The notorious semester abroad, which often amounts to a highly condensed period of drunken debauchery and eternal friendships, has pulled a great many students from childhood into full-fledged adulthood in just a few months. Now, foreigners are coming to Dongguan University of Technology (DGUT) at Songshan Lake, with the first batch of students already in place. Would they be wild and rambunctious or focused and studious? We spent a night at the dorms to find out.
Stopping just outside the gates of the university, we casually strode through the security checkpoint and we were in. The first thing we noticed upon entering campus was the sheer size of it all. The place is huge, with countless buildings punctuating the more naturalistic skyline. Crowds of Chinese students were out playing sports, walking around or presumably heading to one class or another. The familiarity of the scene was surprising in its resemblance to any rural college in the West.
As we waited for the student coordinator, Katherine Luo, to meet us, we surveyed the area: thick gardens, ponds and a pleasant breeze gave a profound sense of tranquility. The dirty, concrete installations with choking trees in Dongcheng were already a distant memory.
Somehow, the East always seemed so mysterious and different. Like peering into a carnival mirror, everything I imagined I’d see was going to be somehow distorted and strange, and of course, everything looking back at me would feel the same.
After a quick bite to eat at one of the campus restaurants, Katherine brought us over to the international student dorms. They appeared to be quite new, and judging by the collection of buildings, the school has big plans for this program. Indeed, this first group of individuals will do much to set the bar and standard for many future students who will someday spend time at this school.
As we exited the elevators onto the only floor currently housing these particular students, we heard loud voices enunciated by carefree laughter. It felt good to be back in this lax environment.
After turning a corner and passing by a few closed doors, we stopped in the threshold of a very typical looking dorm room with about 10 pairs of female Thai eyes gleefully staring back at us.
“Okay, who wants to tell me a bit about what you’re doing here in China,” I asked to a room that responded with nothing, but nervous laughter and muted conversation.
Over the course of my own college career, I was fortunate enough to twice study abroad, but only in Western countries situated not far from eachother. Somehow, the East always seemed so mysterious and different. Like peering into a carnival mirror, everything I imagined I’d see was going to be somehow distorted and strange, and of course, everything looking back at me would feel the same.
I had heard about the seriousness of Chinese education and the absence of savage parties, and wondered if these standards would also have permeated into the daily lives of the new foreigners who would come from backgrounds similar to mine. When in China, do all live as the Chinese do?
“Where I study back home, we usually have four hours of classes per week, with theory and then practice. Here in China, theory is just two hours. For the Chinese students, it’s really important to practice, practice, practice. They are hardworking and expect that from you, too,” ?aneta Ku?arová, from Slovakia, later told me.
Looking for answers
We bashfully made our way into the room filled with giggling girls and I began to ask more direct questions about their experiences. After only a few minutes of effort, this approach also seemed futile and we quickly decided to move our meeting to a nearby café.
After ordering drinks, we sauntered upstairs and grabbed a big table where conversation began to unfold. I asked them things like how had they found the program and why had they been interested to come here.
“I chose DGUT because of its location in Dongguan, or the factory of China. This city is moving fast and it’s ready to open its doors to internationalization,” said Italian student, Carlo Sperandei. A Thai pupil, Surarak Tangthanang, also offered a similar opinion, “I think DGUT is famous in Dongguan because of its advanced technologies.”
Over the course of the night, lots of opinions were shot around and many had to do with the prevalence of industry and growing technologies at Songshan Lake and the larger Dongguan area. Perhaps this is why the school isn’t focusing as much at drawing students to the more centralized Guancheng facility.
“We know that the Guancheng campus might be more convenient for Dongguan residents, but it’s a small site and might not be up to the standards of a Chinese university. We hope that our students are not only learning Chinese here, but are also immersed in the environment of a Chinese university,” said Professor Liu Jihong, longtime university educator and Deputy Dean of the program.
