“Can we talk?”
The text came at 10 a.m. my time, 11 p.m. China time, from my best friend Cathy, a departmental head in another college in Luzhou.
Absolutely! I love talking to Cathy. Aside from having wonderful English, she is a wealth of information, which she is always happy to share.
My virtual visit with Cathy
Our face-time began on my phone, with enthusiastic greetings of “long time, no see” and a “hello!” from my mom as she stepped into screen view. Cathy knows my mom well, both from my reports of her during our 18 years of friendship and also because she met my mom 3 years ago when she visited my hometown.
My frustrations of my delayed return soon spilled into our conversation. I launched into my lament that I felt I’d never get back to China: The inability of my country to control the virus spread is disheartening; The ban on incoming foreigners’ is still in place; My visa will expire soon, meaning an even longer delay in returning.
“I am sure you can return soon,” Cathy said with firm optimism and solid conviction. She then went on to tell me about the upcoming opening of colleges in Sichuan, including my own.
Colleges are Opening: A Bright Spot in China’s fight against the virus
To date, no colleges in Sichuan Province, and my city Luzhou (5 million), were yet allowed to re-open. Luzhou has more than 10 colleges of various educational levels: 3-year vocational and technical schools (similar to a junior college), 2-year trade schools (14 – 18 year olds learning a particular profession) and one full-fledge medical university (Southwest Medical University), which includes 400 foreign students from various developing countries studying to be doctors. Campuses have remained empty of students, all having gone home during Spring Festival in mid-January and not being allowed to return due to COVID-19 concerns.
During the past months, some elementary schools, high schools and colleges went to online teaching. All provincial governments waited to receive notices from central Beijing on when to re-open schools and how.
High schools were first, then elementary schools and now, colleges.
Re-opening Requirements for Colleges, Including Mine
Cathy’s college is opening May 17, with students from all over the province and country returning to her campus. My college (10,000 students) is opening this week, but with many safety checks in place.
According to Cathy, before colleges can open, they have to meet the following criteria:
- stagger incoming students according to graduating classes
- all students will have a 2-week quarantine period in dorm rooms
- all students have twice temperature checks by campus medical personnel
- no students can leave the campus, meaning all colleges must have a well-stocked student grocery in full operation (my college has 2)
- In-classroom lessons are limited to 30 students or less (My English language classes usually have 50 -60, but these must be scaled down, divided into 2 sections)
- a building for full quarantine, with beds and bathroom facilities, must be available for those who suddenly show symptoms of the virus or become sick.
- Emergency lock-down procedures must be in place for a sudden explosion of illness if that happens.
- several times a day disinfecting of the campus, dormitory facilities and classrooms.
I am sure there are more detailed requirements but Cathy didn’t share everything with me, just the basics.
Proof of Changes to Re-open
Each higher educational institution had to produce detailed plans and explanations how it would meet the criteria set out by the central, provincial and city governments for re-opening. After these plans were submitted to authorities, improvements were suggested and sent back for revisions by the college. Next, inspections were made by local government officials to make sure the requirements had all been met. Meetings ensued with invigilators to make certain everyone was all on the same page. After all paperwork and official stamps were given, a college could open.
If anything was missing for the opening requirements, school officials had to amend the failures and submit again for another passing mark from in-charge local educational and sanitation and health bureaus.
Once all the boxes were ticked off, a college could begin to open but not before that.
Fortunately for my college, it passed all the inspections so it now is allowed to continue onward by inviting students to return.
Luzhou Vocational and Technical College: Summer courses begin and Also my Online Teaching Duties
I heard that our college kids have been arriving for the past 2 days and summer courses will start on Monday. All students at our college are required to take summer courses, meaning we should be reaching our full capacity of 10,000 by Sunday, May 10.
In the meantime, I have been asked to do short teaching videos for students to watch on their WeChat accounts. I am so excited about this! I will be enlisting the help of my mom and even Little Bridget, the China rescue dog, to create some innovative mini-lessons for all to enjoy.
Already, my creative juices are flowing and I can’t wait to get started!
Speaking of the above, I’d best close this off for now and get busy. I was told today to have 2 video segments ready to go by Sunday. Wish me luck!
From Illinois, here’s wishing you 平安 (ping ahn) Peace for your weekend . . . .and a Happy Mother’s Day!