By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN From eating Double Stuf Oreos at breakfast to watching Hacky Sack badminton played using one’s feet, Delano Middle School social studies teacher Mark Schramel had an entertaining time in China recently.
“My hosts were nothing short of awesome,” said Schramel, who stayed with teacher Mr. Xi and his family.
This was Schramel’s second trip to Purple Cloud (Delano’s sister school in Tanggu), but his first stay with a Chinese family.
“I didn’t feel as much like a tourist this time,” he said.
Schramel said that China started to feel more like home the longer he was there, but it was definitely different than being in America.
The school day is longer at Purple Cloud, with students arriving at about 7:40 a.m. and staying until 6 p.m. They get a one-hour lunch, and each class lasts about 45 minutes.
The style of education in China is also more “teacher centered,” with lectures in front of a large class of students.
“In the US, we have a learner-centered education, where students are often engaged in projects and small groups,” Schramel said. “We have small enough class sizes to do that.”
Students at Purple Cloud usually remain in the same room, while teachers move around. Since they don’t have their own classrooms, instructors share a spacious central office, where they often meet to collaborate.
Instead of giving individual districts control, directors monitor the school and report to the Chinese government.
The government is selective about the type of information that comes into the country, and no live broadcasts are permitted.
“Facebook is blocked there, and I couldn’t get into YouTube,” Schramel added.
Chinese youth are under a great deal of pressure to excel academically.
In elementary school, they are given a test, which determines which middle school they will attend. Higher-performing children are allowed to attend better-funded schools.
A test is given again in middle school to verify which high school they will attend. Another test in high school determines their college/career path.
“It’s based on a test score,” Schramel said. “You’ve already blown it if you didn’t take your studies seriously in high school.”
On the weekends, Schramel saw several students come to Mr. Xi’s apartment for tutoring, in an effort to get ahead.
“He [Mr. Xi] says he does it to pay for his son’s house, which is something most families do for their only son,” Schramel noted.
Many people in Tanggu live in apartments instead of houses.
“There just isn’t room,” Schramel said.
Mr. Xi and his family, for example, are on the 16th floor of an 18-story skyscraper. There are seven buildings in his complex, and each level has three separate apartments, which they call flats.
Each night after dinner in his home, Mr. Xi walked with Schramel around the large courtyard at the apartment complex. Sometimes a neighbor from an upper floor, Mr. Miao, would join them.
A big, peaceful city
Throughout his stay, Schramel said he was impressed with the behavior of the people in Tanggu. Despite a population of more than 500,000 people, Schramel said the city felt safe and calm.
“They’re a very friendly society,” he said.
Since Mr. Xi’s wife is a librarian at the school and wouldn’t be home on time to make dinner for Schramel in the evening, they invited Mr. Xi’s father in law to stay at the house and prepare meals.
“They really go out of their way to make you feel welcome,” Schramel said. “They bent over backwards.”
One morning for breakfast, Schramel said he was served Double Stuf Oreos, which the family referred to as “biscuits.”
One of the strangest foods Schramel tried was deep-fried sardines at a restaurant.
“I need to talk with Buffalo Wild Wings about getting those on their menu,” he noted.
Frozen lake surprise
During Schramel’s stay, Chinese students got a taste of what life in Minnesota is like, as well.
“Hunting and fishing are kind of out of the question because of space,” Schramel said. Ice fishing was a foreign concept to many of the students.
“The idea of driving on a frozen lake blew their minds away,” he said.
When Schramel showed students pictures of his house in Montrose that he took three days before he left for China, they were amazed at the huge snowdrifts that encircled it.
“Their jaws just dropped,” said Schramel, whose trip was March 4 to April 2.
In Tanggu, which is the same latitude as Kansas, the weather was in the 40s and 50s most days. Schramel said it felt chilly, but it was warm enough to walk to school each day.
In addition to teaching students about education and culture in the US, Schramel also assisted with English instruction.
“Some students spoke English very well; some struggled,” he said. “I was impressed with their knowledge of idioms and slang.”
The relationship with Purple Cloud High School goes back to the early 199
0s, when a teacher from Purple Cloud came to Delano. After that, the schools began a teacher-exchange program.
Six years ago, the schools started to exchange students, as well.
To learn more about the China Club in Delano, click here.