Molly went to an arts high school, which is a different experience from most Chinese students, but in some ways better. Because she was a musician, she didn't have to cut her hair like a boys, which is what my other high school students have to do. Apparently wearing your hair as you want is an expression of creativity that is necessary for art students. Of course, if the contrary is true, what does this day about those students who are forced to cut their hair? They aren't allowed to be creative?
In addition to stifling creativity, the school is heavily involved in the student's life. All students in high school are forbidden from dating. If a student is found to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, he or she will be kicked out of school. Even Molly, who is goes to a university in Beijing, has still never had a boyfriend or been on a date. And don't even ask them is they've ever been to a party or done anything fun in their lives. It's all school, school, school.
Karen has extremely short hair, not by choice, but because her school demands it. She just started high school, and this weekend she'll be moving into the dormitories across town. Her school day will begin at 6:00am and end around 9:00 or 10:oopm. These are just the hours she will spend in class, learning. She will have three hours on Sunday afternoons to visit her family, who lives only twenty minutes away, or, more likely, catch up on homework. In her dormitory, she will not be allowed to have a cell phone, computer, or MP3 player. There aren't even outlets available to charge electronic equipment. Karen is really excited because she received special permission from her school to spend Thursday and Saturday nights with me learning English from 6:00-9:00pm. This means that for two nights a week she can leave the school and spend the night at home.
Summer vacation is only about two weeks for them, sometimes only 12 days, and yet during this time Chinese students choose instead to take extra English classes at our school, which is why we've been pulling so much overtime. If you only had two weeks of vacation a year, would you spend it taking an intensive language course?
All four of my students are hoping to study at a college in the U.S. or Canada. They all claim that if they work hard enough now, they will be able to enough the relative easiness and calm of being an American college student. I hope for their sakes that they are accepted and can go, because these kids need a break!
Of course, this rigid system explains why the Chinese have a reputation for being so hard-working and intelligent, but it all kind of seems unnecessary to me. If their goal is to study in the states, it seems that they're going above and beyond the necessary to get in. After all, I went to a pretty bad high school (in terms of its ranking in the system), I had friends, boyfriends, family problems, did extracurricular activities, attended school dances, and didn't get straight A's. After all that, I still got into the best public university in the country! Surely these over-achievers can let up a little and still be accepted to a good university? Or maybe times have changed so much and it's much harder for anyone, especially foreigners, to get into college.