I signed up for a middle school tutoring program, and Alice is my student, or scholar. Our task is to read a book together, which would help her to improve reading skills. I expected that we would talk about the book or her school in our free time. But we ended up talking about China most of the time when we were not reading. It seems that nobody has really talked about China to her. I happen to be the one to inform her and introduce her to China, just open up her world a little bit. Alice asked me the following questions:
What is a Chinese school like?
We have classes like American schools. We usually have Chinese, math, English, science, and history as our core classes.
Do you have recess?
No, we don’t; but we have a ten minute break between every class. We also have a lunch break from 12pm to 2:30pm.
Do you have dance?
No, we don’t. Our school is more academically oriented. We also don’t really have sports teams either.
How do you dress?
Uhhh… We wear uniforms at school. It’s like a polo shirt with sweatpants; it’s kind of ugly. But outside of school, we dress like kids here- T-shirt, leggings, jeans… It’s pretty similar. And no, we don’t wear traditional Chinese clothes often. In fact, I don’t even own them.
What is technology like there?
For big cities, it’s like America, People use iPhones and iPads. We don’t have Wi-Fi in school, or in public space. Recently, there has been an effort to install Wi-Fi in public spaces like libraries. In the deep mountains or the less developed places, people might not even have access to electricity.
So is life in China pretty similar to America?
Yeah, the fundamental things are pretty similar, but the food is very different.
Now, instead of focusing on her middle school world or her community all the time, maybe she would occasionally remember that there are Chinese kids of her age that are living a similar but also different life compared to hers. They also go to school, they also have the same core classes, but they don’t have recess or dance. And they have to wear the ugly uniforms.
I just added a little something to Alice’s world.
At the same time, she added something to my world too. With three words.
I once asked her if there was a particular high school, she would like to attend. Alice mentioned a private high school. And somehow, she mentioned that her sister, who is now a senior, was not accepted to that school. “She got rejected.” Alice said.
While many of us are complaining about HB’s course load, few of us would remind ourselves that private school selects people. There are people who wanted to get this education but can’t. They are as intelligent, and have the same potential as we do. But for one reason or another they can’t get into the school they want. Maybe their middle school didn’t prepare them well, maybe no one guide them through the admission process, maybe no one tell them to prepare for ISEE and write the admission essay carefully, or maybe their family cannot afford the tuition.
We hate to admit it, but we have to. There are inequalities in this society. Inequality in education resources and thus inequality in opportunities. It is just not fair. And this happens to the fourteen-year-old who is applying to high school, and even earlier.
So Alice opened up my world a little bit. Now when I think of high school, I remind myself of social inequality. Some of us take going to HB for granted, forgetting that people struggle to get the education they want. We have such great resources in HB, but just a few miles away other students never have such great opportunities.
So after all, volunteering helps us, the selfish, narcissistic “me me me generation”, to start looking at the people outside our bubble. To start thinking, and caring about others.