Between my apartment and the classroom lies the boy’s dormitory. I go by it often, daily, and sometimes see my students waving to me from their balconies. “Get to class!” I always yell up to them. “You’re going to be late!”
So the buildings are familiar, and yet, I have never been in one before. Not just the boy’s dorms, but any dorms. I’ve been wicked curious, (are they really as small and terrible as I’ve heard?) but I feel like it is too imposing to ask if I can visit them. So when a couple of freshman boy’s asked me to visit them, I only had one question: When?
English language classes are made up mostly of girls. Each class has 30 students, only 4-6 of which are boys. So while the girls tend to make friends with just their classmates, boys are friends with the other boys in other classes. This is perfect because I teach a couple of different classes and the boys were all friends with, and lived with, each other, so I got to check out two rooms.
All the rooms, both boys and girls, look like this: Bathroom, 2 sinks, 2 long desks with 6 chairs, 6 bunk beds and 6 small closets stacked up in two vertical stacks. The room is definitely small by western standards (I would estimate that two people would be in a room this size in the west, not six) but for the most part, it is not bad. In fact, the students actually like being together and get lonely if their roommates are gone.
The other major difference is the beds. You’ll notice in this picture that there are no mattresses:
Instead of a mattress there is a blanket and a bamboo mat. The bamboo mats come out in the summer when the temps heat up. (The bamboo helps them stay cooler during the night.) Even in the top end deluxe hotels in China mattresses are rock hard. It’s a culture thing and I’ve heard that most Chinese people find our mattresses too soft! Of course Ryan and I have a mattress in our bedroom but it’s so hard we have to put a blanket in-between the mattress and the sheet to try to make it a bit softer.
So while I was slightly nervous to go into the boy’s dorm (the dirt! The stinky feet! The toilet that hasn’t been cleaned in months!) the whole thing was really fun. They bought drinks, did a little dancing, and showed off their stuff to me. (It also helped they had four days to clean before I came.) We stood on their balcony for awhile and waved to other (female) classmates.
After hanging in their rooms for awhile, we met a bunch of the girls and went out to the track, a central hangout spot in the school, and played games. At the end of the night, as it started to rain, we lit some lucky lanterns off into the sky to bring everyone good luck.
I have to say I am very impressed with these students. They are freshman, and at the beginning of the year they had a lot of trouble communicating with me. In fact, a few of the same students came to my house last October and needed a junior to translate for them. But now, only 7 months later, they are spending extra time with me, and spending all night talking in English not only to me, but to each other. It makes a teacher proud!
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