Here are a few blogs from students regarding their homestay experiences and school service at Ruili Minority High School in China!
15 hours is a lot of time. In 15 hours you could…
-Read a book
-Watch a full season of The Office on Netflix
-Watch 5-7 movies start to finish
-Drive from Los Angeles to Portland
-Walk 2 marathons
-Fly from California to Hong Kong
-Cook about 900 cups of microwaveable minute rice
-Attend one day of classes at a Chinese High School
You read that correctly, folks…900 cups of minute rice! That is crazy! Then you would have to spend about 150 hours eating your rice (Assuming it would take about 10 minutes to eat each cup). This of course does not factor in any of the countless breaks you would have to take as 900 cups of cooked minute rice is 153,000 calories. That is approximately 60 days worth of calories for the average person. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, you could spend your next 15 hours making 2 months worth of rice or go to high school in China for a day. Now I want minute rice…it’s surprisingly hard to find here.
How do I describe the Chinese school system? You’ve all heard the horror stories of their massive workloads, long days, strict teachers and the sky high expectations set by parents. But how do these stories stack up to the actual Chinese high school experience? Honestly…they are kind of spot on. The Chin Su Crew had the opportunity to spend 2 days inside of Ruili Minority High School, a typical Chinese High School located in the Yunnan province. There, we shadowed our homestay students, taught a bit of English and learned about the culture and people of China’s education system. We began our day bright and early at 7:40 for our first class: English. We should be pretty good at this, right? We all had a few basic English lessons in mind to teach our second grade students. Second grade. In the United States that means 8 year olds. In China it means second year of high school (The equivalent to a Junior in the United States). Needless to say my lesson about animals was not exactly well suited for these bona-fide super students who had been studying English for 11 years. Ben and I improvised and we had a brief questioning period for the students to ask us about America. Some of their questions were fairly straightforward. Do you like school? What are you doing in China? How much homework do you get? Are you allowed to have a girlfriend/boyfriend? Hold up…what? “Yes we are allowed to have relationships in high school. Why wouldn’t we be able too?” I replied. Turns out, they can’t. Dating is not permitted between classmates until the age of 20. Strict? Unimaginably so.
For those unaware of the schedule for a typical day in a Chinese high school, allow me to break things down for you. Students generally attend around 10 classes per day and 14 classes in total. These classes are 40 minutes long with 7 minute breaks in-between each class and a 2 hour lunch break where they get to go home, and a 45 minute combined dinner/recess break where they stay at school. Classes comprise of, depending on the grade level, math, English, Chinese, history, politics, physics, biology, chemistry, a ‘class meeting’ (We will touch back on that in a bit), PE, art, and music. Almost all of these classes are lecture style where the teacher often will read straight out of the textbook and have very little interaction with students. Asking questions is actually discouraged here. Even their music and art classes are essentially lectures. They don’t paint, draw, sing or play instruments. Instead they learn about art and musical techniques and history. Students have almost all of their classes in the same room (The exceptions being art, music and PE) and with the same classmates. The teachers are the ones who rotate classrooms. Testing happens almost every single day for the students we were with, and happen every single day for students in the grade level above them. All of the school’s students pack themselves into a different building where they all take the same exam on a variety of different topics (Primarily math, Chinese and English). The test grades are then announced in front of the class during their class meeting where they are met with praise, laughter and cheers for good grades, and met with silence for less than stellar grades. For these class meetings the students tackle various topics of discussion. They are almost entirely student lead and this week, our class discussed their dreams. I was actually quite impressed by these. We have student council and other specialty clubs throughout the American school system, but if every class had to get together to discuss their dreams with little teacher supervision, it would be a disaster. The students are incredibly well behaved and very respectful at all times. Each time us Americans went to the front of the class to teach we were immediately met with applause. I don’t think anyone has ever clapped for me when I walked up to the front of the classroom in America. After dinner/recess and a little bit more class time, students attend a three hour homework session. Key words: ‘home’, ’three’, ‘hour’. Yes, these kids actually stay in school from 7:15 pm-10:15 pm and do homework. Their work is sometimes due the night it is assigned, and every half hour a bell rings indicating the students should change the subject of homework they are working on. Finally, after an exhausting 15 hour day, class is over at 10:15pm. Many students will still have homework to do even after 3 straight hours of nothing but homework, so some stay even later than 10:15 and others work at home. All of this work, only to wake up at 6:30am the next day on usually 5 hours or so of sleep and do it all over again. Oh, I forgot to mention they go to school and do this on all 7 days of the week and get a little over 8 weeks of total vacation time each year. All of this hard work culminates in June of their final year in high school. The gaokao, otherwise known as the National Higher Education Entrance Examination. A 9 hour, 2 day test that students spend their entire school lives studying and preparing for. If they pass, then their score will determine which kind of university they can attend. If they fail, they will not be allowed to attend university. Intense? You bet.
