Friday, November 28, 2008

Lunchtime Lessons

Today I had the pleasure of sharing wufan with Steve and his six students. It was a true delight to meet these extraordinary young men and women and hear about their diverse backgrounds in a true cultural exchange.

In a very comfortable setting (over food, of course) they felt compelled to ask Steve and me about our "love story." They noticeably enjoyed hearing about out extensive history, our experiences, and about how we came to love China. In addition, discussions about American foods and how Americans celebrate holidays verses how Chinese people do so enlightened both "sides."

Perhaps the most interesting information to me, though, emerged when I asked them about their experiences in high school. As a high school teacher, I am naturally driven to hear the comparisons. All I can say is that the Chinese never cease to amaze me...

One student explained how she would get to school on most days at 6:00 am. (Next time I hear my students complaining about the 7:25 am late bell, I think you know what I'll be telling them.) She would work until lunchtime around 11:30 am and then take a break. While the details about the afternoon still need to be filled in, the bottom line was that she ate dinner at school and finished up at 9:00 pm. (You read that right.)

Needless to say, I was astounded by this as well as by finding that all this work was to prepare for a single life-determining test. Students who scored the best at their school or in their province were able to go to the best universities. While this sounds very positive, the added feature really surprised me. Not only does the test determine your school, it also determines your major. You may want to go to the business school at your university but if your scores don't align with that path, you will be placed in another program of study. If you want to change your major, it is very difficult. Apparently, to make a change, you need to take another extremely challenging exam. All I could think and say was how much different this is from higher education in the US. I told them about how it works in America and they were equally astounded.

Exchanging stories, ideas, and viewpoints is so critical to developing a contextual understanding of other cultures. Throughout the meal I found myself saying, "Wow," and thinking, "I can't wait to share this information with my students back home...maybe this will inspire them to view their education a bit more favorably." (Or at least do a little homework once in a while!)



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