Chinese rites of passage

There they are, the five students I have coached in their projects in the past two and a half months: since yesterday officially graduated! From left to right: Bin Jiahui (Jawei), Chen Jie (Cherry), Li Jinwang (Ken), Yang Yahan (Yahan) and Zhang Nini (Nini). Behind the camera “Nico Laoshi” (teacher Nico).

Five very different students, with different talents and ambitions. Jawei is a rational thinker, focused on the practical end-result. She has designed a fitness training device for the office environment. If all goes well, she will become a teacher – she is already studying for that. Cherry is a “silent design force”: modest but able to surprise you positively. She has designed a sleep/wake/night lamp/fragrance diffuser – aimed at people with sleep problems. She already has a job in a company where they design user interfaces. Ken is strongly focused on the outside looks of products. Initially he wanted to do a car-design, but decided for something less complex: a (good-looking) modular waste separation system. He would like to find a job abroad (the Netherlands?), but must first improve his English.

Yahan is a good communicator, knows how to give direction to a project and works with constant commitment. Her graduation project was an “intelligent” first aid kit. She would like to study for a state diploma, this would qualify her for government jobs. Nini is good in making sketches and sometimes it’s difficult for her to stop. She has designed a portable exercise device for physiotherapy patients. She would like to continue her studies in Italy and is busy with Italian lessons.

What strikes me is the great efficiency of the whole graduation procedure …

All (nearly 60) graduation project presentations take place in one single day (Sunday, no one has problems with that). Good to see that (even on Sunday) a lot of third year students attend the presentations with interest! At the end of that same day, grades are given: an average of 3 scores by their coach and by the second assessor. Rating on a scale from 0 to 100 – below 75 means that they will have to hand in a supplement. Insufficient scores are not given in any case – there are, however, some students who did not complete their project – they will have to repeat. The next day is the certification ceremony – with photoshoots and at the end of the day the huge presentation posters (90 x 150 cm, 2 posters per project) are all in a stunning exhibition at the entrance of the building! In the evening a delicious big dinner-party with all students and teachers, lots of beer, some tears – no, many tears…

nico smeenk KLEINIt’s not only an emotional farewell moment after 4 years living together on the campus – it is above all the “rite of passage”: the transition to independence and responsibility – a major issue in Chinese culture. The next day another dinner-party, now on a smaller scale … then one day to recover from all the parties … and on Thursday everyone is busy finishing the official “paperwork”: a big envelope with abstract, thesis, assessments, reviews and lots of signatures.

Ready! I am amazed … at my school in Holland 60 graduations would take at least 4 times as long, with the same number of teachers!!!

During one of the dinner parties I try to explain the graduation procedures at my school in Zwolle … but I get stuck in the attempt: how to translate the Dutch word “borgen” (something like “to safeguard”) … searching on internet always leads to the TV-series with that name. Also my explanation about our certification-cocktails, with rectangular pieces of cheese and round croquettes (bitterballen) encounters only uncomprehending faces.

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