My name is Max, and I am an eighth grader attending Shanghai American School. As an eighth grader, I was given an opportunity to apply to the Microcampus program where selected students stay in Xizhou village in Yunnan Province for a month to experience rural and traditional China. As students get outside of the urban 'bubble' of Shanghai, this program challenges students to try new things and get out of their comfort zone. I was very interested in applying for Microcampus for these reasons and was delighted to be accepted as one of the twelve members going on the spring 2016 trip.
The main project we spend our time working on in Xizhou is called an inquiry project. For our inquiry projects, each student picked a topic of high personal interest that they would spend their time in Xizhou exploring. Out of the many interesting topics, I picked Bai Minority Music because I was most curious to expand my musical knowledge beyond the western genre of classic rock music, modern music, and classical pieces that I was used to from my guitar playing. At first, I was excited about this topic but was also feeling a bit nervous that I would not get a substantial amount of information and would not be able to piece it together to gain understanding. Looking back, I had a truly great experience out in the village studying Bai Music; I had great fun speaking with multiple local contacts, villagers, and musicians to gather information. I made many great connections with these people through daily interaction and music.
Inquiry projects are divided into different stages, called 'Phases'. Approximately 2.5 Phases were to be completed before departing to Xizhou. I had already gone through a process to chose my topic in the pre-stage called Phase 0. In Phase 1, I was required to do background research on Bai Minority Music and also develop 10 big questions to guide me through my research process. I gathered the majority of this background information from internet sources such as Chinese tour websites, wikipedia, and others. In Phase 2, I acquired many helpful resources from the Internet, the Linden Center, and local contacts in the village to help me gain further information in my research on Bai Minority Music.
I chose the websites I used for my background research since they were the few websites I could find that had general information on Traditional Chinese Music, which was somewhat associated with and was influential to Bai Music. There were absolutely no sources on the specific category of Bai Music or Music in Xizhou, so I was just digging around for sources that contained general information, and was trying to learn from what I had at the time. Luckily, I was able to get some information of the specific category of Bai Music when I looked at alumni work on the Microcampus website.
While researching, I had a general idea of what I wanted to find out from these sources, which led me to form some more specific questions. I wanted to have a foundation of basic information to base my research in Xizhou upon. I first searched for general topics such as 'Traditional Chinese Music', and then grew more specific from there; I searched for topics like 'Chinese musical instruments', 'History of Traditional Music', and 'Influences of Traditional Music' to name a few. Once I had this foundation of history and general knowledge, I could gain more specific insight and information from locals.
While spending time in Xizhou researching about my inquiry project, I have learned about Bai Minority Music, made connections with great people, and have learned about myself.
Sharing My Learning
To share my experiences and what I have have learned at Microcampus, I have created a movie. The video can be found at the top of this page, and can also be seen here from this link: https://youtu.be/_skZbjtu-6A
If you would like to follow the process of developing my inquiry project, feel free to check out all the phases of my inquiry project work. Check out Phase 3 to look at the collection of information I have gathered about Bai Music, and feel free to look at Phase 4 for my final product planning and outline.
During my time in Shanghai and Xizhou working on my inquiry project, I have learned about Bai Minority Music, made connections with great people, and have learned about myself and my work habits. Firstly, I learned to be a better, more efficient writer. My habit of trying to pick the best way to say something and toiling over these many ways slowed me down and has been a problem every since the beginning of this year. Through daily writing that is required at Microcampus, I learned to just get what I want to say down on paper. I can then edit and modify my writing. Along the research process, I have also made many great connections with members of the Linden Center staff, locals, and musicians. Everyone has been very open and friendly to me, and I have made many close friends. I will treasure not only the information that I gathered for my inquiry project, but will remember the great people I have met along the way, and daily life in the village of Xizhou. I realized that the core of the experience wasn't the information that I gathered about Bai Minority Music, but it was rather the journey I had immersing myself in a different environment.
My topic did not change dramatically during my stay in Xizhou, but I have zoomed in on 3 specific categories of Bai Music. I have more information about some areas of music than others, so the areas of my research are not exactly balanced. Ever since I started background research to the time I arrived in Xizhou, I did not have a clear path of what I wanted to find out since I did not have much of a foundation to grow from or base further research upon. During my background research, I did not find any articles on the Internet about Bai music or music in Xizhou. I was only able to find out about traditional Chinese music. I was very lucky to have so much support from the Linden Center staff and the locals to share information with me. I would never have felt as comfortable or accepted in this community if it wasn't for them. I wouldn't have been able to gather the large amounts of information I gathered on Bai Music if it were not for their help.
