Chinese Exchange students reflect on school differences
October 29, 2018
More than 7,000 miles separate the city of the Terracotta Warriors from the birthplace of the American Revolution that we call home. A group of nine sophomores from Gaoxin No.1 High School in Xi’an, China arrived at the high school in early September as part of the China Exchange program. They will stay for one semester and leave after midterms in late January. Exchange students live in the homes of American host families and study alongside students at the high school. Here are some snapshots of their perspectives:
Billy Liang, sophomore
Sophomore Billy Liang’s first impression of the school was that it’s very friendly, open and flexible. In terms of similarities, Liang remarked on how both high schools encourage development of multiple disciplines. There are a variety of clubs offered at Gaoxin No. 1 High School, including Model United Nations, singing groups, ping-pong, calligraphy and robotics. All students participate in dedicated fitness classes that provide intensive instruction and require students to run, jump, throw balls and strength train together.
According to Liang, a big difference is class size: at Gaoxin No. 1 High School, and most schools across China, there are upwards of fifty people per class, compared to the 20 per class at BHS. He thinks that the American system helps efficiency in a classroom and allows for more personalization in student learning. Liang also said the amount of content and pacing is more approachable at BHS.
“Right now, I feel like I have more time to really digest and critically engage with the material the teacher taught in class,” Liang said.
According to Liang, the atmosphere of classes is more open, and students have more freedom. He likes how active participation and class discussions are encouraged.
“I remember in health class, our teacher made us all sit in a circle, and it was pretty relaxed,“ Liang said, “In China, the classroom was pretty strict, and teachers were more stringent about students moving around in class or speaking when they’re not supposed to.”
Scott Xi, sophomore
Sophomore Scott Xi decided to join the China Exchange program to try something new. According to him, the high schools differ in educational philosophies and ideologies. The structure of classes and school days are also starkly different.
At Gaoxin No. 1 High School, students stay in the same classroom during the day, and instead, teachers rotate. Xi also thinks the smaller class size in Brookline benefits teaching and learning by making the instruction more one to one, which provides more support to students.
Xi finds, for example, that English classes are taught differently. In Brookline, English revolves around a core text and often covers big picture ideas such as the American dream. There are also more class discussions. In China, language teaching is more centered around a textbook filled with articles. A teacher will lead a class through a reading, which they mark up and dissect for understanding.
Students at Gaoxin No.1 High School work rigorously, as it is a competitive, top-tier school with a selective, examination-based entry process. Their schedules are often demanding. According to Xi, students typically go to sleep at 12 a.m. to 2 a.m. and wake up at 6 a.m. In junior and senior year, the school day usually ends at 11 p.m. This includes a lunch break and built-in time to do homework, but the rest of the day is packed. Students also have a full day of classes on Saturday and classes on Sunday morning— Sunday afternoon is the only time they have off.
“The free time we have is really small. So you really have to squeeze in time if you want to read a book, unwind or do other things,” Xi said. “Here, it’s a lot more relaxed comparatively.”
Lillian Li, sophomore
Sophomore Lillian Li is extremely grateful for all the help, care and support she has received during her time in Brookline. She enjoys the dynamic atmosphere and the flexible schedules.
Li was especially surprised by her history class, which employs a lot of creative teaching techniques that she had not witnessed before.
“The teachers were discussing the Stamp Act, and all of a sudden, they started performing a skit. I felt like we were all sucked into their world and brought to that moment. It was shocking, but I think it really helped my understanding,” Li said.
Li also really enjoys the freedom of class selection, and she wants to dabble in a little bit of everything during her time in Brookline. She said she wants to rework her schedule to better suit her interests.
“In the process of switching, my guidance counselor and all my teachers have been super helpful with getting me into classes that I want to be in and with what I want to learn. I think they’re respecting my thoughts and helping me achieve my vision, and I’m really thankful for that,” Li said.
According to Li, at the Gaoxin No. 1 High School, every student has to take the same classes. Li really enjoys how students can develop their individual strengths and interests here in Brookline.
Li is also impressed by the freedom of speech that students have. When listening to the candidate speeches for legislature, she was stunned that students were able to so openly criticize or express grievances about the school.
“It would be impossible for us to get up in front of the school, teachers and administration and say exactly how we felt. We only give praise for what we have and don’t discuss issues. For example, we could never tell a teacher that we feel like we have too much homework,” Li said. “I think it’s really good that we get to be straightforward and share our opinions.”
Note: All quotes from Billy Liang, Scott Xi and Lilian Li have been translated from Mandarin by Yiming Fu.
Photos by Yiming Fu