Day 28: Why I Came to Microcampus?

Why I Came to Microcampus? A question all Microcampus members have been trying to answer the entire trip. Why is it that 16 students would want to go to Xizhou, away from their parents for a month? I have my own explanation. And this will have to trace all the way back to five months before today when I first heard the two words micro and campus said together. That day, all the 8thgraders of Shanghai American School were gathered in a small room with a projector at the front of it. Next to the projector stood a middle-aged bald man who we then learned was the founder of Microcampus called Mr. Tafel. “Hello everyone!” He started his speech off enthusiastically as he introduced to us a program called Microcampus. During that speech, he explained to us about the program, talked about expectations, and finally ended his speech by passing out program details to each of us that are interested. At that time, I knew I would have to apply. Microcampus equals to no school and classes for one month. So, I attended our second meeting along with five of my closest friends. During that meeting, we were informed about the details of what to do and what not to do. Still, my mindset was that Microcampus would be beneficial for me because it is a month away from all the chaos and just free time every day. So, I attended my third meeting and I realized that there are only 40 people left in the room now. Maybe some lost interest? Maybe some are not available? I then listened to what Mr. Tafel had to say for that day. That was when I heard the words that changed my life. That was when I thought I knew why I wanted to truly come to Microcampus. Not for free time or a break, but to “Find myself by exploring the real CHINA.” By then, I was down to skipping a month of school for something I thought was more meaningful. Those exact words were also what I included in my written application for Microcampus.

Four months from today, nervous whispers filled the hallways. The list of the ones who are going to Xizhou came out on Schoology. I was thrilled when I saw my own name eight names down the list. Not until then have I thought about actually going away from home to explore China. Though the only word that remains echoing in my head is the experience. 

Three months from today, we were slowly introduced to the detailed expectations and what we then learned was known as “The Box.” This includes rules such as having 9 hours of sleep daily, hand washing, rules for rooms and so on. At that time, I knew that there would be no getting away from doing the wrong thing in Microcampus. I would have to do the right thing and I know it.

One month from today, I was hours away from departing Shanghai. Standing at Gate 3 Terminal 2 in Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, I waved goodbye to my parents. I could see the discomfort in their eyes to let me go off somewhere without them for 28 days. All I knew then was it is a one in a lifetime experience to try something new. No matter the outcome, it is a good opportunity. I had no idea what my new home for 28 days was going to look like, perhaps a classic campsite, or maybe hotel-like dorms. I was clueless along with the other 15 students who came with me. That day when we arrived at Yang Zhuo Ran, “The Box” items really started to apply to us. 9 hours of sleep actually meant 9 hours of sleep. Not 8 hours and 50 minutes. Nine full hours every day. That was when I thought, I came to Microcampus to form good habits and to bring it back to Shanghai. That time I thought “Right I was!”. But no, I was wrong.

One week from today, I have just finished my third week in Microcampus. I have built so many relationships with the citizens in Xizhou that it felt like I have known them for years. From talking shyly to the elders to laughing with them like friends, I have really improved my ability to talk to strangers and make connections with them. Through the inquiry project process, I have pushed my limits to improve my own social skills while learning about the community at the same time. By then, I thought that this must be the true purpose of Microcampus. To improve social skills by talking to strangers. I thought that I nailed it again.

One day from today, my service learning group and I have just invited Ms. Zhang to the Linden Commons to share the video we had created to show our gratitude to the Xizhou community. When we stood in the front of the room and shared our video to the audience, I was shocked by their responses. I was fascinated by the pure smiles they had in response to Ms. Zhang’s words. They understood her descriptions about society and how cruel it was back in the Cultural Revolution. They nodded and smiled and tilted their heads. And at last, a tear trickled down Ms. Zhang’s face as a huge smile stretched across her face. At that moment, I discovered the true reason why I wanted to come to Microcampus. To watch my impact on others somewhere away from the city, away from chaos, away from home.

Minutes from now, a different definition was formed in my head once again. This time back to my initial intention: to come for an experience. Even now, I believe that the answer to the question is infinite. Maybe years from now, a different answer would be proposed. However, no matter the response to this question, I have never regretted coming on this trip. Because without being here in Xizhou now, I would never have had an answer to this question. Ever.

 

I have lived in Shanghai for almost ten years and attended SAS for most of the time I lived here. I was 13 when I attended Microcampus with the Wildfires group. My family and I always valued experiences whether they are positive or negative. I thought that Microcampus would be a once in a lifetime experience to explore the truth of China outside our Shanghai bubble. Indeed, when I saw the welcoming smiles of the local elders, I knew that Microcampus is an experience I would never forget.