both facebook and instagram.
I have called myself a Christian all my life yet I was often arrogant, selfish, carnal, materialistic, impatient, and dissatisfied. I have cared too much about my image and what others think of me and not enough about what God thinks of me. I’ve never been content with what I’ve had. Despite these inner conflicts and issues that generated deep turbulence within me, I hid it well on the outside, only showing people the side of me I wanted them to see. Over the past few years, I’ve allowed myself to place entirely too much trust in my accomplishments and my relationships with others for my happiness. They always brought me some sense of satisfaction, but the effects were always temporary. (No I’m not bashing human relationships; on the contrary, I believe the right ones are absolutely essential to have in life!!)
However, in my own life, some of them produced the ugly characteristics I mentioned above. Lately, God has shown me what happens when I put all my trust in the wrong things. This semester, through what I would describe as a series of unfortunate events, He has thrown my world upside down and shaken everything I was confident in, showing me how utterly fragile and miserable life can be when you put the entire value of your existence on things that have no permanence. This was my first semester at UVA and I felt completely out of place. Everyone around me seemed so perfect at everything and I thought perhaps the Office of Admissions had made a mistake on me. I got off to an extremely shaky start in school; I actually failed my first 2 tests! That butchered my confidence. I kept on hoping things would improve and they did but then last month, something else unrelated to school happened and it hurt me deep. Then I made the mistake of trying to mend that broken situation, which, as many of you know, usually makes things worse. Mentally incapacitated, I wanted nothing more than to drop out of school (oops)...but that wouldn’t have produced anything beneficial in my life and instead, would have only sufficed as mere instant gratification. So I stayed and tried to focus on my studies although my mind was on other things, and what seemed to be my greatest nightmare has actually turned into the greatest life lesson I’ve ever been taught.
I could go on and on about everything I’ve learned, but I won’t bore you with all that and will keep this post as concise as possible. But I digress... So life was looking pretty bleak from my point of view. I was completely stunned at how quickly life tanked for me as soon as I came up to Charlottesville, and I came to the end of myself for the first time ever. I realized that if I was going to make it to the end of the semester, I needed God, because I could no longer handle things myself. He took me in at my very worst form. I was empty inside, sad, and broken, but I think that’s the point. God doesn’t need us to achieve anything in order to come to Him; we don’t need to have it all together. For people like me, I think it requires a catastrophe that completely breaks the spirit, because prideful people don’t think they need anyone else until things are beyond their control. Up until these last few months, life had been easy and I was comfortable, so I had no reason to change. God had to break me in order to make me; wound me in order to heal me, and He did just that. By shattering my world and this fallible paradox I had created, God opened my eyes and allowed me to see who I truly was for the first time. This was not pretty at all; I realized that I was a misguided, stubborn, insincere, foolish, and worst of all self absorbed young man who had been living for himself his whole life. Arrogance created in me this entitlement mentality, where the whole world owed me something and I deserved only the good that life or people had to offer. Arrogance is the reason I was so blindsided by life’s sudden ferocity. I now realize that arrogance is the worst possible character trait you can have, because it either blinds you to your own flaws or develops a complacency in you to not desire to fix them. I had the latter mindset; I was aware that I had issues, but I fixated myself on my “good traits” and ignored the bad ones, deceiving myself into thinking I was a good person. I was a brownie with a little bit of poop in it, which actually made me a disgusting brownie that nobody wants to have on their little glass dessert plate and accompany their vanilla bean ice cream after a delicious meal. Upon this realization came an understanding that there was absolutely no way that I could fix myself through my own willpower. I’ve tried before and failed, of course. So this time, all I did was press into God, pray, ask many people for prayers (thank you all), read His Word (a lot!!!), get advice from wise people, and possess a true heart of repentance. God has done all the rest in my life. He has and still is clearing out the junk; all I had to do was admit that I was insufficient, stop living for myself, and go to Him for all my answers. Still, that’s not to say this was an easy process; the result is beginning to, and will be great, but the process hurt. God forcibly removed some poisonous people out of my life whose toxicity I was blind to and who I allowed to stay in my life longer than they deserved because I was comfortable and stupid. This hurt the worst, as I was really attached to them, but I see now that it was a huge blessing for me.