I did not have one particular part that was hardest for me along the research process, but many smaller challenges. As previously mentioned, the lack of information that I gathered about Bai Minority Music certainly took it's toll. It delayed my ability to get a quick start on my research and know exactly what path I would take in my research. I did not have background information and map out what in specific I wanted to learn. Instead, I gathered information that covered many areas of Bai Minority Music. Another difficult part of my research were my limited Chinese skills. Even though I was able to get more comfortable and really connect with Mr. Yang through playing music together, it was a bit awkward to speak with some of the rest of the locals with my mediocre Chinese. I felt, even though I had well prepared and well developed question, that my conversations were a bit stiff at first. It was tough to pick up everything that the locals said through needing certain parts translated by one of my adult partners from the Linden Center. I worried that some of what the locals said would get lost in translation and that I would miss some important information given to me. However, I overcame this challenge as well; I was able to feel more relaxed and more comfortable with the Chinese I did have. I prepared follow up questions to clarify specific areas of what I was asking about in general, or what a person said to me. This allowed me to get more information and help both the locals and I feel more comfortable. If I act awkward and nervous, that will reflect on the reaction or answers that I get from the person I am speaking with. Though speaking to strangers about something is not what one does on a regular basis, I think it was important that I learned these lessons.
I had many 'A-Ha!' moments in my research when I made a major discovery, or was able to piece together the information I got to make sense of it. This is a great feeling, and gave me a real sense of accomplishment to what I was doing. Sometimes, after a day of hard work, I felt like I did not get a substantial amount of information or a decent amount of work done. I also felt frustrated at times that I was not able to piece together information I received to make sense of it. However, when I realized something or was able to piece information together, I felt very accomplished and felt like I got something done with my day. One 'A-Ha!' moment or major breakthrough that I had was when I wrote down all the information I got from locals and the internet and lined everything up in an organized fashion. I was then able to follow the history of Dongjing Music, the oldest and most traditional form of Bai Music. I was also able to understand the significance of religious influence on Dongjing Music such as how Buddhism affected it's spread to Dali and where it is played today. I felt like I really understood the path of Dongjing Music and was very proud of what I had discovered. My information I had previously gathered that was all scattered and useless before was suddenly became more valuable since I was able to make sense out of it.
My inquiry project helped me to discover and learn a significant amount about Bai Minority Music; a musical form that I previously had no knowledge about. I learned so much about the history of Dongjing Music, the oldest and most traditional form of Bai Music around. I learned about it's history and journey to other places in China. So many other styles of Bai Music such as Da Beng Qu and Bai folk emerged as an adaptation of Dongjing Music by the more common class. Through working on my inquiry project, I also was able to understand music better in general. I noticed so many similarities between Bai Minority Music and the Western Music I was used to. All types of music, in some way or another, conveys a message, tells a story, and is meant to be fun. Music is also a large part of people's lives that is very precious and defines who they are. My music is a big part of who I am as well, and I consider it very precious to me. Music can also be used to communicate or bring people together, which I will talk about in the next paragraph.
Through working on my inquiry project, I was also able to bond very closely with the village of Xizhou itself, and the people living in it. While going out to visit local contacts, I have been constantly amazed at the beautiful scenery of Xizhou. I love breathing in the fresh air, looking into the clear blue skies, and staring out into the landscape of farmland and mountains. Most importantly, researching about Bai Minority Music in Xizhou has allowed me to meet many great people and grow close to them. After my first interaction with members of the Linden Center staff asking what they knew about Bai Music and who in the village would know about Bai Music, I continued to interact with each of them and grow closer every day. We would say hello to each other whenever we met, and occasionally started small conversations with one another. In my research about Bai Music, I have had a very special opportunity to interact with some of the locals through music. I had my best visit with Mr. Yang, a kind older gentleman who generously provided me with large amounts of information, but also had a jam session with me. It was a musical connection between two people that extended beyond our cultural and national differences. We had a common ground of music, and were able to enjoy ourselves and have appreciation for one another.
