Letter from the dorm: revisiting my primary school as a university student

By April Xu-xiaoyi, Pomona College in California
By April Xu-xiaoyi, Pomona College in California |

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With 50 pairs of eyes staring at me, I landed on a chair whose smooth texture and tough hardness I once knew so well and placed my non-recyclable lunch box and chopsticks on an equally familiar-looking desk.

Revisiting my elementary school had always been on my agenda. Eight years later, this much-anticipated homecoming felt as surreal as my cheap, non-environmentally-friendly chopsticks. So familiar yet so distant.

Time machine? In fact, I had travelled across time and space, having just flown in from the United States, where I attend college, and inevitably being oh-so-jet-lagged. It was a truly peculiar experience: eating lunch with 50 strangers examining me with their curious eyes. Stranger still was the fact that I felt like my 11-year-old self as soon as I set foot on the school grounds – even though I look like a real adult.

My homeroom teacher, who was also my Chinese teacher for six years, had invited me to speak to her current students – a group of fifth-graders all dressed in uniforms of a slightly different colour than what I wore in my time here. I was to introduce myself, compare and contrast the Eastern and Western education models, as well as answer questions from the students.

Forget the stereotype that Asian kids are shy and reserved. I was surprised myself at the sheer level of enthusiastic participation from across the classroom: while I had expected only a few outgoing students to speak out for their friends, the majority of students raised a question, sometimes even two or three.

“What’s the learning atmosphere like in the US?”

“Do you have exams in America as well? What are they like?”

“How did you get interested in politics? Is it really big in the States?”

“Is racial discrimination serious there? Tell us more about police violence.”

I was delighted to share my perspective. While it is common for high school and university alumni to return to their schools, primary school ‘alums’ are rare. As I reminisced about my time at the school, I pictured a younger version of me sitting in her classroom, listening to a college-age graduate from the school discussing her experience studying abroad. It made me wonder about future that lies ahead of everyone in this group. What a journey it will be!