As Beijingers celebrate their third CBA championship in four years last Sunday, the jubilant posts of triumph on various social media platforms create a great contrast to the lack of enthusiasm Chinese high school students towards their own school sports. While it is true that many schools have very strong teams that have won several tournaments and even national championships, the majority of the school is usually unconcerned and sometimes even uninformed.
This air of nonchalance, however, is a rarity in the United States – anyone who has watched a teenage movie or TV show can describe the almost maniacal football culture that brings everyone’s hearts out to the field. While the Friday Night Lights scene might not apply to every high school in America, it certainly is a majority, and defines the general culture. When the east meets west (or more specifically, when the United States meets China) – such as the case at Tsinghua International School (THIS) as well as many other international schools in Beijing – their curriculum, facilities, and student faculty population are constantly under public scrutiny as curious eyes watch how the two different cultures are fused to create a multicultural learning experience.
However, the way Chinese and American sports cultures are merged to create an international one is often overlooked. “I guess I just never really thought about it,” one student says. “I mean, we’re basically an American school, but no one seems to care as much about sports as American students do.”
“I think it’s because we’re all still pretty Asian,” another student adds. “I didn’t grow up as a sports person. I never really cared. I think that applies to most Asian Americans.”
One big difference many international school teachers and students noted is the presence of one dominant sport which everyone cares about. Coach Mustonen, a physical education teacher at THIS, describes his high school experience at the International School of Beijing (ISB). “Basketball was pretty big and APEC was the biggest tournament [of the year]. Someone even made it to the NBA. Soccer was big too. Volleyball wasn’t as popular but they still had a lot of people. The thing about main sports [at ISB]is that it was a bit divided.”
The season system of international schools, in which certain sports only have practice during a specific season, makes it difficult for a single sport to dominate the entire culture. While there might not be crazy crowds at home games and varsity jackets as everyday wear, international students still have a sense of school pride while being able to experience sports in a more rounded, wholesome way. “With different sports, students get more opportunities,” Coach Mustonen explains.
With different seasons, students are able to stay active all year while still experiencing different sports and finding out what their main sport is. This encourages students to exercise and stay fit for their own benefit – being healthy and having fun – without the pressure of making the team or having to win. “One of the things I like about our school is that there isn’t like some popular clique, something that often comes with football culture, you know, the jocks and the cheerleaders,” one student says of THIS. “I think that’s what our school tried to avoid, so we constantly switch sports and don’t have cheerleaders.”
Indeed, international schools deserve a pat on the back for avoiding the shortcomings of both Chinese and American sports culture while still imparting students with a sense of pride and a love for physical activity.
Rhea Jiang is a junior at Tsinghua International School, an international campus affiliated with Tsinghua High School. She is Co-Editor-in-Chief for the school newspaper The Spartan Times and Co-President of the debate club. Through her blog posts, Rhea hopes to share her unique thoughts and experiences at Tsinghua International School.
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Photos: Courtesy of Rhea Jiang