Day 56: Academics in China

Selling the Devil

Originally uploaded by ryanocerosk.

The study abroad office at Middlebury estimates that 60% of all Middkids study abroad. That’s fantastic. But what compels our students to leave the home institution? Answer: it’s a break, a respite from the complicated and academically-challenging life of being a Middlebury student. You may be pulling an all-nighter in Spain, France, Argentina, or South Africa but it won’t be spent typing papers and doing homework.

The exception: the Middlebury School in China (SiC). From the first week of classes, I can tell that studying here is no joke. It matches Middlebury pound-for-pound on academic load. Why is China different? Because education is the culture. By having hard academics, you experience the Chinese culture of putting lots of pressure on students to do well. Here’s the rundown of classes:

One-on-One Class
A self-designed tutorial that is the signature course at SiC. Essentially, you pick the topic and the folks here find you a teacher. My topic is Chinese education and creativity. Although I was basically told straight up that the Chinese simply don’t teach “creativity” in school (I don’t see how you “teach” that anyway), Chinese education system and curriculum is fascinating. It’s a window into the culture because the Chinese value education so highly. I’m already struggling in this class because it’s you and your teacher and you have no excuses or esecapes for not doing your work.

One-on-Two Speaking Class
This class forces you to work on conversational Chinese. Essentially, you and one classmate practice pronunciation in particular. You get a dialog each week which reviews a practical Chinese situation (hotels, taxis, restaurants, etc.) and provides you with vocabulary. Some see this as the most boring class and other view it as the most useful for living in China. I’m undecided so far.

Newspaper Reading
This elective course focuses on current events. Last week focused on the Olympics, for example, and you learn the key terms that are most used in newspapers. No doubt reading newspapers counts as a very authentic and therefore can be really hard. You don’t get dumbed down versions of articles. You get the real thing. I prefer this course to “social issues” which is a more scripted version of current events.

Business Chinese
Middlebury doesn’t offer this back home but it is a fantastic course so far that pinpoints case studies in overseas companies coming to China. Hopefully we’ll get to the point of studying domestic companies too but for now KFC, Starbucks, and IKEA are first up. We study important business terms and the successes/failures of the companies in China. With an 800 word essay and presentation each week, this is the most demanding (minus maybe the one-on-one) course but also the most interesting.

Picture of the Day: Spring Festival night-scene. A vendor sells the popular light-up devil horns. It was either these or the lighted mickey mouse ears… For 5 kuai a pair, children everywhere were wearing these.


2 thoughts on “Day 56: Academics in China”

  1. That seems like an awfully elitist attitude to take, Ryan. I studied abroad in a place other than China and had a heck of a time (I even pulled all-nighters!) with the workload. What really makes you think that you’re working harder than everyone else?

  2. Whoa…this is a little pretentious Ryan. I worked hard while I was abroad, and I know other Middlebury students who wrote prodigiously (at Oxford) or pulled all-nighters completing design projects at architecture school (in Paris). True, workloads and the nature of assignments vary among C.V. Starr—Middlebury Schools and other study abroad programs, and study in China brings unique challenges and cultural forces.

    Still, how can you claim that no other program demands rigorous study? This post makes you sound petty and ill-informed.

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