How I visited a very rural school in China

A few days later we were on the train to go visit a school we know absolutely nothing about putting all of our trust into a teacher I met for only a few hour.

A little bit about my Chinese friend that I met on the train

I met Shi Xiao Ping, the Chinese friend I am referring to, while traveling to Xi’an with all of my exchange friends. We were too stubborn, or too poor at the time to afford sleeper class train tickets. Instead we decided to make a 12 hour over night journey by train, sitting on hard seats. We were surrounded by people that were standing for the entire 12 hours.

Yes, China has “standing” tickets where you can ride on the train for a very insignificant amount and sit in the isle or stand for 20 hours at a time.

The train cart was also full of sacks of potatoes, or other miscellaneous food, and chickens.

She however cannot live with her husband for more the forty days a year because she is a teacher at the rural school that is three hours away from the main city of Lanzhou.

During the weekends she stays at the house of her mother in law in Lanzhou and during the weekdays Monday to Friday she comes to the school and lives with the children. This year during the winter break she will be looking for a job in Xi’an to join her husband but jobs in the cities for teachers are very hard to find.

Trip to the rural school in Gangsu Province

A few months later, with only a few text messages exchanged between my teacher friend and I — Marjorie and I finally set out on our trip to visit the Minle Middle School in Gangsu Province.

The view of the rural village and farm lands in December.
The schools main building.

Three buses later, with chickens running up and down the isles and curious glances from the locals, we arrived at the school.

When Marjorie and I arrived at the school we realized that we were there the first white people that the kids have ever seen and the first foreign friends to visit the school.

Our wonderful friend — Shi Xiao Ping and her students at the school.

Every time our plate was empty our teacher friend would fill the plates with more food. We didn’t pick any of our own food.

This was one of the most delicious dinners I have ever had. The teachers asked if we were ok with them talking during dinner, because in traditional Chinese families you don’t talk while eating. It is also part of the tradition for the most important guest to start eating first and everyone must wait for the guest to finish eating his or her food before starting to eat themselves. This is why our plates were filled first and our teacher friend asked us for permission to start eating.

Our accommodations for a few days.
Marjorie washing her hands.

Inside the dormitory which was located on the first floor in a building that slightly resembled a concrete shack we had a basin with hot clean boiled water. The students rushed to prepare the coal and wooden stove for us so we could have a way to keep warm while we slept.

The weather outside was absolutely freezing cold but the entire atmosphere of the room was cozy and welcoming.

At night Marjorie and I slept in the same single bed, fully clothed for warmth, head to toe in opposite directions for extra room.

The bed where Marjorie and I slept. Usually this is where two teachers live Monday to Friday.

The bathroom was outside and consisted of holes in the ground where you could absolutely see everything if you looked down.

There were about four holes in the ground, so you absolutely shared your personal business with the person beside you.

Sitting around with the girls in their dorm was a beautiful moment. The lights went out signalling that the girls should go to bed, but instead they turned on their night lamps and sang us songs in the dark.

I felt like we were having a secret sleepover and the whole experience reminded me of camp with one exception ­– a foreign location where I knew absolutely no one but Marjorie.

  • The children go to school between 7:00 am and 12:00 pm and between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm. They also study a subject of their choice in a classroom between 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm.
  • All of the children live and study at the school from Monday to Friday. They go home to visit their parents on the weekend. However, it is too time consuming for the kids to travel to school everyday.
  • The government sponsors breakfast for every child living in the rural area which includes an egg and milk.
  • Even though China has a one child policy most children in the region we visited have a brother or a sister.
  • The children are between 13 and 17 years old and spend three years on average in the school until they graduate and go to High School.
  • The children play volleyball, ping pong and basketball during breaks and also take turns cleaning up the yard and school.
  • The children sing and memorize songs about friendship, Mother China and their love for their family.
  • The school holds a ceremony every Monday and Friday to raise and lower the Chinese flag.
  • Most Chinese girls from this area get marries at the age of 27 if they go to University and at the age of 23 if they don’t pursue a higher education.
  • The teachers at the school have 40 days of vacation a year.
  • The Spring Festival is the most important day of the year where people gather with family and eat traditional dumplings



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Angelina Fomina

Angelina Fomina

I’ll help you do the work you love! Product Manager — Facebook, Oculus VR, Shopify.👇Free product management course