In addition, I had to give up some things I enjoyed, break certain thought patterns I had developed over the years (so in essence, a complete reframing of the mind), and admit my faults and shortcomings to God. Going through what I’ve gone through last month is something I have no desire to experience ever again; it was painful and mentally taxing. Also life stops for no one, and as I was working through these personal problems I was still being bombarded with academic responsibilities, which somehow didn’t help take my mind off anything, but instead, exacerbated everything. By a miracle, God has gotten me through the worst of it. It was an absolute grind though, and I often doubted I could even make it to the end of the semester. God has carried me through the toughest days and nights. He has revealed new truths to me. He has and still is bringing immense healing to my heart and mind. His unconditional love for me is clearer than it has ever been. He brought the right people into my life when I needed them the most, and I want to thank those of you who have been there for me and lifted me up in my times of hurt; I am incredibly grateful for each one of you. Also, I want to say I am thankful that these tribulations occurred now while I am still young versus me going through the rest of life blind and naive; never learning the valuable lessons I’ve learned of late. Looking back, I can already see that every “bad thing” that transpired over this past semester, whether related to school or not, was absolutely necessary and crucial to my development as an individual, and I am thankful for all of it. I wouldn’t say I’m totally fine now, but things are finally beginning to fall into the right place. I haven’t felt like myself in a long time, but is that really a bad thing considering who I was? I am not living a lie anymore. However, I know God has not yet completed this process of refinement. I’ll never be perfect and I still have a lot to learn. But every journey must start somewhere, and I’m just excited to have finally found the right path. For the first time, I’ve surrendered every single thing in my life to Him; my heart, my thoughts, my future, my career, my all. It’s easily the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and some may call it weak, yet I know this was the best and most necessary decision I have ever made. I’ve been trying my whole life to control my future and that is an exhausting and futile task. We think we have an idea of how the future will go but this thing called life occasionally has other plans; however, we cannot let the unexpected derail us. The truth is that my happiness has always been circumstantial, and God has recently shown me how perilous that is, as circumstances often change. Putting my happiness and worth in the One who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, is the only way to be okay regardless of what happens around me.
If you are still reading, you’re incredible and I would like to wrap this up by saying that there is hope for everyone. That’s the whole point of this post. The point is not to brag on who I am now, because none of what has occurred in me was by my strength or will. In addition, these events that have shaped me were not by my choice, and had they been by my choice, they most likely would not have happened. The point is that I hope this can be an encouragement to anyone out there struggling. Also, learn from me as how not to do life. Don’t be arrogant. Don’t be blind. Don’t be stubborn. Don’t learn things the hard way, like I did, but if you end up doing so, fear not. If God can use the worst circumstances for my good, He can do the same for you. If God can soften the heart and work in someone as obstinate as me, He can work in anybody! God heals. Time heals. It might hurt now, but healing is inevitable if you allow it to happen. What makes you confident? Let it be that you are a unique and precious creation of God. I had my confidence and identity in the wrong things, and as a result, this semester I really struggled with insecurity and who I was. Don’t make that mistake. It’s so easy as humans to compare; we want to compare everything, but doing that will only make you either too proud or too insecure; both bring problems. Drake said: a wise man once said nothing at all. He’s right. My father is also a wise man and he said, “Comfort and growth are on opposite ends of the spectrum.” If you’re uncomfortable now, embrace it because you are growing. Be thankful for the tough times; they are trying to teach you something so pay attention and learn as much as you possibly can from them. Tough times suck but they are incredibly valuable. You learn more about yourself and about other people in hard times than you ever will when life is peachy. Thankfulness in general is a key to getting out of rough patches and is a necessary mentality to have in life always; good times or bad. Realizing that there’s always someone out there who is going through more than you can help put things into perspective. Truth is, you always have something to be thankful for so focus on those things instead of what you don’t have. Don’t collapse when life seems out to get you. True strength is measured when everything is against you. When life is easy, nobody is a quitter. Don’t be bitter; if someone wrongs you, do not allow their actions to hurt you more than they already have. Bitterness will just make you and only you hurt deeper and longer, and even if you have every reason to be upset, it is useless to hang on to what happened. Be honest always; the truth always comes out eventually and the lies you tell now will come back and smack you later. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you and push you to become a better person. That doesn’t necessarily mean the people who compliment you all the time and make you feel all marvelous inside; you’ll come across plenty of those people in life. (Not saying all of those people are bad either, just want to clarify. Some are just beautiful streams of positivity and that’s wonderful.) Instead, it’s the honest ones who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth (because it really do be like that sometimes), whether you want to hear it or not, who should be treasured above anyone else. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Make sure the people around you are sharpening you; not holding you back. Whether you like it or not, you become like those you hang out with. If that thought doesn’t sit well with you, then find better people. Push yourself! Don’t settle. Don’t heavily depend on other people for your success. People won’t always be there to cheer you on and that’s okay; sometimes you have to do things on your own. Use your past mistakes to help you grow; don’t let them hold you back. Your mistakes don’t define you so don’t let them. However, don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again either, cuz then you’re just stupid, like me. Also, reach out if you’re struggling! People don’t know you are until you say something, and it’s a wonderful thing to seek guidance. After all that has happened I feel much more sensitive to the fact that people deal with their own problems every day and may just be experts at hiding them. You all who are out there living your best life should reach out and be an encouragement and a light to someone, because you might just make their day! Be there for others; the greatest gift you can give someone who is hurting is a listening ear, prayer, and your support. Finally, I leave you all with this, and it is so cliché, but so very true. It’s also easier to say, but harder to do: Just trust God. He knows what He’s doing and He has you in His hands. He had to empty me to fill me, but His plans are far greater than anything my short-sighted little mind can imagine. His timing is perfect, and He can do in anyone’s life the wonderful things He is doing in mine.
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A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.dreyercoaching.com/en/about/scott-dreyer