China Exchange 2017

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This page will answer questions commonly asked by students and parents.
  1. What is school like?
  2. What is the food like?
  3. What has been surprising or unexpected?

What is school like?

School is great. Everyone is so kind. We feel like superstars. The teachers are so helpful.

We do not take the regular schedule that the Chinese students take. We get to take the arts and physical education and we take English and Mandarin. English and PE are with our Chinese siblings. Some of the arts are with classes of kids at the primary school. Mandarin is special just for us.

Girls and boys are very separate for physical education. We do not change clothes and shower. We just wear our uniforms because they are like track suits. The boys do more physical stuff. The girls stand in lines and do ball drills. We get to take many cool Chinese arts classes. One is called Handicrafts. We use colored silk and learn knot tying to make beautiful projects. We also take calligraphy and learn to write Chinese characters in ink. We also take something where we are carving characters into marble blocks and inking them to make stamps.

Lunch is good. There are at least 3 options. There are different areas to get your food. There are always chicken, rice, and some kinds of noodles. There are also hot options. Lines are long but our Mandarin teacher sometimes lets us go a bit early. There are NO drinks of any kind. But the Chinese people get soup and drink soup at their meals. They also drink a yogurt drink a lot. We bring our water sometimes. We bring a little kit with a spoon, fork, and chopsticks every day. There are no disposable utensils.

We get an hour and a half for lunch. So after we eat, you can play basketball, hang out with friends, catch up on work, etc. Every class is 40 minutes and then there is a ten-minute break. We stretch, run around, talk to friends. It is cool. After 4 you can go outside or go to clubs in the primary school or work in our room to finish things. Sometimes we go out- to a local store to get a snack or to the mall. We meet our Chinese siblings at 5:40 to go back to our homes.
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What is the food like?

When you eat in China, there are usually a lot of different dishes that are shared. Every meal is like a buffet. We only get small bowls or plates. You do not get your own separate meal. Everyone uses their chopsticks to pull some of the food out of the shared bowls into their little plate. But there are not usually serving spoons to dish a bunch on your plate. For some reason the rice here tastes better than American rice. There is rice or noodles at almost every meal.

There is not usually a MAIN dish like turkey or steak or lasagna. There are usually lots of different dishes. They might have pork and chicken and fish all at the same meal but cooked in different sauces and way. Dumplings are popular, but not as common as we expected. They are filled with pork and lamb and vegetables. Mostly the meat is small pieces mixed into a dish. It is not a full piece like a chicken breast. Except they do serve whole fish. And fish has the whole body- heads, tails, skin, and bones. But you can use your chopsticks to pull the meat from the bones. Chopsticks are easier to eat with than we thought.

They do not drink cold drinks here. But they do eat cold foods. Some foods you are not used to eating cold are cold, like noodles -and sometimes the meat is eaten cold. Water is usually hot. People drink warm and hot water and think cold drinks are bad for your stomach. There are no water fountains at school like the kind we know- but there are rooms with faucets that give warm and boiling water. You have to use a special card for the boiling water. We often drink bottled water.

There is often a lot of food around. Homes have tables with fruit out and often small snacks. People leave food on the tables after meals so you can have it later if you get hungry. There are lots of foods here you have never heard of before and that we do not often see in America like mangosteen and guiyuan. Oh and there are these oranges that look really ugly but they are super sweet and wonderful- they taste like giant clementines.

Breakfast is often leftovers from dinner. There might be eggs but pan fried or hard-boiled. Often people will take the leftovers from dinner, mix it with rice, and put a fried egg on it for breakfast. The families notice what we like and give us those things more often. There is fruit like oranges. One breakfast is called rice congee. It is a really watery broth with rice. Often Chinese people drink bowls of warm milk for breakfast.

Refrigerators are small and kitchens are small. Some of our families do not have ovens or stove tops. They have special microwaves that they can use like an oven too. They also have many special appliances like steamers and rice cookers.

There are tons of interesting snacks. There are things that look like American foods, but they taste a little different for example Oreos and potato chips. There are little muffins that are so soft they come apart like cotton candy and there are sesame seeds on top. They call them cakes. They are awesome. There is a drink called Xiaolmingtongxue that we really like. It is lemon-flavored tea. There is this chocolate and vanilla ice cream stick that has oats in it. You would not think this would work but it is really good. It is in every store everywhere. There is a bakery close to school called Holiland. We like the cakes and bread there.

The street food is good. One of our favorites is a kind of pancake that is sold really close to school. They are called Jian Bing. It is like an egg crepe they make right in front of you with lots of spices and it gets folded up and you eat it hot and it is so good! There is a KFC at the mall. We think it is better than in the US. The chicken is better. It is very moist. There is also a Starbucks at the mall. After the first few days we learned how to take the bus to different shopping areas and we go there when we have free time.

There is a place for really interesting food called The Night Market, but we have not been there yet.
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What has been surprising or unexpected?

Schedule changes.
Our school schedule changes constantly. There seem to be a lot of special activities- this year they were making a movie at the school and it changed everything a lot the first few weeks. Sometimes they change the classes to give us a chance to do something interesting like learn soap making or go on an adventure in Beijing. Be ready with your camera every time. Always focus because it might not have another chance to do it or finish the thing. You should be flexible and easy going. You need to be able to be serious but also have fun and willing to go out on adventures. You will step out of your comfort zones.

Be sure to eat breakfast. The students here do not eat during the day at all. They only eat during lunch block- that’s it. Their day is very long. Lunchtime is 12:15 and the day starts at 7 so we got SO hungry at the beginning.

We thought ahead that it would be hard to get used to. Some of our homes have the same kind of showers you might see in America. Others have the traditional showers that are the whole bathroom. You have to turn on the heater and wait for it. The showers are hand held and it comes out cold at first. These kinds of showers have no separate space- they are just part of the whole bathroom. Some of them do not even have curtains or anything. You have to be careful to direct the water so it doesn’t get everything wet. After you shower you use a mop to push the water to a drain. Some of our families insist that we wear shower shoes like flip-flops, but others do not. It really depends on whether your family lives in an older building or a new high rise. Overall, it is no big deal.

One thing that was surprising was how if felt to go off alone with families the first time from the airport. For some of us it was like “Let’s get started!” and it really was not that big a deal? But for some of us it felt awkward at first to be living with strangers. We think it has been easier than other times we’ve been away from home- because we have our Chinese siblings. Pretty quickly it became ok because our Chinese families have become like our own families.

We did not realize how close we would become to the other Wayland students. It helps a lot to not feel homesick that we have this group that gets along and likes each other. One things is that we kind of thought we would be together all the time, but actually we are split up and go to different classes sometimes. On weekends sometimes it is all of us, but other times we go off with just our families.

Squat Toilets:
We had heard of squat toilets and didn’t really know what they would be like. We thought that they would just be holes. But they are tiled and they look like a normal bathroom except the toilet is just in the floor. You get used to it pretty fast. You are not allowed to throw any paper into any public toilets including at the school. Instead there is a basket near the toilet for throwing away the paper. Most houses have western toilets, but for many homes you still are told to put the paper into a basket nearby. All of the western toilets we have seen have 2 buttons- for larger or smaller flushes. Public toilets might be very nice or might be pretty bad smelling just like anywhere. Bathrooms might not have tissue. There is not tissue at school- you have to bring your own. At a lot of public bathrooms there is one big roll shared by everyone- you take some off of it before you go in.
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