Chinese School & Mid-Autumn Festival!

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 / AFS kids, my host brother goes to the same school as me, 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 / AFS kids, and for the rest of the time, we go to our Chinese class, where we’re expected to pay attention or do our own work quietly, but not actually do the work of the classes we observe. Each of us has our own Chinese class (mine is Class 7!) 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 will 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 students (equivalent to sophomore-age kids) as opposed to being with the seniors or juniors, who are closer to our age. In China, the older grades usually focus on test prep for college entrance exams, so we’re able to have more fun with the younger kids. I must say, school in China is definately different than school in America, aside from the very noticeable difference of no AC/heat in the school and the sheer number of kids per classroom. And their ability to focus on school so well and be so productive even with no teacher in the room. Anyways, 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
All the other NSLI-Y / AFS kids get to school at 7 or 7:30, but since I go to school with my host brother, I just get to school when he usually gets there. All the other Chinese kids also get to school by this time, so I get to spend more time with my classmates.

-Morning Reading until 7:30
Basically all the Chinese kids 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.

-About 4 classes before lunch with a “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 like a 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! I really want to join it sometime! Some kids were even roller blading during Big Break!

-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 kids 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 one time. 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 the Chinese way! Some of my other classmates played volleyball, badminton, and basketball. Class meetings are held on Fridays. Some students will make short speeches, and the class teacher will talk for a bit. I’m still confused by it, since I can’t understand too much of what they’re saying. The only thing I understood from the last Class Meeting was when one of my classmates said in her speech, “Even though some of our English is not very good, I think we can all be friends with Emily.”

-At this point in the day, it’s around 5:30 or 5:45, and all the other NSLI-Y / AFS kids go home, but I stay with my host brother until 7:45. Actually, all the Chinese kids 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 (since my weak spot is writing in characters) or I 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 definately been an adventure everyday. 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. I think the kids can be somewhat nervous about talking to “the foreigner”, but mostly because they think their English isn’t very good or they are just shy. But once they establish their friendship with you, they’ll talk to you all the time. My first friend in my class passed me a note on the first day to introduce himself, ask about me, and ask if we could be friends. Quite literally one of my conversations with a classmate went like this: “Hello Emily!” “Hello.” “Can we be friends?”. I think what I enjoy most about school so far is getting to become friends with my classmates. 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 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. For the record, I do try and talk to them in Chinese, but they often talk to me in English. Many of them want to go to college in the US or other places abroad, so they really need to improve their English, and I am happy to help them practice. It is an “exchange” after all, culturally and linguistically I suppose. Plus realistically I can’t speak that much Chinese with them yet. They do ask me though what I learn in my Chinese language class, ask me to practice my Chinese with them, and offer to help me whenever I need them, so it really is a give and take.

Chinese language class has been going well so far! There are only 6 kids in the class (4 NSLI-Y kids, 2 AFS kids: one from Italy & one from Turkey), so it’s a good size to learn a language. We’re learning Chinese from the beginning because 4 kids have never studied Chinese before. One guy has studied it for 2 years I think, and scored the same level as me on the OPI. I’ve studied Chinese for 6 weeks in the NSLI-Y summer program, plus an online class (which didn’t help much), but my foundation is weak in that I still haven’t learned all the basics and my reading/writing capabilities are far below my speaking/listening. So although we’re going over basics in class right now, it’s still useful for me. For example, we learned how to tell time this week, something I’ve picked up contextually but never officially learned before. Additionally, we learned a lot of characters, which I had forgotten or never knew how to write in the first place. It’s a good pace for me, but I think it’s a little challenging for some of the students who have never learned Chinese before. I’m beginning to recognize a lot more characters already- in my Chinese class and around the city.

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My apartment buildings

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Changzhou Museum

Some other highlights of the past week have been being awoken at 6 in the morning by fireworks (this has happened more than one time and every time I wake up to it, I laugh because it’s so random and would never happen in America), going to an arcade with my host brother and his friend (my host bro set the new high score on one of the basketball games), and going to the movies again. In other news, this weekend is Mid-Autumn festival, so we have a 3-day weekend. The only real celebrating people do for it is eating mooncakes, but my host brother and many of my classmates don’t even like mooncakes. So I’ve only eaten ice cream mooncakes (the only type my host bro likes), which is fine by me. For the long weekend, we went to Xi Tai Lake (西太湖) one morning, where we walked around a little and then rode two-person bikes- my host mom and dad on one, and me and my host brother on another. It was very fun and sometimes a bit of a struggle. At one point, my host brother and I were flying down a hill going really fast and almost ran into one of those horizontal poles used in parking garages to stop cars. We also went to a big family dinner with the grandparents to celebrate the holiday!

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Changzhou!

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