So there we were, sitting aside our homestay student, 2 crew members per class (Except for one group that had 4). How does this feel? Sitting in one of the most intense education programs in the world for nearly 15 consecutive hours without knowing basically any of what they were saying. On our second day of teaching, we were much better prepared and played some fun games with the students that went along with their curriculum (Which was NOT animals). We also offered our help on English homework, though many of them didn’t even need it. To a hopeful future teacher like myself, this experience has been incredible. Learning about their school system first hand and having the opportunity to teach in class is absolutely amazing. The amount of respect I have for all of the kids here is unmatched. We were greeted with smiles, waves, “hello”s and many photo-ops each day. Many, many, many photo-ops. Apparently we were the first group of foreign students to ever visit this particular school and all of the students (Literally almost every student of which there are 3,000) asked for pictures with us. We felt like celebrities. At multiple points I was swarmed by so many students who wanted to take photos, that I didn’t move for about 20 minutes. Now I know what it’s like to be the guy who dresses up as Mickey Mouse at Disney World. A lot of the kids gave us gifts from the school store and poured on the compliments. Collectively, I think our group received 3,487 “You are very handsome/pretty”s, 250 “You are so tall”s, 38 “Americans are so funny”s and 1 “Your Chinese is very good”. This came when I correctly pronounced Xiexie (Thank you) for the first time in many, many attempts. Spoiler alert, my Chinese is actually very, very bad. But the crazy part about all of this is these numbers probably aren’t very far off. Needless to say, the students were easily the highlight of this experience. Unless we get famous or come back, we probably won’t get this much adoration from so many people for the rest of our lives. In Collin’s words, “It’s all downhill from here”. Some of the students also performed some traditional dances for us in the field and we all got to join in. I knew before this trip that I was not a particularly good dancer, but now all of Ruili Minority High School knows too.
Of course this blog would not be complete without the mentioning of the hospitality those outside of the school showed us while in Ruili. We each stayed with a student’s family in groups of 2 and got to learn even more while doing so. They spoke almost no English but were incredibly kind and hospitable beyond our expectations. They gave us gifts, did our laundry, cooked us many delicious meals, took us to restaurants and grocery stores and despite how ever many attempts we made to try and pay for things, they always refused and insisted they pay for us. Our accommodations were lovely and we ate more food in a single sitting than I thought possible. While I’m sure the ‘tiger mothers’ do exist out there in Truly wonderful people. On our last day, the mayor of Ruili invited us to the government building for dinner. I don’t even think I know the mayor of my hometown’s name and here we all are, sitting thousands of miles away from our homes eating dinner with the mayor of a Chinese town. Also, the food was great but at this point I’m not sure I even need to mention that.
So…school in China is very different than in America. Most school days in the US are only 6 hours long (That’s 360 cups of minute rice, 61,200 calories, and 24.48 days worth of calories in case you were wondering) compared to the intense 15 hour schedules students here endure. We spent only a brief amount of time together, yet their people and our people functioned in harmony despite the language barrier and the differences in culture. As we left to go back to our homestay around 10:15 at night, the classmates I had spent the 2 days with all ran up to take pictures with Ben and myself until 10:45 and said things like “We will miss you”, “We hope to see you again”, and “We will never forget you”. And you know what, I will miss them. I hope I will see them again, however unlikely. And I most certainly will never, ever forget them, their beautiful faces, and the incredible 3 days I spent with them.
Since I left you with a quote last time, I’ll continue the trend. Once again this is from Herman Hesse’s novel, Siddhartha: “It is not for me to judge another man’s life. I must judge, I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself, alone”
These past two days have strangely been a couple of my favorite throughout this trip. They’ve been long, exhausting (and I can’t even imagine what they’re like for the students that understand what is going on in class), and really eye-opening. Students enrolled in this public high school spend upwards of 12 hours a day at the same desk, sitting in the same wooden stool, as different teachers come in throughout the day and lecture what the government told them to teach. They’re here six days a week, and are only given Sunday afternoons to relax (but they probably spend that time catching up). I studied the Chinese government and vaguely, their school system in class last year, but putting myself in a classroom alongside 40 students has been surreal and really made me appreciate the life I have as a student in the United States with not only free time, but creative freedom as well. The Chinese public school system has put such a harsh focus on STEM, and entirely cut out any kind of creative learning. This morning, I asked my homestay sister if she had ever written an essay for any class, and she responded that she hadn’t. In my mind, that is wild.
