From one end of the campus, to the other

Despite the poor quality of the exam this semester (as well as last), one of the things I have noticed, which makes me smile, is when all the students hear the answers and them down, at the same time. For reasons beyond comprehension, there is no question paper for each individual student. Instead, the questions are put on the projector for the whole class to see. I play the recording (only once) and they read the question and answer it. There is a choice – some are multiple choice (A, B, C or D), and some True or False (A or B). If the answer is really easy – where they repeat the exact wording of the questions – watching all the students, in tandem, write the answer on their answer sheet always brings a smile to my face. I am not sure why; I think maybe because I can see their collective minds all working out the answer and they all click at the same time.

Speaking of exams, they have now all finished, and the exams at the end of the week did not get any better – in fact were worse – than those at the start. The exam for my two classes on Friday morning was simply terrible. The group ‘Habitat for Humanity’ was mentioned in some of the questions, and yet the writers of the exam paper could not even spell ‘Habitat’ correctly; instead, they put ‘Habit for Humanity’ throughout the exam.

The fact that exams are finished, however, means that I have also finished teaching for the semester (and year). There are two campuses of my university – the city centre one, where I live, which is small and the original campus, and the newer, bigger, main campus, where I work, out in the suburbs of Beijing. What used to happen was that students would live at the main campus for three years, before moving to the city centre in their final year. But recently, my students have told me next year that will change. Some university departments are moving to the city centre campus, and so those students will all move, whilst other departments will remain at the main campus for the full four years of their degree programmes. This makes sense, I guess, as it is what other universities do (often, medical schools are on satellite campuses, for instance). Yet, most of my students who are moving are not happy. The city centre campus is not nice – it is not as green, nor aesthetically pleasing as the main one – and the classrooms are very old. Yes, the canteen is being rebuilt here, but that is not really a draw since many students do not think the canteen’s food is very good. The one good thing about this campus, however, is location. The main campus is out in the suburbs, and if you want to go anywhere it takes a while to get there, whereas this campus is at least surrounded by civilisation.

Still, one reason so many students are put off, is the fact that the showers are not in the same building as their dorm rooms. Students here share rooms, with four or so students in one room I think. It is bunk beds, with maybe a little desk or study area underneath. Some of the newer accommodation buildings at the main campus have showers on every floor, whilst others seem to only have them on the ground floor (from what students have told me; they complain they have to walk down the stairs – there are no lifts – whenever they want a shower). Yet, at least it is in the same building that they live in. On the campus where I live, the dorms are at one end of the campus and the showers at the other end. In the evenings (here people tend to take showers in the evening, instead of the morning) I will often see students walking across campus with a basket full of toiletries going to or from the showers. What’s more, sometimes outside the library or the main teaching building is a row of baskets which students leave in the morning and collect when they take a shower.

I will probably see the students who are moving to my campus more often than those remaining at the main campus, especially because I will be at the main campus for fewer hours next year. However, I would not like to have to walk across campus, in the winter, when it is bitterly cold, to take a shower.

I will very soon return to the UK, where Brexit is still a contentious issue by many, mostly Conservative politicians, who refuse to acknowledge the (very real) evidence in front of them about the problems of going for a ‘Hard’ Brexit, and also the dangers to many industries and people’s jobs. In one of my last classes before the exam, I gave my students a pub quiz. I have to be careful with which questions they would know (I gave them a quiz last semester but I changed some of the questions for this one). When asked who the current UK head of state is, about half said the Queen, and half Theresa May (or as she is called here ‘Aunt May’). I was explaining to one class why that would never be an answer in a quiz I created, and why I did not vote for her or the Conservatives. One student then asked about Corbyn. This took me aback at first, as UK politics, outside of May and the Queen, is not a familiar topic here. It turns out, this student is on the Model UN at the university, in the British shadow cabinet of 2030 (I do not really understand why they have picked this date). The student was Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, so seems to know a lot about British politics!

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