Experiencing China

'Experiencing China' is about ordinary life in China and the wealing and dealing of a Dutchman in the Middle Kingdom. Marc works for DuoArts Consultancy and the Empowerment Foundation, travelling between the Netherlands and China.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Total Immersion

Did my homework well! 

Well, I just survived my first week of total immersion. It's fun though. It's international and very diverse. I like that. The following nationalities are present in my class: Americans, French, Germans, Swedish, Fins, Canadians, Kazachstanian and Iranian. In addition, this week I met people from Spain, Italy, Ghana, Israel, Phillipines, Indonesia and, our neighbor, Belgium. Many of them are Chinese as well that were born and raised abroad. The only people you don't get to meet are the Japanese and Koreans. Their presence is rather overwhelming and therefore they don't feel the need to mingle with other people.

How is class like? It's Chinese, obviously! This means that learning is rather different than in Europe or the US. Some cultural history...

In Confucian tradition learning is about a long socialization aimed at copying the skills of the master. This is why the Chinese have so little moral difficulty with copying dvd, sigarettes and other products from the EU and US, although this is changing since China entered the WTO, but that's besides my story. Only until the master level is reached, more or less independent thinking is allowed. This word 'independent thinking' is exactely why Europe and China differ.

Entrance of the Yu Yan University 

On the campus with Tete 

In the West, because of individualism, independent learning is not something regarded as to start once a person is able to copy the master's level, but a way of life. You could call it a coping strategy if you like. If you are able to stand on your feet and regard life critically, you are able to learn. This is probably why young parents praise their child making some terrible looking drawing. It's not about the drawing itself, but about independency.

As a result, Western students are allowed to argue or differ in opinion with their teachers. Discussion at universities promote independent thinking and learns you how to become persuasive and well grounded. In China, you are not allowed to argue or to question the teacher. It is just like you can't question the governments policy here. Teacher's way of teaching or government official's policy in many occassions means 'infallible' teaching or policy (I don't know if 'infallible' is written properly).

Our class therefore mainly consists of drilling the lessons. When class begins the teacher says: Nimen hao! (Good morning) or Xuesheng hao! (Good morning students) and we have to reply in choir: Laoshi hao! (Good morning teacher) or Nin hao! (Good morning in the polity form). Then the drilling starts and will continue for 4 hours (with small breaks though). By imitation we have to learn how to write the characters, use the proper pronunciation, and combine the newly learned words into different sentences. This last aspect is the most creative one.

At Wu Dao Kou with Catherine and Alex 

I must admit, for learning a language, this is a fine way. Already after one week I was able to order some dishes in a restaurant (a colleague of mine is visiting) and ask for the price. So, in a way this system of learning works too. In everyday class, the way of teaching in many occassions leads to laughter. Many Chinese sounds are pronounced in such a way that by pronouncing them, you sound like an imbicile. But because of the character of this language study, that is, total immersion, I think I will long for the weekend every day. It's rather intensive.


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