Through our meetings and conversations together, the Albuquerque and Lanzhou students learned a great deal about our similarities and contrasts. We learned how to communicate with people who are growing up in a completely different culture and how to see the world from a different perspective. Below are listed some highlights of the contrasts we talked about during the project that separate and yet also tie us together.
On the Albuquerque side, there were two students who could speak and write Chinese slightly fluently, one that could listen fluently, and three that could not understand Chinese at all. The three students who could understand at least a little Chinese knew some of the language because they were raised with Chinese being a more or less integral part of their family life. On the Lanzhou side, all the students had to learn English in school and therefore all spoke and wrote English slightly fluently. In the United States, we do not have to learn the same foreign language in school. Both teams came up against challenges when trying to explain and translate activities such as billiards or Japanese anime because those words are neither taught in school often nor spoken in the household regularly. But when we met up against these problems, both sides teamed up in a Pictionary game fashion and tried to explain using words we already knew and using our hands to air draw the activity while the other side guessed at what we were trying to say (eggnog was especially hard to describe). Though quite a grueling way to have a conversation over the Internet, this challenge taught both teams how to function and communicate when there are differences in culture and language as well as improve English and Chinese fluency.
Red Envelope Culture vs the Tooth Fairy
On one hand, in the United States, when a child loses a tooth, they put their tooth under a pillow before they go to bed and their parents sneak into their rooms at night to leave some amount of money. Parents usually tell their children that the Tooth Fairy had come to visit them afterwards. On the other hand, in China, on New Year’s Eve, parents would sneak into their children’s rooms and slide the red envelopes with money in them under their pillows. In return, the next day, the children would have to 拜年 (Bai nian – pay Happy New Year respects) to their parents. Although, in decades past, children would get the money after paying respects to their elders on New Year’s Day instead of under a pillow, this new tradition allowed both teams to see an incredible example of modern-day syncretism between two cultures.
The Albuquerque students were super surprised to learn that in the morning, the KFCs in China serve hot soy milk with 油条 (You tiao – fried donut-like sticks without sugar). And not only that, the Chinese KFCs also serve 木耳 (Mu er – black mushrooms), 稀饭 (Xi fan – rice porridge), 粥 (Zhou – congee), and many more dishes specialized for their market.
The Lanzhou students and students across China select a career path early on in their school system and by high school, they are already going to a school that specializes in their field of interest. The Lanzhou students that we worked with had chosen a path of art and design. On top of classes at school, they also take extra art classes with one of the group members’ father, 沈翔老师 (Shen xiang lao shi). In their class, the students often take group trips to scenic places for inspiration and to sketch nature and buildings. In contrast to those in America, most of the Lanzhou students have already started specializing in their career in high school rather than the first or second year in college.
At Albuquerque Academy, there are no school uniforms, just a dress code. In fact, most schools in the United States do not enforce a school uniform. In comparison, most schools require uniforms and most of the uniforms are the same across all the schools in China. There are three to four versions of this common uniform as well, one for each season.
The Lanzhou students’ studies seemed more focused on individual artists and their various styles in art school. They spent a lot of time working on still life and capturing expression whereas the Albuquerque students found that their art teachers gave out assignments one after another with less time particularly focused on learning about particular artists and styles. Projects were given with an overarching theme or open ended goal that gave the Albuquerque students plenty of room to add in their own thoughts and designs into the art piece. Meanwhile, the Lanzhou students spent more time in the studio mastering certain skills such as color palette and realism. Both completely different and valid approaches to teaching art.
School Testing and National Tests
The Lanzhou students described their testing days to start at 8am in the morning and end at 5pm in the evening with lunch served in between. Most students in China all take the same national test. The maximum amount of testing within a day for Albuquerque high school students was approximately two AP tests that are three hours long each with an hour in between for lunch. The day would start around 8am and most likely end by 3pm. And though AP tests are national tests, you can test in many different subjects instead of one test that encompasses all subjects. Though there are tests like that such as the ACT and SAT in the United States. For the Lanzhou students, as art-specialized students, they only have to complete the math and language sections (cutting out chemistry and physics) for their national test (usually taken in June the summer after their senior year). However, as art students, they have to submit their artworks to a national board for review in December of their senior year. In the United States, AP tests are taken anywhere from the end of sophomore year all the way to the end of senior year. The SAT and ACT are usually taken in the months leading up to college applications in the USA students’ senior years. The national tests in China have higher stakes than AP and ACT or SAT tests because it can only be taken once and Chinese colleges rely very heavily on the test scores. In the United States, the national standardized tests are overall decreasing in the level of importance to colleges. Many universities have even gone test-optional.
School with COVID-19
On the accounts of the Lanzhou students, China has opened up completely and all classes will be normal for this coming school year. In fact, they had started going back to normal in around April. Contrarily, each state in the US has different plans, but at Albuquerque Academy, in-person classes have been delayed until Labor’s Day and everything is online until then. If students are allowed to return after Labor’s Day, the school year will be divided into trimesters with two classes per trimester for about two hours long each.
The Albuquerque students’ 2019-2020 winter breaks were about two weeks long, starting on December 21st and ending on January 7th, encompassing Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s. The Lanzhou students’ winter breaks were supposed to be around three to four weeks long, starting on January 23rd and running until mid-February, encompassing Chinese New Year and the Spring Festival.