Blog Excerpt: 09/08/2014
I’ve officially attended Changzhou Senior High School (常州高级中学) for a full week! Unlike most of the other NSLI-Y students, my host brother and I go to the same school, and we’re even in the same class. There are four Chinese language classes a day (approximately 4 hours worth) with the other NSLI-Y students, and for the rest of the time, we go to our assigned Chinese classes, where we’re expected to pay attention or do our own work quietly. Each of us is assigned to our own Chinese class (mine is Class 7 七班) with around 50 Chinese kids (my class has 57 actually). In China, the kids stay in the same room together all day, and the teachers rotate classrooms. They switch classrooms for special classes like science labs, art, PE, or music, but they still stay together with their same class. We are with the Grade 1 (高一) students (equivalent to sophomore-age kids in the US) as opposed to being with the seniors or juniors. In China, the older grades usually focus on test prep for college entrance exams (like the 高考), so we’re able to interact more with the students in Grade 1. I must say, school in China is definitely different than school in America, including the very noticeable differences of no central AC/heat, the sheer number of kids per classroom, and the students’ ability to focus so well and be so productive even with no teacher in the room to supervise them. Anyway, my daily weekday schedule goes somewhat like this:
-Wake up at 5:30
I’ve never woken up this early on a consistent basis in my life!
-Eat breakfast at 6
This week, we had a lot of dumplings for breakfast! Dumplings, dumpling soup, fruit, eggs, even fried chicken one day!
-Get to school by 6:30
Most of the other NSLI-Y students get to school at 7 am, but since I go to school with my host brother, I just get to school when he usually gets there. All the other Chinese students also get to school by this time, so I get to spend more time with my classmates. I usually enter my Chinese classroom to find them cleaning their desks and talking with friends.
-“Morning Reading” until 7:30
Basically all the Chinese students recite things to themselves out loud or just study before any of their classes start. They say morning is the best time to memorize / learn. I usually practice my characters or my pronunciation.
-4 classes before lunch with “Big Break” in the middle
We usually have two language classes in the morning, and the rest of the time we spend with our Chinese class. “Big Break” is similar to recess. When it’s nice outside, all the kids go and play sports. Usually the boys play basketball, and a lot of the girls do this Zumba-like dance thing in the middle of the school. There’s a dance instructor, loud music, and everything! Some kids were even roller blading during Big Break this week!
-Lunch and “Noon Break” from 11:40 until 1:30
Essentially, all the hundreds of Chinese students make a mad-dash for the cafeteria once they’re released for lunch. The lines can be insanely long! The cafeteria is three floors high; so far, I’ve only gotten to eat on the 1st and 2nd floor, but the food is pretty good and there are a lot of options. Noodle soup, dumplings, vegetables, chicken, fried rice, etc. The Chinese students go back to clean their classrooms at 12:15, then study from 12:30 to 1, then nap at their desks from 1 to 1:30. Actually, I’ve begun to fall asleep during Noon Break too, only to be awoken by the music that plays over the loudspeaker to wake us up at 1:30! On Friday, I even found myself thinking, “I can’t wait to take a nap during Noon Break!” And honestly it’s really awkward if you don’t nap during Noon Break, because you’ll be the only one with your head up!
-5 classes in the afternoon with a break for “Eye Exercises”
There are two language classes in the afternoon, and we stay with our Chinese class for the rest of the time. Eye Exercises are hard to explain. Music and counting plays over the loudspeaker and everyone closes their eyes and massages the area around their eyes. They include things like rubbing your temples, your cheeks, your eyebrows, etc. They say Eye Exercises help you focus more. The first time they did it, I was so confused, but luckily one of my classmates gave me a tutorial.
-Sports Class or Class Meeting
Sports Class is also hard to explain and I’m not sure I really understand it yet. It’s not like PE, because in PE we are split boys/girls and it’s just with our class. In Sports Class, all the Grade 1 students (so around 400 kids) go to the track and line up by class. Then everyone runs in military-style lines around the track. Actually, I laughed when I saw the Grade 2 students running like that around the track, only to find myself doing the very same thing the next day! After we run, we are free to practice whatever sports we want. I only had Sports Class once this week because of the rain, but some of my classmates taught me how to play ping pong! Some of my other classmates played volleyball, badminton, and basketball. Class meetings are held on Fridays instead of Sports Class. Some students will make short speeches, and the class head teacher will talk for a bit. I’m still confused by it, since I can’t understand too much of what they’re saying yet.
-At this point in the day, it’s around 5:30 or 5:45, and all the other NSLI-Y students go home, but I stay with my host brother until 7:45. Actually, all the Grade 1 Chinese students stay until 7:45, so I kind of like staying late. It makes me feel more like a real part of my Chinese class, and also gives me more opportunities to chat with and get to know my classmates. I probably wouldn’t have half the friends in my class that I currently do if I hadn’t stayed late everyday. I go to dinner in the cafeteria with my classmates. Dinner is pretty much the same as lunch, except one time, they had milk tea delivered to the school, so that was a great night. From 6:15-7:45, the Chinese kids essentially have a study hall to do their homework. I usually finish my homework by 7, so for the rest of the time I just do extra character practice or learn what we’re going to go over the next day.
-From 7:45-8 my host brother and I go home. This week, we took taxis to and from school because our dad was in Beijing, but usually he will pick us up. There’s a milk tea place across the street from our school, so some nights we stop there. On Friday, we actually couldn’t find a single empty taxi to go home in (to the point where a taxi pulled over to pick up new passengers, and we raced this guy to get there first, but lost), so we walked home. It’s only a 20-25 minute walk, but my poor host brother was carrying so many books in his backpack, so he was really tired and I felt bad for him.
-From 8-8:30, my host mom greets us at home and gives us a ton of snacks to eat (my favorite yogurt drinks, fruit, bread, etc.) That’s always a great time of day.
-Shower/Random Stuff/Sleep 9-10
I’ve never gone to bed that early on a consistent basis either, but it sure makes waking up at 5:30 easier!
School has definitely been an adventure every day. I never really know what’s going on until it happens. I feel like I must have a continual look of confusion on my face the whole day, but my Chinese classmates are very sweet and always help me out and look out for me. Just when I’m feeling super awkward about not having the textbook for a class, a girl slides hers over to share with me. When I didn’t have any idea what was going on during PE class, the girl next to me would whisper what we were going to do next. My desk mate in computer class translated the teacher’s jokes for me so I would know what everyone was laughing about. Sometimes, sitting in their classroom understanding nothing of what the teacher is talking about can be boring, even awkward and uncomfortable when I’m not sure about what I’m supposed to do, but it gives me so many opportunities to talk with my classmates, so I’m glad to be a part of their class. I’m already making so many new friends, learning so much Chinese, and learning a lot about high school culture in China!
Emily was a participant in the NSLI-Y China 2014-2015 Academic Year Program.