During the spring of 2016, we, the Microcampus O.R.E.O. group from SAS Puxi, are spending 28 days immersing ourselves in the culture of Xizhou, in Yunnan. We are here to learn from personal experiences, to expand our intercultural understanding, to leave a positive impact on the places we visit, and to grow as students of the Microcampus program. Throughout our journey, we have been facing challenges, stepping out of our comfort zone, and exploring life outside of our home in the busy city of Shanghai, and instead, spending time in a small, quite village in Yunnan. To understand more about Xizhou's culture, we will be focusing on one topic about the village. We will be studying this topic, and sharing our learning. This is called an Inquiry Project.
The process of doing the Inquiry Project is split into various Phases. In Phase 0, I had chosen my Inquiry Project topic. In Phase 1, I had come up with ten big questions to guide me through my topic research. In Phase 2, I have found many helpful resources that could provide information that would help me with my project. In Phase 3, I have found more information on my topic. In Phase 4, I had created a plan to share my learning. Now, In Phase 5, I have created a final product to share my journey and what I have learned throughout this trip.
For my Inquiry Project topic, I was interested in studying the differences between the lives of boys and girls in Xizhou. Back in Shanghai, I had read a few articles on how gender inequality was a reoccurring issue in traditional Chinese families. I wanted to know if boys and girls were treated differently in Xizhou as well. For my overall topic, however, I wanted to know how their whole lives were different. Later on in the process, I adjusted my topic to focusing more on how these differences had changed over time. To study this topic, I had to have discussions with locals at Xizhou. A few locals who had been helpful sources for my project were Ms. Dong, Ms. Ding, Ms. He, Ms. Li, Mr. Zhang, and Ms. Zhao. I also gathered information from Ms. Ma, Lao Mao, Ms. Zhao's partner, Ms. Zhao's mother, Mr. Zhao, and Mr. Jake's students (Amy, Betty, Maggie, Angela, and Andy).
I chose to have discussions with these locals because they were recommended to me by Mr. Tafel, Ms. Mai, Ms. Jo, and Mr. Jiang while I was doing my three-to-five's. I chose these people for my three-to-five's because they knew the people around Xizhou and they had experience with which villagers could provide information for our topics.
The types of questions that I was trying to answer included questions that helped me find more about how the expectations, education, family, and extra-curricular activities of boys and girls were different, and how those differences had changed over time.
From studying these questions, I decided that in order to understand how the differences between the lives of boys and girls in Xizhou have changed over time, one must study what it was like for children in the past, present, and future.
Sharing My Learning
I decided to use iMovie as a way of sharing my learning and my journey. iMovie allows me to communicate my messages easily through using pictures, videos, and audio recordings and tracks. I have made a video using iMovie which can be seen at the top of the page, or (if the video does not load here) an alternate link to the video can be found here.
From the Inquiry Project experience, not only did I receive more knowledge on my topic, I had also created connections with many locals out in the village, and learned more about myself. For my topic, I learned how the differences between the lives of boys and girls in Xizhou have decreased over time. As for connections, through the locals that I have met throughout finding research for my topic, I have started to know more villagers here. Every time I go by Lao Mao's antique shop and I see him there, I would say "hi" and greet him. Also, I have begun to know Mr. Zhang at the Linden Center more. We had fun celebrating his birthday and giving him corn-shaped candy as a joke since as a kid, Mr. Zhang liked going to the farm with his friends to steal corn and cook it. Additionally, I have enjoyed helping to teach and interact with the local students here-Betty, Maggie, Angela, Andy, and Amy. Also, for myself , I discovered that most of the time, I would go the "safe" path instead of the "risky" path. Although there are times when one takes risks and times when one refrains from taking risks, sometimes I felt like I stayed to the "safe" side too much. For example, at the beginning of the trip I had directly read off of my ten list of questions. I did not add any additional questions and the way I phrased everything felt like an interview. I was afraid that I would end up in an awkward silence if I could not think of a question off the top of my head, so I decided that sticking exactly to these questions would avoid these situations. However, staying to these questions had made the conversations stuff, and rather than a conversation, made it feel like an interview. The conversations ended very quickly after some straight answers. I did not receive any more answers; however, I could have changed that by continuing on with more questions that would bring me deeper into the topic. Even after the conversations had ended quickly, I did not talk to a second local for more contacts and more information. In fact, the second time I did teacher support, Ms. Mai had instead brought me to Ms. Ding, one of my three-to-five recommended contacts, after my discussion with Ms. Ma had ended rather quickly. Since I felt like just having a short visit with her instead of talking about all of my topic, I decided to follow with a conversation and completely ignored my questions. The next time I went to her, I did the same, as well as come up with new questions to dive deeper into my topic. Taking risks to let go of my questions had helped me much and the conversation had gone much more casually, smooth, and had lasted longer. I received much information as well, and felt like another strategy that I could use was to visit the contact first so that they could start to be more familiar with who I am and then I could ask them about my Inquiry Project topic the next time I see them.
During the process of working on my Inquiry Project, my topic had definitely changed some during the course of my study. At the beginning of the Inquiry Project experience, I had expected many differences between the lives of boys and girls in Xizhou. When I arrived at the village, I received completely different answers than I had expected. There actually were not that many differences in the present. As I interviewed locals from different age groups, I noticed that many parents told me that their parents have had different expectations for boys and girls. I also noticed that they had different responsibilities compared to their brothers and/or sisters. However, these parents did not have different expectations for their children. Their children did not have different responsibilities, either. I noticed that these differences have changed over time. In the past, there were more differences between the lives of boys and girls, though there were not as many in the present. I decided to focus my topic more on how the lives of boys and girls in Xizhou have changed over time.
