Student Life - China Style

I think China has blocked my blog. I hope it’s not because I dissed Eat, Pray, Love. Also, my VPN - the thing that lets me look up illicit blocked webpages - is down. Actually, the only thing I look at is Facebook but now I feel cut off from the world because I have no idea who got engaged, who is hungover or who took photos of their dinner. The religious quotations and political opinions I could do without - the dinner photos, however, are fascinating.

It’s just as well China has cut off my access to Facebook (and lots of news sites but I don’t notice that so much), I should be studying instead. I am, after all, a student again. As of this week, I am a student in Shanghai Jiaotong University where I am pursuing competency in Chinese - I may be there for some time. According to Wikipedia (which I never doubt) the university is renowned as one of the oldest and most prestigious and selective universities in China (sounds like they might have written that themselves…). Notable past attendees of SJU include Jiang Zemin (former President of China), Luc Montagnier (a Nobel Prize Laureate for the discovery of HIV) and Ding Junhui (China’s top snooker player).


This is my third time attending University and I’m discovering that, in many ways, it’s all pretty much the same experience. This being China though, in other ways, it really isn’t.

Similarities between my Irish and Chinese University experiences:

  • There are a lot of nineteen year olds floating around the place. One of my new classmates told me how he had just ‘graduated high school’ last year (although it vexes me that Americans insist on graduating from school and don’t just leave noiselessly the way the rest of us do).

  • I have already rekindled my doodling skills and, this afternoon, produced a convincing bunch of daisies in the margin of my listening comprehension book.

  • While there is not a ramp on which people hang about posturing, there is a back stairwell where the Asian boys gather to smoke beside windows that they refuse to open. It seems Asian boys are the only people left who still smoke. Even the French have given up.

  • There’s a lot of preening and make-up adjustment in front of the mirrors in the ladies’ bathrooms. The giggling masses are now comprised of Korean teenagers who look like dolls rather than Irish teenagers who look like hookers - it’s the same vibe though.

  • I was given a student handbook during my first week. It outlined the history of the university, the ethos and the rules. The rules are a bit more far-reaching than I would have expected e.g. “students should not stay up late” and also a little more specific, e.g “students should not disseminate erotic, counter revolutionary material”. Ok then.

That’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Differences between my Irish and Chinese University experiences:

  • I actually have to work. Twenty hours of classroom lessons a week plus another 20-30 hours of extra study just to keep up. Also, there are no G&T breaks when studying in the library on a Wednesday afternoon.

  • There’s very little alcohol in general. I’d like to think this is because I’m pregnant but, really, it’s because it’s China. I’m fairly sure ‘no drinking’ is in the handy rule book too.

  • The chairs are really uncomfortable and built for midgets..sorry, petite Chinese frames. It would actually be difficult to make a more uncomfortable chair without involving shards of broken glass. I’m starting to wonder if I’m actually at a re-education facility. After four hours with my legs crammed under the desk at a funny angle and my spine wedged against a rod of metal - I’m ready to stop disseminating all that erotic, counter revolutionary material.

  • It’s hard to get a seat in the study room because all the Koreans use it to nap,

  • It is I who am the mature student. I’m trying to revolutionize the species. I don’t ask too many questions. Sometimes I don’t do my homework (not really) and I try not to sit in the front row. I usually manage row 2, maybe row 3…the pull of the front increases with age.

  • I am unlikely to marry one of my classmates.

  • The toilets are the hole-in-the-ground type. It’s interesting. I had a unique experience there last week with a pregnancy bump on the front and a bag full of text books on the back. My squatting skills will be so much improved by the end of the semester that I imagine I will be able to compete for Ireland in Olympic women’s weightlifting. Do they have a maternity category?

  • It’s ugly. Now I know most places are ugly compared to Trinity but I’m comparing it to UCD here. It looks like toilet, even on the outside. It’s ugly and dirty…but at least there’s heat, sometimes.


According to Jiaotong’s website, the campus looks like this:
Shanghai-Jiaotong

However, the bit I see every day looks like this:
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You should all be thankful I didn’t take a photo of the toilets. Instead, here’s a China-centric world map. Who knew Ireland was so close to falling off the edge?
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