I have grown much as a person throughout this trip while spending time on my inquiry project. I learned that I really care about how I come across to people, and that I think making authentic connections with people is very important. For example, I had many experiences with Mr. Jake, Ms. Jo, Ms. Zoe, and Ms. Rebecca when they helped me in some way with a portion of my inquiry project. These experiences would include when I asked them questions about Bai Minority music, asked them accompany me when I went to visit a local contact, and help me translate. However, I did not just want to use these people for the purposes of getting along with my inquiry project; I wanted to come off as a good person, and form good relationships with these people. I did this by putting in the time and effort to build and sustain strong relationships. I developed good habits of checking in with people at the Linden Center that I knew, popping in, and occasionally speaking with them for a while. This ended up in me growing closer with them every day, and eventually becoming very close friends with many of them. This also applied to my building strong relationships with the locals as well. Aside from playing music together and bonding through it, I also put in the time and effort build a strong relationship. Even when I wasn't going to visit my local contacts, I occasionally phoned them to check in and see how they were doing, to thank them for sharing information with me and for playing music with me. When I did want to schedule a time to meet with a local contact, I phoned them at least 24 hours in advance to let them know and ask if it was convenient for them.
The inquiry project experience has taught me much about myself as a learner. I have learned to keep my head high and to keep positive. Throughout the long process of the inquiry project, I had many ups and downs. I had plenty of times during this trip when I felt like a whole pile of work was weighing me down like a backpack full of rocks. I realized that things wouldn't get done unless I kept going and kept a positive attitude. Negativity also did not help me; feeling sorry for myself or panicking does not help get the job done, help me, or have a good impact on other people. I found that I also have to keep calm during these situations. I really put my scheduling skills into practice at Microcampus. I learned to make a daily plan for myself, keep track of that plan, and check off tasks off my list one by one. The last is called mono-tasking, where I have to focus on one thing at a time, and slowly accomplish all the things that need to get done. I also learned that I am very curious and will not stop when I am on a roll or onto something until I get what I want. When speaking to the locals, I wanted would first gather general information, and then ask them specific follow up questions to make sure I got all I could get out of them.
Looking back, I do not think I would recommend any additional advice that one would need at the start of their inquiry project. I got all the deadlines for work, and got many suggestions and advice from Mr. Tafel and Ms. Mai that would make for a great experience.
If someone else was to continue this research project, I think there would be many new directions to take. I have set a solid foundation for further research with the general information I have acquired regarding all areas of Bai Minority Music. A future Microcampus student will have many directions to take, whether they choose to use my research in any way, or choose to continue it. If I were going on this trip again and got a chance to continue my inquiry project, I would zoom in onto a more specific aspect of Bai Music. These directions would include studying how instruments are built, looking into one particular style of Bai Music, the history of Bai Music, or how to preserve Dongjing Music, a more traditional form of Bai Music that is being lost.
I would like to end by thanking all the people who have helped me along my journey. I would like first like to thank Mr. Tafel and Ms. Mai for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such a great experience. They made many great arrangements, had so much patience with me, and provided me with guidance and support throughout this trip. I would like to thank the Lindens for hosting us at the Linden Center for the long duration of the trip. Many thanks to the entire Linden Center staff making me feel so comfortable and welcome in a new community and environment. I would like to thank Mr. Jake who kept things fun, helped me speak with my local contacts, and made many great arrangements for our group. Also, I would like to give my thanks to Ms. Jo for accompanying my visits with Mr. Yang, always being so supportive towards me, and for always being cheerful and positive. You have both been my very good friends throughout this trip, and I could not be more grateful for everything you have done for me and the rest of this group. A many thanks to Mr. Yang for being so kind to me, being available for me, openly sharing information about Dongjing Music, and for allowing me to connect with you by enjoying each others' music. Lastly, I would like to thank the rest of group O.R.E.O. for being so supportive of me and other members of our group. We have all grown so much and have all gone through a lot together; this trip would not have been any fun without you. I will never forget the time that we had together. Microcampus never would have been possible without any of your help and support. I felt so welcome and accepted into this new community and environment; I really could not have wished for a better experience.
Microcampus was an even better experience than I thought it would be. The lessons that I have learned on this trip will continue to be put into place in Shanghai, and anywhere else I go. I am extremely grateful that I was able to be a part of this program. I think I stressed out and thought too much during the process of creating my final product. Including everything from my experience from all the information I gathered to every little detail of memorable experiences is not the best project. Group O.R.E.O. came out to learn about a topic of personal interest so they could interact with the village and its people. I think I have done a fine job of that; I have learned to call Xizhou my home and group O.R.E.O. my family.