The Other Classroom – Qingdao University: Housing & Residence Life

Dorm is a dirty word to most housing professionals in the U.S.

However in China I feel like dorm fits it a little better than it does in the U.S.  I also don’t mean it as an insult, the fact that we call somewhere a residence hall doesn’t mean that the same complex without RA’s wasn’t called a dorm 30 years before.  In Chinese Universities most of their students live in housing from the university, so you can imagine how these complexes are quite important to the university and the student population.

For an international student they have two options, live in the international student housing or live off campus.  It’s hard to say the exact number, but somewhere around 70% of international students live in the student housing.  International student housing is also separate from the domestic students.  In fact in the case of Qingdao University, they are on complete opposite sides of the campus.

In my first week I got a chance to visit the university housing for the domestic Chinese students.  Each main lobby had a doorman and all of their policies were clearly written out on boards in front foyer.  We walked through the foyer on to a wing where many young Chinese girls were awaiting our group.  We we’re split up and were directed to visit these rooms and their students who were so excited to show us their rooms.  Some of the rooms even shared some of their culture by either singing, playing instruments or dancing.

Each room had either, 8, 6 or 4 students depended on your level at the University.  For example most freshman would live in a room with eight while those who were graduate students would live in a room of 4.  Each of the rooms seemed so vibrant and everyone was so excited to show us their rooms and share their culture with us.  I didn’t have too many other chances to interact with people that worked in the domestic housing complexes, but this short glimpse gave me a better understanding of housing for a domestic Chinese student.

In short,  I would say that where the dorms lack in “residence life” they gain in administration, safety and discipline.  With curfew in each building,  lock down during certain hours of the night, door man and strict enforcement of policy these halls often ran like “well-oiled” machines.  It also seemed that even without staff such as RA’s or programming student community still existed with the halls.

At my current institution, the University of Central Arkansas, my assistantship is in the Department of Housing and Residence Life, so seeing the buildings and how they run them is obviously fascinating because that is something I do on a daily basis while at UCA.  The fact that they only had one laundry facility for about 1000 students in a building was surprising to me and also that hang drying clothes was the most common practice.

All of these surprising quirks were not only something that the students had to deal with, but me as well.

Like stated before, my roommate was a Korean International Student and I lived in the residence hall specifically designated for International Students.  The International Student buildings were different and more comfortable to students who are coming from other countries.  They will only have one roommate at most and can pay for a completely private room.  In this instance Qingdao University is reaching to meet a fairly Western standard in housing.   Laundry facilities were similar and so did many of the other types of facilities, so I was still living in a “Dorm”.

My bed was harder than back in the U.S., there was a certain number of Kilowatts of electricity we could use every month or it got turned off, our bathroom had a drain in the middle and our shower was essentially the entire bathroom; just to name a few differences.  It was my first time to have a roommate in 3 years.  Things were much different than my single apartment with a Queen sized bed.  However it had everything I needed and was just enough.

The main International Student building had a cafeteria in it and also a internet cafe that acted as a place for students to “hang out” in and study.  During the World Cup Season it was packed to the brim of students cheering for, against whomever they pleased.  I got to watch the U.S. and Slovenia game and go partially deaf when the U.S. scored the winning goal.

Overall the greatest thing I learned while living in the international “dorm” was what it actually felt like to be on the other side of the desk and be the student.  Since many of the students I handle in my housing position back in the U.S. are international I realized a small bit about what they felt and how lonely and confusing the simplest tasks can be like.  Even just asking my roommate if I could turn off the lights to go to bed early on was a large ordeal because of my lack of language and lack of comfort with him.

The “residential” part of my life had become something new.  Being international is hard, and we as student affairs professionals need to realize that an international student brings so many different issues that are hard to address and say that one international student is the same as all international students.  In the realm of international student affairs the diversity of issues are in my opinion more numerous than that of domestic students.

I’m still trying to pinpoint all the issues, but just like all students I have realized that the first contact is the most important.  If there isn’t a good first contact, interaction and rapport set up with a new student of any kind everything is downhill from there.  I had a good first contact, but later follow up seemed to lack, which is another issue.  Look for my next post about living as an international student in China.

Also, someone can tell you what it’s like to live in China, but the experience of living there is hard to express in short paragraphs and thoughts, but I tried to a little bit.  All of these current post are back tracks of my previous postings from this summer on  If you want to see more in depth discussion on my time in China go there, but realize it’s less education and student affairs focused and more personal.   I’d start here….. Till next time


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