Student life in China

A Chico girl appreciates her high school counterparts

Kara Goslin (left) and Jackie Herbert (third from right) with girls they met at a Beijing high school.

Kara Goslin (left) and Jackie Herbert (third from right) with girls they met at a Beijing high school.

Our guide opened the door to a small room stacked to the ceiling on both sides with eight bunk beds covered in mosquito netting. An open window let in the pollution-mired light and a breeze to dry the freshly washed uniforms that hung off the metal bed railings.

In the corner, next to eight small lockers, eight plastic washtubs filled with toiletries were stacked up neatly and labeled with Chinese characters that I presumed were names. Our guide smiled at our wide-eyed faces and nodded calmly when we exclaimed, “Eight teenage girls in this little room?!”

We were in the middle of a tour of Tsinghua High School, one of the most prestigious high schools in all of China. What we were seeing was one of the dorm rooms, which about half of the students stay in.

The rest of the school was just as intriguing and also provided a metaphor of sorts for all of China—a juxtaposition of new and old buildings, technologies and cultural habits.

And that’s just the architecture! Far more interesting were the people—quietly brilliant, sharp and shy. As a fairly calm American teenager, I suddenly felt gregarious and loud. Our American habits of running and yelling when we were excited seemed so out of place and rude in the cramped cities of Beijing and Shanghai.

That is not to say that we were scorned for our behavior—in fact, we seemed to bring out something in many of the students we met. The dance party that started after the performance at this school was an example—several of our students started to dance, and eventually we had pulled all of the Chinese students out to dance with us, releasing some of their inhibitions and creating a universally fun party.

The whole experience altered what I perceive to be normal. For example, most of my friends have their own cars that their parents pay for, their own rooms and maybe their own bathrooms, and a large amount of independence. No Chinese students are able to drive, and it seemed to me that they aren’t as free-thinking and individualistic as we are.

On the other hand, we don’t work very hard—my school day is six hours long, as compared to their nine or sometimes 10 hours, and after school I have free time. A Chinese student, especially one at Tsinghua, doesn’t have free time. The emphasis on getting into a good university seems almost overwhelming to me, a confessed lazy procrastinator. The stress level is high, but all of the students I talked to seemed to think it was worthwhile, even enjoyable, because they appreciated learning so much.

—-Sophie Speer

Sophie Speer, 16, is a junior at Chico High School. She is the entertainment editor for the Red & Gold student newspaper and an occasional contributor to the CN&R.