Waking up on an unfamiliar sofa at 2PM – must’ve been quite a night, right?

Actually, no. I just took a nap on the most comfy sofa I’ve found in China so far, and it’s in the library of my exchange locale, Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).

So why am I napping in the library? Studying Chinese here means that on a couple of days a week I have to get up before 7AM to get to class in time. I sure wouldn’t do that in Finland, but here you have to meet the schedule somehow.

In Finland I wouldn’t sleep in the library either, mostly because I wouldn’t be able to. In Jyväskylä you find the usual lively chatter at computer desks while a few feet away speech communication majors do their groupwork at the round tables. Not to mention the Libri full of humanists jingling their coffee cups.

There’s none of such noise here. BFSU has probably the most quiet library I’ve ever been in, which makes it perfect for sleeping. There’s no coffee shop or a single sign of loud groups working on their presentation.

I’m not alone in my sleeping habits, either: students dozing on couches is quite common, though a much more usual sight is the Chinese snoozing over their desks and books for a short while.


All of this brings us to a broader observation about studying in China. The often-heard stereotype of the obsessed Asian students seems to be at least partly true. You don’t see locals collaborating on presentations or pairwork, they sit at their desk, read and take notes. Of course there are “posers” just texting and watching movies on their laptops, but the mold is the same: everybody does their own thing, no collaboration, hardly no communication either.

I asked my Chinese friend about my observations. He recognized them, having studied a lot more in a group-oriented manner during his exchange year. The reason, as he explained it, is quite simple. It relates to two things: the huge population and the fact that exams are hugely important in China.

The only easy way to evaluate a huge mass of students is standardized tests. Teamwork skills rarely score you points in those. That’s why teachers are teaching and students are studying the exam. Hence the lonely book-oriented approach in libraries, hence the silence in the halls and the perfect conditions for naps.

“We say to the teachers that we should learn from Western style of education, but the change is slow”, my friend said. The current way of education here hardly prepares students for the working life, where teams are bound to be formed.


I can understand my friend’s pessimism. Changing structures is hard, and by the time it happens I most likely won’t be around to be awoken by the noise of local students adjusting to the new group-oriented curriculum.