Everything about China and it's culture

Everything about China and it's culture

Back to School

As always, September brings the beginning of a new academic year. Millions of fresh faced teenagers across the world leave home for the first time to start university. The nerves and excitement at the dawn of this new life stage are remembered for a lifetime. It is only natural that the university journey in the Far East has its own distinctions from other parts of the world – but some of these differences are pretty surprising for a Westerner.

The obvious question when you start at university usually is: what will you choose to study? In my own home country, for the most part people have the freedom to choose to major in the subject they have interest or talent in, or simply enjoy.

When I was chatting to my friend who studies in Beijing, however, she had an interesting answer to my question about why she chose her major: “I didn’t choose English, English chose me!”

I learned that her major of choice was Telecommunications, but at school it was decided for her that her major should be English (a subject she confessed she did not even like). While this is not a universal experience for every Chinese student, it is still something of a shock to people new to China.

After subjects are chosen and bags are packed, the eager student arrives at university to move into their new term time home. Now, student halls of residence do tend to slightly differ between various countries. However, a typical Chinese student dorm is as different as could be from a British one. In the UK, students usually have their own room in a corridor with other first year girls and guys, perhaps with a shared bathroom and kitchen. The Chinese student dorm, on the other hand, tends to be in a single sex building and shared by four to eight students. Yes, each student has their own bed, but one wonders whether this is enough personal space for a generation who all grew up as only children.

A visit to a Chinese university campus in September will surprise some people as students wearing military uniforms march about. This is because Chinese freshmen students start university life with three to four weeks of military training, involving several miles’ worth of marching and the possible opportunity to shoot a rifle. All of this is a far cry from the typical European freshman week, where the emphasis is on making new friends in all kinds of ways – one of the most well known being drinking together and going to parties.

After moving in, and surviving freshers’ ceremonies, the logical next step is going to some classes. Again, classes in China are not exactly the same as they are in other countries. So far as I can gather from what Chinese friends have told me, there is less of an emphasis on independent study. Chinese learning methods often involve techniques like learning a text by heart. Also, penalties are pretty strict for missing class without a good excuse. Missing a class can lower your course mark by 5%.

In their spare time, Western students are expected to take advantage of being at university to make friends and learn new skills and hobbies. Who doesn’t have a crazy story or two about the mischief they got up to at college parties? Again, this party culture seems quite different in China. Most dormitories have strict curfews that their students have to be home by. Besides this, a lot of Chinese students are under a great deal of pressure to do well at university. A common reply to queries about favorite hobbies is “I don’t have any spare time, I am always in class or studying”.

Indeed, a certain East-West divide does seem to exist, when it comes to choosing your university, subject, student residence, freshman experience and even studying itself… Even though Chinese and foreign students might be studying the same subjects at their respective universities, the university experience can still be worlds apart.

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