Microcampus is a 28 day experience where selected students travel to XiZhou, a small rural village in China, to study a specific topic of interest. Usually, the groups have 16 students, but in our group we only had nine. Here at Microcampus we have four pillars that explain, in a nutshell, why we come to Microcampus. They are expanding intercultural understanding, personal growth, experiential learning, and having a positive impact. Through our inquiry project, service learning, and just being out in Xizhou all of the pillars come into place.
My topic was 'Small Business Economics Case Study.' I started with a very general round of interviews with many different sources of small businesses to find basic information. My sources ranged were a wide variety and ranged from small stand owners to larger restaurants. I had many different conversations with the people. Most people, if not everyone, who I interviewed was generally nice and was willing to share their experiences of their business. In the end I decided to chose a specific business to study. I chose Mr. Zhang, a local barber.
Before chosing Mr. Zhang I had around seven or eight sources. I chose these sources because I wanted to see a variety, their businesses were interesting to me, and some were reccomendations from my 3 to 5s. I knew that variety would allow me to gather data and information from many different view points and would have very strong all around information. For example, the thoughts of a popsicle shop owner would be different from the thoughts of a clothing store owner. Many businesses seemed interesting to me and whichever I wanted to go talk to, I did. The teacher chaperones would help with my selections. From my 3 to 5s I had a lot of possible different sources, along with many different ideas for projects and which industry I should chose. One of my 3 to 5s, Frank the manager of the Linden Centre, told me about his sister who ran a clothing store, so I visited her first. But after all the conversations with many different sources I settled on Mr. Zhang, after Mr. T introduced him to me.
I spent days having fruitful conversations with him and learned a great deal about his experiences. I asked questions about his life and business, especially about what his experience as a barber was like. I also asked questions about specific economic issues. One thing I found very interesting about Mr. Zhang's business was that he did not have to pay house tax, because the shop was connected to the house and was occupied by his family for over a hundred years, and he did not have to pay business tax because the government did not officially recognize his business as a legitimate business. I even got to experience his haircut skills first hand by getting a haircut. Mr. Zhang is 74 years old, but still has great eyes. On an average day he gets 10 customers, so I asked him if he thought his job was tiring, and he said he was used to it and he loved what he did.
Through my conversations with Mr. Zhang I developed a thesis that would guide me through my project. Readers can see the construction of my thesis and plan on my Phase Four page. My thesis was: As I look back on my experiences of learning about Mr. Zhang's barber shop, one must consider Mr. Zhang's life story, the economics of his business, and my own journey throughout this process.
Sharing My Learning:
My final video is embedded above my introduction. If it does not show above click here.
I think the inquiry project was a very challenging project but I think it was a very good experience. I learnt a bunch of differnent things like how to organize information and ask powerful questions. But I think the most important thing I learnt was how to take a surface level interview and turn it into a real conversation. Mr. T showed me the importance of straying from my 10 questions and thinking on my feet and asking questions according to the conversation so I make a real connection with the people.
Throughout the process I stayed with the same topic because I found studying a business very interesting because the economics and story of a business have always been one of my favorite types of things to research.
The most difficult part of my research was probably trying to find good times to talk to the different people because these were not people who just stood around all day waiting, they were real people with real lives and real jobs. But when I got to eventually talk to them we had very productive conversations. The waiting has also helped me with patience.
A big "a-ha" moment I had was when I came back from my first teacher support session with Mr. T, he had showed me Mr. Zhang and I was inspired to do my project around him. I came back with a bunch of ideas for my project and (not even kidding) a huge smile on my face.
This project really helped me to understand small businesses in XiZhou because of all the interviews I did with the different people. As I grouped and recorded my information I realized a lot of patterns in the small businesses. For example, most people have their businesses because they enjoy doing it, not for the money. Also, the majority of people I interviewed were not particularily ambitious, they just wanted to stay in XiZhou.
A big portion of my Phase Three work was interviewing different people and by doing that I made a lot of connections with different people. Every time I pass them at Si Fang Jie I say 'hello' to them. I have realized that the people in XiZhou are all very friendly and willing to become a partner of my project.
I feel like this project has showed myself that I am capable of gathering first source information and keeping it quite organized. Also that I can keep focused for long periods of time and be productive.
As a learner I feel like this was a very good experience, especially since it really helped me with my organization and research skills. I will use this skill, a lot, later in my life. Through planning our daily schedule and managing our time my organization skills have gone up greatly. Microcampus has definitely made me a stronger and more productive learning.
If I could go back in time to the beginning of this project I feel like some advice that would have helped would be to manage time better with fun activities and work activities because some times I will do too much of one of those things.
If I, or someone else, were to continue working on this project some new directions it might take are getting even more people to take before and after shots, figure out how to run a barbershop, how hairstyles have changed through the years, etc.
The people I would like to thank are Ms. Mai for continuing to support me and giving me advice. Evy, for taking me to many different sources. Cecily, for being their when I got my hair cut. Mr T., for introducing me to Mr. Zhang and setting me up for a very interesting project. And Mr. Zhang, for letting me spend hours with him watching and asking questions; also for cutting my hair.
Microcampus has taught me so many things that are just impossible to learn in a classroom. The inquiry project is, in short, a school project, but it is so much more than that. I have learnt the skills that I will definitely use later in life. Microcampus truly has been a once in a lifetime oppurtunity.