Thursday, October 2, 2008


We would like to introduce you to our university, the Xi’an International Studies University—known locally as XISU (pronounced, Shee Sue). It is one of 20 or 30 universities, institutes, or colleges in Xi’an. In fact, Xi’an is known as a university town.

Elva in front of XISU's old campus gate

We live on what is known as the old campus. It is the site of the of the original university established in the 1950s, partly with the help of the Soviet Union. The architecture of the older buildings mimics that of Soviet-style construction during the Cold War, which is mostly concrete walls covered with plaster inside and out. There are newer buildings as well that are very modern in their outward appearance. The old campus houses faculty, some students, and features cafeterias, ball fields, and administration buildings, as well as our foreign teachers’ residence compound.

Our apartment, first floor, on the left

It is a ‘downtown” university on a busy street not far from the old city wall. Outside its front gates is one of the busiest commercial districts of the city where the traffic is crazy and the streets are alive with people, street vendors, shops and bus stops. But inside the campus is peace and tranquility, with tree-lined streets and students sitting and visiting on arbor-covered benches.

XISU's new campus

The real action is on the new campus about 20-plus kilometers out of town. This is where most of the students live and go to school. China has an increasing number of young people it has to educate, a population that has outstripped the facilities of most of the in-town campuses. The only solution has been to build new campuses on the outskirts of town in what used to be wheat and corn fields. XISU is one of a dozen or more of these. So while we live on the old campus, every morning we board a bus for a 30-minute ride to the new campus. Given the nature of traffic in China, this is an exhilarating and often death-defying event.

The Library

The architecture of the new campus is as modern as it gets although the construction technique of poured concrete appears to be the same. Its centerpiece is a soaring new library of glass, concrete, and shinning steel. There are long rows of dormitories on one side of a quad and two rows of multi-level classrooms and administration buildings on the other. A student cafeteria and ball fields are on the far end.

The usual schedule is to teach two classes of about 30-40 students in the morning, each class lasting for two hours. Then there is a 2-hour lunch/rest break followed by another 2-hour class in the afternoon. Each freshman class is divided up into 30- or 40-person groups at the beginning of the year, and those groups stay together as a class for all four years of their university life. Moreover, for the most part they stay in the same classroom all that time; the teachers are the ones that move about from room to room. The students even decorate their “homeroom” according to their own tastes. One has a giant mural of Yeo Ming, a national hero.

One of Steve's classes

Such are the physical aspects of XISU, the “bones.” In a future post we will describe the “heart” of XISU: the magic of the classroom and the spirit of those in it.

1 comment:

Rayna said...

Enjoyed your photos. I taught at XISU in 2002-2003 and it is nice to see the new campus. I am thankful that we didn;t have to take a bus to the new campus. We also got to know and see the students who lived right near us on the old campus. I am still in touch with many of them as they marry, go overseas, and begin their adult lives. I went back another year and taught in Beijing, but my best memories are from Xian and Miss Lin. Is she still there?