Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The spartan life of a student

There are between 7 and 10 thousand students at the university, although only the students who started in September are doing university courses. Students are required to live in the dormitories although there are some students who live at home with their families, but they must live very close by. There are only a handful who do not live on campus.

The students mostly live in small rooms with bunk beds. 6 students to a room. There is no heating, no air conditioner for use in summer. So with bitterly cold winter - where it sometimes snows, to the very high heat and humidity of summer the students must endure it without the facilities that most families would have in their own homes.

The students must sleep, and study in their dormitories. There is little room to move.

They must be up early in the morning - in fact the first year students must be on the parade ground for exercises EVERY morning by 6.15 am. The only escape from that is rain or snow! After half an hour of exercise they can go for breakfast.

(Every morning from 6.15 am to 6.45 am we can hear the marching music from our apartment. The students march in formation, and then do star jumps and other basic exercises. The same music every day!)

The students rush back to get something to eat for their classes start at 7.30 am I think. They do have a 2 hour break from 11.30 am to 1.30 pm and many will rush to their dormitories for a sleep. They must be in their dormitories by 10 pm.

They have someone check on them every night too.

I think each dormitory has access to a toilet - a squat one no doubt, but there are no showers. To shower the students take a plastic bowl with their toiletries and a small towel to one of various shower rooms and they can shower there. Boys and girls shower together. Let me rephrase that. The boys and girls go to the same shower room, but I am not sure that they actually 'shower together' although that would not surprise me.

The students do their own washing and must of course keep their dormitories clean and tidy.

The pressure to do well at studies is enormous and it is not unknown for students to have breakdowns or worse. There have been suicides.

The pressure is put on by everyone - their dormitory "mates" put pressure on if they are not working hard, the teacher will put a lot of pressure on, as will the college. And of course their parents, many of whom make a huge sacrifice to pay the fees for their son or daughter to go to college or university. Many students have leadership roles within the class or within the dormitory, and the pressure there is immense too.

One student who is well known to me was "class monitor" which is a highly rated position in the class. She came to me yesterday to tell me she was no longer monitor, as Candy was now the leader. Candy is a highly spirited cheeky girl, but somehow managed to get the support of the rest of the class for a "take over." Some students are stewing over it. Not a nice feeling in the class right now.

There are no cooking facilities in the dormitories - but there are several huge canteens on campus. Some are very basic rice and traditional food. One cooks every meal when ordered by the students (or teachers, as we frequent that one a lot too.)

Can you imagine feeding 10,000 hungry students in half an hour. It is amazing, but they do it day in day out. The students collect their food on an orange tray, collect their chopsticks and a metal spoon, and sit at tables and chairs which are bigger versions of the plastic toy tables and chairs that kiddies play with.

In each canteen there are quite a few staff who clean tables, and clean the trays and organise the cleaning of the plates, chopsticks etc. It is all very efficient and clean.

The students have a lot of choice with their food - if they have the funds. We have a card with credit on it and each time you order food, your card goes on the card reader and funds are deducted in payment. Some students have much more money each month than others.

Some students are on scholarships, and I think some of these come via the Communist Party - so these students seem to have more funds than others.

There is no doubt that some students come from more wealthy families, and I have no doubt that this wealth is used for various privileges on the campus.

They have two big libraries, but Internet access is a challenge here. It is for the teachers, but for us it is free. The students must pay. Some have their own laptops, but many have to queue to use the college computers.

There are many social clubs here - from dance, music, language, photography and other interest groups, so the students have access to many social activities. Most report campus life as a lot of fun, and they certainly make life long friendships with their dormitory mates, or class mates.

Many do not get home often, as their home might be many hours away from Shaoxing.

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