The party for which I was perhaps futilely waiting, never really came to pass. I should have seen it coming when the café didn’t even serve Tsingtao. Still, there was class the next morning at nine, so we couldn’t be too naughty.
It was an interesting and enlightening discussion about their various desires and needs. The party, for which I was perhaps patiently waiting, never really came to pass. I should have seen it coming when the café didn’t even serve Tsingtao. Still, there was class the next morning at nine, so we couldn’t be too naughty.
Speaking with the boss
Painfully bright and early the next day, I discovered my phone had died during the night after falling asleep with it in my hand and not on the charger. Plugging it in, I tensely waited for the device to boot up and show me a time that I secretly hoped would be too late to attend classes. The screen flickered and the hour appeared: 8:50 am. I would have to go back to school.
Once again picked up by Katherine, we were able to hitch a ride with Professor Liu. Arriving to the International Studies building, we sat down and listened while she described a few interesting anecdotes about the program.
“Right now, it’s totally different from teaching Chinese 30 years. At that time, our Chinese teachers’ and students’ English skills were pretty poor. It therefore forced [international students] to live in a purely Chinese environment. After half a semester, their Chinese levels improved rapidly. Now our Chinese students’ English is a lot better and so they can all speak with the exchange students. This explains why there is now less rapid progress after two weeks of Chinese education,” Professor Liu offered on the tradeoff between comfort and productivity.
As the school tries to build both its national and international prestige, greater and greater numbers of foreign students are important to help the institution update and modify its standards to rival the best of their academic competitors.
“This program will certainly improve our capability in running a school and also boost the communication and exchanges between us and other international schools and students, as well as, broaden our students’ international vision. Really, this is our core value,” she crucially explains.
Class is Now in Session
After the top brass got tired of our meddling questions, we were brought into a Chinese course to learn elements of the language that seemed to be considerably more advanced than paying the bill, offering taxi directions and saying “hello.” I was told that there is also a business class, in addition to the Chinese language course, for those individuals who intend to stay for a more substantial degree.
Precisely what you would imagine a classroom environment in your home country to be like is exactly what we found here. Some enthusiastic students raised their hands and offered answers, while others used their rigid desk surfaces as pillows. There were videos, songs and vocal repetitions and throughout it all, I was ashamed for my own pathetic knowledge. Luckily, there was no pop quiz.
Precisely what you would imagine a classroom environment in your home country to be is exactly what we found here. Some enthusiastic students raised their hands and offered answers, while others used their rigid desk surfaces as pillows.
During a break, I noticed that all the people gathering outside were foreigners, which is normal in foreigner-filled environment, but inevitably monotonous. It turns out that many of these students also have ample interaction with Chinese students.
“The Chinese people are so good. We can talk with them just like a friend and they are also ready to talk with us. They can teach us anything we don’t know how to do or want,” said Thai national, Narttida Tansiri.
Michal Polakovsky from Slovakia agreed.
“I like to talk to them. They think and live differently and have fun in unique ways, but they are always kind and helpful. It’s a pity that more of them don’t speak better English. I wish they did because every friendship hides a new story,” he told me.
Still, it’s not just studying and meeting new people that occupy these adventurous students’ lives. They take part in monthly excursions to nearby cities or interesting places around Dongguan, like the museums in Humen Town.
There are also plenty of sports activities, like Chinese martial arts, in addition to many different clubs available to join freely.
“If you’re interested in study and sport, being a student here will be so good. After class, you can see everybody playing sports and participating in activities at the student center for clubs,” said Pudpicha Pisitsuntikul, who’s also from Thailand.
Carlo further explained, “At DGUT, there are a lot of unions from skateboarding to dancing and singing to running or cooking. These all give opportunities to better get to know lots of Chinese culture and to prove yourself in many different things.”
The school expects more and more international students with each coming semester and if this first foray into accommodating foreigners from diverse and faraway lands is to be any indication for the future, then surely, good things are to come.
For more information on the Chinese and degree programs at DGUT, send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put you on the right path to exposing yourself to a whole new world of Chinese culture.