Noah S. is currently a senior at SYA China and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. He comes to SYA from Robert Louis Stevenson School in California.
Getting out of the taxi outside of Beijing South Railway Station, I felt the steady breeze of cold air. I still hadn’t come to the realization that I was going to stay inside a real Chinese school in Hebei province for five days. I proceeded through security into the station where businessmen, retired folks, and tourists alike boarded trains heading to all parts of the country. As I arrived at the destination, accompanied by my small team of a few peers, two administrators from the school in Hebei came to welcome us to the small city of Cangzhou.
After a short drive we had arrived to Cangzhou Number One High School, where we would board for five days with our Chinese peers. I was quickly picked up by two boys and taken to the classroom where much of my time would be spent for the next five days. I was welcomed warmly by the homeroom teacher who happened to be the class’ English teacher. I introduced myself to the fifty students in my class as 田中: “我叫田中，我从加州来了，谢谢你们的欢迎。”
After classes ended around 5:45PM, I had dinner with my peers. They welcomed me while yelling over each other with excitement and enthusiasm. As soon as I pulled my dining card out, my peers had already swiped their card over the machine. The boy who swiped his card welcomed me formally with the dinner. “沧州欢迎你”
The eight of us sat down to eat. After asking a question or two about my life, everyone stuck their heads down and swallowed the dinner as fast as possible. Before I could even finish the answer to my question, some of them had already finished. I had to quickly swallow and leave to head back to the classroom. The day hadn’t ended. Now from six to ten o’clock was study hall. For four hours after their ten hour class schedule, Cangzhou students do their homework and study for tests.
Finally at ten, it was over. We went to the dorm room where my seven roommates welcomed me with snacks and yoghurt stored just for me.
This first day at Cangzhou showed me what true kindness, humility, and strength looks like when combined in a single person. Although they were neck deep in academic pressure, my Cangzhou brothers seeked to warmly welcome me. None of them talked about how long their day was, nor did they show tiredness. I was amazed, because for the past three years back at home, complaints were the norm. Only now do I see how we are privileged back home.
In Cangzhou student’s lives displayed hardship yet on their faces you could always find some happiness. Looking retrospectively, I realize what caused their happiness: the presence of a ‘外国人’ (foreigner) in their school. I suspect the curiosity sparked from a student different from the sixth thousand spread throughout the masses and this caused a positive aura on campus. I received a lot in terms of understanding how different people learn in different ways, yet I feel that I gave back a lot in the same way to my Cangzhou peers.
A week or so after my experience, I was leaving school at a comparatively early time of 3:30. As I made my way outside the gate, I noticed a vaguely familiar girl talking to my SYA peers in front of the school. She looked somewhat distressed, but I was told to walk on and to not worry about the situation. It caused a lot of curiosity, so a few hours later I asked a classmate what had happened. I discovered that a student from Cangzhou had come to SYA in Beijing to search for help. She had left the dorms to come to us searching for a sanctuary away from an important test. The SYA environment was her safe haven.
It’s interesting to see such an event, considering this student had never come into deeper conversation with any student at SYA. However, even without conversation, our different environment was where she felt most safe to escape from the system. Seeing this, I noticed how different education looks back home versus in Cangzhou. After some conversations with a kind SYA teacher and a few SYA students, she arrived at the conclusion to return home. The student must have felt extreme pressure from the entire system; SYA was the only peephole outside of it. As a group of 外国人 in Cangzhou, we gave our peers a sense of what the world can look like. At the same time us 外国人 found what their world looks like.
If you’re thinking about applying, I want you to think about not only how this experience will change you but how you will change the experience.
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- SYA China