Studying at the Civil Aviation University of China (CAUC) or Mínhángdàxué is so easy but so hard. It really is a mixed bag of emotions. The good days are amazing, the bad days are awful and there is no “in the middle just normal feeling”.
CAUC is located on the outskirts of Tianjin, a city of 18 million inhabitants, by bus it takes approximately an hour to reach the center, which means we don’t get to enjoy the city that much and spend most of our time on campus. The University counts around 25 000 students which is basically like a small town! However it only counts 5 foreign students, 2 from Mongolia, 2 from Korea and … me. Before I came here, I was told I would live in the foreign student building which led me to believe that there was a true foreign student community, but truth is the foreign student building turned out to be half of a corridor! To be honest there actually are 3 other foreigners, from France, but their status is “intern” and not “student” so they get to live in one of the hotels on campus. Now that makes 8 foreign students!
As you have guessed by the name, the university specializes in civil aviation. The Uni is made of different colleges in which student follow different courses. There are the pilots, the airhostesses, the ATC (Air Traffic Control) students, the Engineering students, the Language students, etc. My college is called SIAE which stand for Sino-European Institute for Aviation Engineering. It was created in partnership with French engineering schools and follows a French system with 2 years of “prépa” and 3 years of engineering (+ a whole year of French to start). Lessons are given in French, English or Chinese. I follow the master’s level structures and materials option with the last year students.
Chinese students have really strict rules at Uni. The one that shocked me the most and keeps annoying me every time, is that they have a curfew! At 10:30 pm sharp all dormitories close which means that if you’re not inside you are locked outside which may be fine in the summer but turns out be bit a problem considering current winter temperatures. Depending on which college you study at and which year you are, rooms are even checked to make sure that you are there. Moreover they are regular checks in the dormitories to verify hygiene or whatever.. monitor what people own. At CAUC students share their rooms between four people, in rooms that are probably around 10 square meters and don’t have showers! Students go to the swimming pool or elsewhere to shower, in restricted timeslots (no way to shower in the morning for instance). Depending on their option, some follow quite a military lifestyle. That is to say that they only go from one place or one class to the other in ranks, with one of the students counting the rhythm YI ER YI – YI ER YI – YI ER SAN SI !!!! (121-121-1234!!) I remember being woken up by this every morning in the beginning when I got here aha!
It is clear that Chinese student culture is very different from the western one (probably because of all these stupid rules). In China, students don’t party, students study! It seems that going to the pub (do not even mention clubbing, that’s out of line) is considered to be, I don’t know how to put it, a bad thing to do. There is a general belief among students that it is extremely dangerous, that only “evil people” go to pubs and thus they don’t even consider going. My personal experience of Chinese pubs however is that they are super clean, safe and nice; and I dare them to go to some pubs in France! Truth is that the people who tell me this have never been to the pub. Like never ever!
Now this doesn’t mean that they don’t do anything, or don’t have any fun (though having fun is probably not their main activity), they have other hobbies. It is very common here to go to the restaurant because it is extremely cheap, Chinese people are huge karaoke lovers and the students participate in on campus activities such as different competitions (singing, speaking, talent..) or sports (basketball is very popular) or language clubs etc. Although I do have the impression that their main free time activity is to play video games and watch movies!
As much as it pains me to say this, because I really like my Chinese friends as they are so sweet, nice, interesting and funny etc. and this really isn’t a critic to them personally, but gosh student life is sooooooo boring here! Fun stuff happens one’s in a while don’t get me wrong, 3 weeks ago was the final concert of the University’s singing competition I participated in and it was a huge production and great fun! However most of the time nothing happens! Or no one knows that something is happening! It took me 2 months to find the female volleyball team because no one knew about it! And to be honest they even manage to make the volleyball training boring, like one hour warm up, one hour attacking, one hour serving.. Every week the same, it’s unthinkable!
To make things worse, this week the Chinese communist party is coming to check the university. It is like a general evaluation of the state of things to decide of the future of CAUC. And this means Uni is going to be prison for a week! As a foreigner, I was not really given any special rules to follow, but here is a text message I came across on one of the group conversations I am part of :
The following message is a notice of some things that you should pay attention to during next week’s review :
During the week, Sunday night to Thursday, everyone should be on campus 24/7 and should be reachable at all times as you may be called in anytime to participate in small evaluations/meetings by party members. You should never let your guard down.
Get up every morning at 7 am. You will be checked on. After getting up you should hurry to get ready. Even if you don’t have class you are not to stay in your dormitory but to go study.
If you really want to stay in your dorm and don’t want to go to self-study, while in your room you can’t, : play computer games, be on your phone, sleep. If you are in the bedroom you should make sure you leave the door open so you can be checked on at all times.
During evaluation week, ordering take away food to your room is forbidden. Also you can’t bring food back from the canteen.
Between 6 pm and 9:30 pm do not play computer games.
In the morning have your breakfast before class, you can’t snack in class. Nor can you grab your breakfast and walk on campus while eating.
Don’t play on your phone in class, don’t sleep, don’t snack…
I mean: what? You can’t eat and walk on campus? What. I don’t know if I need to comment any further on how the notion of freedom or the concept of personal space is basically inexistent. And this is sort of colliding with my beliefs, if you know what I mean.
Fortunately as foreigners we are not concerned by these rules. We get to go out and come home whenever, I definitely intend to continue to live normally this week and from what I know no one comes to check my dormitory! Being an exchange student is always going to be fun. Fitting into a society which’s rules and dynamics you don’t agree with might just be a little hard.