ABC: Why I should’ve stuck with Chinese school


Credit: Elizabeth Zhong

In the latest installment of ABC: American Born Chinese, reporter Jonathan Zhang talks about Chinese school and his regrets about quitting.

It’s Sunday. Other kids may be sleeping in right now, but I’m up at 7 a.m., my laptop open and displaying some poorly animated video that attempts to walk me through a story about a monkey king and a monk while I frantically write the same Chinese character for the tenth time in a row. I look at the time, panicking. My class starts at noon, and I still have too much left to do. I’m in the classic adrenaline induced work rush that results from the usual suspect: procrastination. Only this time, it’s not homework for math or English. It’s homework for Chinese school.

Let me introduce you to a type of school that might seem very familiar yet very different to you. Like any normal school, kids are separated by grade. There’s tests and homework, clubs after school, breaks and eyes watching the minutes slowly tick by. There’s even an accelerated class and a normally-paced class.

School is generally two hours long with a break halfway through. After school, students head to whatever clubs their parents have signed them up for: math club, art club, writing club, chess club and much more. There’s a lot of variety. The only difference is that clubs are essentially just classes, another hour of learning on a Sunday afternoon.

Now here’s where it differs. Each class is taught by a parent volunteer or someone who has teaching experience. Most of these teachers were raised in China and teach the students the same way they were taught in China. This means cold calls, emphasis on memorization and even punishment for not doing your homework.

The biggest difference, though, is that Chinese school is held on a Sunday. That’s right – the weekend. There’s a huge issue with this. Most of the students are kids ranging from elementary to late middle school. The last thing that anyone, especially kids this young, wants to do is attend school on the weekend. As a result, I, like many other of my friends that attended Chinese school, came to hate Chinese school and did whatever I could to get out of attending class.

However, my club soccer games were held at the exact same time as Chinese school, making it so that I couldn’t attend Chinese school any longer. I quit in the middle of sixth grade. This turned out to be one of my biggest regrets.

Don’t get me wrong, I hated Chinese school with a passion. Chinese school turned my Sunday mornings into a period of stress and afternoons into a period of boredom. Even worse, the tests were all insanely hard and, as is done in traditional Chinese schooling, grades were always publicly posted, so everyone knew each other’s grades. This made the school incredibly competitive and embarrassing for me.

Looking back though, I do wish that I stuck with Chinese school. I speak Chinese at home for the most part, so I can understand and speak the language pretty well. However, my reading and writing skills are basically nonexistent. This becomes really frustrating when my parents want to show me a text that my relatives from China sent me, and they have to read it out for me like I’m a toddler.

Not only is it humiliating, it also makes me feel less Chinese and out of touch with the rest of my family. I try to live my life without regrets. It’s something that I think is really important because we only have a limited amount of time on this earth. Unfortunately, I will always have to ask myself: “why didn’t I just stick it out for a few more years?”

If you’re reading this and still go to Chinese school, first of all, well done. It’s not easy giving up your Sundays for hours of stress and boredom. Second, don’t stop, no matter what. Take it from someone who quit and regrets it, it’ll be worth it.