Getting Schooled in Chinese Culture

Posted by Grace Honig on 4/24/2017

During my first week and a half attending school in China I've noticed that the cultural differences I'd previously noticed during Spring Festival Break have carried over to the classroom, and greatly shaped the way classes operate and students interact with their teachers, and with other students. Some of these things I've really enjoyed being immersed in. Others, I've been through a small period of shock at, and prefer the culture at Newton South comparatively much more. 

To get them out of the way, I'll begin with the things I haven't liked about Jingshan. First, though I'm sure this is on everyone else's list as well, the school day is just way too long. Most days it's scheduled to be 10 hours long, but Andrew, Alastair, Jacob, and my homeroom teacher has a running streak of keeping us past the end of the day (4:50) every single day so far, the current length record being 50 extra minutes. I have an hour commute to school each way, which leaves me at a total of 13 hours a day completely filled. 

Many other students face the same challenge of having a long commute on top of a brutally long school day, so it doesn't surprise me in the slightest to see kids in my class struggling to keep their eyes open, and often falling asleep. Second, and this one I don't completely dislike, is that we're in the same room with the same people for the whole day. In my opinion this limits potential friendships as students in different classes aren't given the opportunity to mingle. The reason I'm not entirely against this is that it encourages a smaller circle of very close friends which lines up exactly to a cultural norm described in one of our required reading books "The Geography of Thought". The book compared the Western culture of having a weaker boundary between close friends and acquaintances as well as being more "removed" from the close friend circle we have, to the Chinese culture of having a huge gap between close friend and acquaintance, and being fully immersed in one's close friend circle. I believe that the Western idea of changing up who's in each class with you so you meet many different people and China's idea of establishing close connections with one group of kids, are the building blocks to fulfilling those cultural norms. 

Another thing I've noticed is that the class sizes are extremely big. My class has about 50 kids in it, only about six of whom are girls. With only one teacher in the class it's very hard for students that are having trouble understanding what's being taught to receive the help they need. Students also ask very few questions in class so as not to disrupt, but also to a certain degree, I feel that students are afraid that if they ask a question the teacher and their classmates will think less of them for not understanding or needing clarification. 

This takes me to my next dislike. Classes are all lectures. Even art and music! We don't actually do any art or make any music, we just sit and get lectured about it. I've found class participation to be extraordinarily low as well. Often not even a single student shares an idea or asks/answers a question for an entire class. I think this is because of the stress China puts on face. Similarly to my last point, a fear of getting an answer wrong and broadcasting a weakness in academic ability to their peers and teachers holds many of my classmates back. I found this shocking because back in America mistakes are often forgiven with ease and sometimes praised as it shows the effort being put in and willingness to learn. 

The divide between boys and girls also troubles me here. Boys and girls rarely interact with each other, and in my gym class, were even forced to stand on opposite sides of the room while the teacher explained how to hold a ping pong paddle. Back in America boys and girls speak to each other all the time, so Marianne, Courtney, and I haven't hesitated to speak to the boys in our classes and in English Corner. Though we've become friends with some who are extremely friendly and go out of their ways to say hi in the hallways or stop by to the room we're working out in after school to talk, most have been very shy and embarrassed to talk to us. As we continue to work to warm them up to us, I've found the contrast between the boys and girls in terms of outgoingness very interesting. While the boys shy away and have to be prompted to talk to us, the girls are taking pictures with the American boys, and talking to Marianne, Courtney, and I about the other boys in their school. They aren't shy about anything and were immediately ready to have conversations with us that lasted all of English Corner. I think that they boys are more hesitant to talk to Marianne, Courtney, and I because our genders are different, and for me, our ethnicities are different. I've found there to be a huge lack of diversity in China which I believe has led to the boys having reservations about talking to us because of our differences. The girls behavior, however, contradicts my theory so I'm not certain what the real reason behind the boys being shy and embarrassed is. Maybe as I observe them more, the answer will become clearer. 

All of the things I've said up to this point have been minor things. They haven't hindered my ability to enjoy the school day, but my last dislike is one that has kept me thinking since I first noticed it. It's politics class. I've found it extremely hard to sit in the back of the room listening to someone slander my country and preach false generalizations about the American people to impressionable youth. I want to tell them that Americans aren't all racist, and that what our president says doesn't reflect the whole country's beliefs, contrary to what they're being taught. I hope that by us Americans being here, spreading our love and interest for people of all ethnicities, religions, etc. we can expose our classmates to the good of America that they likely wouldn't get exposed to otherwise. 

Now on to the things I have like about Jingshan. First, the people. My classmates have been so nice, welcoming, and helpful, and the teachers that lead our special classes have been equally as nice. The people that come to English Corner have been so interesting to talk to and get to know, and I've become fast friends with so many of them. It's a great feeling to be waking in relatively unfamiliar halls and have people come up to you to say hi making you feel right at home again. 

I also LOVE the uniform. Yup, I know I can't believe I'm saying it either. It's so comfortable, and although the pants aren't the most fashionable things I've ever seen, the jacket is actually really cute! 

The school’s facilities are great as well. I've gone to the gym everyday after school with some of the other Americans, and the equipment and amount of space we have to workout has been fantastic. 

Overall I'm having a great time attending school. Though the school day is long, and most of the courses I shadow go way over my head, on Sunday nights I always look forward to going back the next morning.