The most difficult part of my research was when I found out that there were actually very less differences between the lives of boys and girls in Xizhou. If there were no differences, I would have nothing to report and talk or write about. I felt lost, since it felt like my topic was on something that did not exist in Xizhou. I did not know about this when I was choosing my topic back in Shanghai. However, as I continued to find out more about my topic, I discovered that there used to be differences in the past. I also discovered more about why there were not as many differences as there were before and how many aspects in Xizhou including the differences between the lives of boys and girls were changing.
An "aha" moment that had stood out to me was when Mr. Tafel explained in his genetic presentation that many families in Xizhou had their children receive their mother's surname instead of their father's if they wanted the girl's family to receive the wealth. In my research in Shanghai, I found out that many families preferred boys since they were able to continue the family name. However, this was not the same in Xizhou, since sometimes the women could pass down the family name. I believe that maybe this has contributed to why there were not as many differences between the lives of boys and girls and there was not as much gender inequality in Xizhou as I had expected.
Before I came to Xizhou, I only had information on how there were differences between the lives of boys and girls in the past in traditional Chinese families. However, I did not know about what it was like in Xizhou specifically, and what it was like in the present. During my time in Xizhou, through working on my project, I have learned more about how there were not too many differences between the lives of boys and girls in the present. I also learned about the past, and I feel like my research has connected with what I learned here. I researched about the differences between each gender's lives during the time of Confucius. After further studying my topic here, I learned how these teachings and philosophies created thousands of years ago have still affected the lives of the elder locals in Xizhou today.
Since I had to reach out to locals out in the village in order to learn more about my topic during this project, I was definitely able to interact more with the community in Xizhou. I have helped teach local kids, had conversations with antique shop and restaurant owners, ate lunch with local teenagers, ate lunch with a kid who lived in the village, and bonded with many other people here in Xizhou.
From this project, I learned much about myself. I learned that in the beginning of the trip, I often stuck to my ten questions and always took the "safer" route. I was afraid to end up stuck if I did not use my ten questions. Later on, I decided to try a different approach and discard my ten questions. From this, I learned that sometimes, I did not take risks when it would have helped me and opened me up to new chance and opportunities. I noticed that this did not only happen in my Inquiry Project, but also happened in my every day life when I am required to either choose the safe route of the risky route. I learned that there are times when I could take risks and when it is worth it. I needed to step out of my comfort zone more often. This could open me up to new experiences and opportunities. I believe that this trip and this project has really helped me with stepping out of my comfort zone and growing as a person.
As a learner, the Inquiry Project helped me understand that most of the time, my mind is fixed onto one belief. For example, before I had started talking to locals out there in the village, I believed that there were many differences between the lives of boys and girls in Xizhou and that there might have even been gender inequality. My mind was fixed to this idea and it made it hard to accept the new facts and adapt. The Inquiry Project allowed me to adjust to new facts that were unexpected, and helped me be more flexible and accepting to new ideas.
If I were to go to the beginning of this project again, I would make sure that I reach out to more locals during my teacher support time. If one conversation ended quickly, I need to learn from what I did not do so well during that conversation, and adjust quickly so that I could learn from the conversations that did not go well, improve, and have a better conversation right away. I would also be more adaptable and accepting to new ideas. I should not be so stiff and formal while talking to the locals, too, and rather be more flexible to adjust and make new questions along the way and have a casual conversation.
Since my topic is not on the list, if another Microcampus student were to choose my topic for their Inquiry Project anyway, I would recommend that they study the differences of the lives of boys and girls in the past rather than the present, since if they study the present, there really are less differences. Using my work as advice and building on it, I would suggest that future Microcampus students contact elders in the village to learn about what it was like before. I would also recommend that they interact with the kindergartners at Cheng Zhang Kindergarten (since it is close to the Linden Center) or at other kindergartens if they would like to study about how these differences will be like in the future. This is because I feel like I have gained much from helping to teach these children and interacting with them.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all those who have helped make this experience better for me. First, I would like to thank the Lindens for hosting us at the Linden Center and the Linden Center staff for giving us a comfortable place to stay and do our work. I would like to especially thank Mr. Jake for making jokes along the way and helping us with teacher support, meetings, and arrangements and Ms. Jo for helping with translations, for supporting our group, and for being a very nice person. Also, I would like to thank all the locals who have helped me provide information and making me feel like I am part of this community. Next, I give a huge thanks to Mr. Tafel and Ms. Mai because without them, Microcampus would not have existed. They have made this trip possible for us to go to, and have arranged all the schedules, activities, and have arranged the trip. Additionally, Mr. Tafel and Ms. Mai have provided so much patience to all of us by helping to care for twelve eighth grade students for a whole month. Lastly, I would like to thank the rest of the O.R.E.O. group because I feel like we have supported each other much throughout the course of this trip and through hard times. We have gone through much together and have made this trip much more fun and memorable. Without these people, this experience would not have been the same.
Overall, Microcampus has been an unforgettable experience for me. I am extremely thankful that I was allowed to be a Microcampus student and become part of this program. I hope that I have contributed more than just participating in the program and have left a positive impact on the village and memorable moments with the locals. I will make the most out of what I have gained during my time here. I have learned to step out of my comfort zone and reach out to new people out there during the trip. I will continue to think about Xizhou and how it is still changing, even when I return to Shanghai. This experience has changed all of us and became an important and special month of our lives. I am glad that Xizhou has accepted our group into their community and has given us so much. In the future, these moments will always remind me of Xizhou, of what I learned, and how I have changed and benefited from this experience.