On an entirely different note however, being here has made me feel like a celebrity. During the class breaks, students crowd around us and ask questions about our lives. Some have even made Instagrams so they could follow us, and I can’t even count how many students have asked to take a picture with me. So I guess if you ever want to feel validated and special, come to China!!
The first homestay of our journey is just coming to an end. I have spent the past two days in a typical high school classroom which was a new experience for me. The education system here is much more strict than it is back at home. The school day begins at 7:30 am and ends around 10:00 pm. Our accommodations were met with a homestay. Noah and I had lived the life of another student named Wang Ruicheng. He is one of our newest and dearest friends and I am so glad that I met him and his family. They met us with open arms and allowed us to stay at their home for two nights. I have never met people this generous until now. They feed us plenty of food. Almost too much! But then they ask us if we want more ! They are so kind and I’m really going to miss them once we leave Ruili.
For the past two days I have had an amazing time exploring the Chinese culture and getting to live a day in the life of a Chinese high schooler. I truly have a new appreciation for school back in the US because it is not nearly as intense as it is here. The hours are exhausting and from what I can tell the academics are quite rigorous as well. The amount of discipline these kids have is definitely something to behold and is quite amazing. It is not all work and no play though, everyone is very interested in basketball here and Andrew and I were lucky to play a game with some students with a huge audience gathered to watch us play. Everyday at lunch we went to the home of our student’s grandmother where she and her nanny prepared amazing Chinese food some of which I was skeptical about at first but I ended up enjoying it even though I didn’t really have a choice as to whether or not I ate it. One thing that’s pretty interesting is that we are treated like celebrities here. Everyone wants to take their picture with us and get our social media information. My homestay family has been very kind and I have enjoyed this experience very much and hope I can one day do something like it again.
It’s ironic that I went on this trip to take a year off from the stressful pull and push of school, yet somehow found myself sitting for 12 hours at a little wooden desk learning electromagnetism in Mandarin. The first out of our two days learning alongside our home stay sister, Hu Rong, is only comparable to a very pleasant punch in the face, and it really made me understand how lucky I am to be an American with an American education. Hu Rong is going to spend the entire first quarter of her life on a single wooden stool memorizing, reciting, taking exams, and, most importantly, not complaining.
Aside from the realization of how intense the Chinese education system is, my home stay family was amazing. After school had ended at the pretty hour of 10 PM, Vicky and I, exhausted and ready for bed, piled into the backseat of our home stay mother’s car. Then from the front seat, Hu Rong turned around and asked us if we liked shopping to which we replied with a skeptical, “Yes, we like shopping?” Then we proceeded to drive to a store to shop! It was 10:30 at night! Mind you, Vicky and I were exhausted, and we hadn’t even done anything. Hu Rong had gotten up earlier than us, participated in a full day of school, had English homework to finish, and earlier she had mentioned she was feeling rather ill. Yet this wonderful soul wanted to take us shopping.
The next day was more of the same. At lunch, Hu Rong’s mom asked us if we wanted chocolate for our travels to which we replied that we would honestly rather have peanut butter as it is hard to find in China. Then, she drove us to 4 different grocery stores to find some, and when we couldn’t, she informed us she would DRIVE TO BURMA to buy us some. THEN. This woman bought every single jar the store had, so now we have 12 jars.
I think that’s a pretty good representation of what my experience was like. The last thing I have to say is it was 10/10. Would recommend to a friend.
Experiencing life as a high school student in Ruili, China is something I will never forget. The first day we walked into the school we were swarmed by what seemed like hundreds of students all wanting to take our pictures. We met our host student, Claude, and followed him to his first class of the day. Throughout the morning we learned from Claude that school lasts from 7 AM – 10 PM every day, including a 2 hour break in the middle of the day for lunch. All the students in our classroom were very welcoming to Collin and I, and were thrilled when we engaged in conversation with them and told them about our lives in America. Even though school was amazing, my favorite part of the two days were the times we spent with Claude’s family. Each day we went to his grandmothers house for lunch with his whole extended family, and each day they prepared a huge meal for us. His mother cooked food for us almost 24/7 and it got to a point where we were so full, we had to switch off eating each other’s food when she wasn’t looking. By the end of the stay we felt like part of the family, and it was very sad to part ways from his family. The last thing they told us was, “our home is always your home in China.” We also said our homes are there’s if they come to America, and then we exchanged gifts and parted ways.