In America, the first month of college is full of school spirit and social events. That awkward eagerness to meet as many other freshmen as possible and to establish yourself in the social ranks is a quintessential part of starting college. My first week at Georgetown was spent at NSO events, singing school spirit songs and attending Plurality in Action to learn about tolerance and diversity. Overall it was a fun and easy transition into college life.
Here in China, freshmen have quite a different experience. The first few weeks of school are dedicated to “junxun” aka military training. Instead of participating in ice breakers, Chinese freshmen spend all day every day on the field learning how to march in unison. Instead of frats, it’s the communist party leading the freshmen hazing. Waking up the first week of class to find hundreds of students dressed in combat uniform standing on the field outside my dorm window was somewhat alarming. My teachers reassured me that it was merely the annual military training for freshmen. One would think such an interesting and unique system would be more widely known, but none of my classmates had ever heard of junxun.
According to our teachers, junxun was established after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The government wanted to instill discipline and nationalism in college students to prevent any future protests. Every year, every college freshman in China must participate. Some schools conduct junxun on campus while others send their students to actual military training sites. From my dorm room and our classrooms, I have a great view of the athletic fields on which junxun training occurs. The first week, all they seemed to do was stand in formation and occasionally march. To be honest, it seemed pretty awful. The second week seemed to get a little better with some added martial arts training. The military trainers also seemed to relax a little. One day I was watching junxun out my window and a trainer noticed me. He then made all the girls in his unit turn around and wave to me from the field.
Off the field, the freshmen seemed to be settling in alright. I saw some female students around campus linking arms, and sat next to a group of uniformed freshmen in the dining hall. One night during the last week of junxun, I was looking out on the field and a few groups were taking a break from training to have a mini talent show. I got to see one of the military trainers show off his break dancing skills, and a female student performed a traditional dance. Although in a very different context than American students, Chinese students do go through a similar orientation period of college. Through junxun, they’re united by their common experience and develop a sense of comradery with their fellow students. Despite the differences in activities between American and Chinese new student orientation, we share the same experiences of making new friends and new memories. Maybe junxun does share some characteristics with American NSO traditions after all.