28 days. 10 students. 2 teachers. 1 life changing experience. Microcampus is a Shanghai American School affiliated program where groups of up to 16 students travel to the YunNan province of Xizhou, located in Southern China. Surrounded by mountains, blue skies and immersed in a village full of welcoming locals, XiZhou is the definition of happiness. Microcampus is the most perfect example of real life learning, the village and the people there are our classroom. I left the Shanghai bubble on November 19th, 2016 and spent 28 days with 9 other students, learning not only about or chosen Inquiry project topic and the village, but also ourselves. We leap outside of our comfort zone and think outside of the box. The Inquiry Project is where we research about a topic we choose in attempt to seek understanding about the people and history of the village. We were given a list of topics and the ability to make our own if approved by Mr. T. Our topic was chosen keeping personal preference in mind, but with the main goal to reach outside of our comfort zone and extend our limits. Prior to departure, we executed comprehensive background research to ensure that we fully understood our topic. After careful consideration, I created my own topic : Facial Appearance based on Ethnic Groups.
I chose and created this topic for a variety of different reasons. First, I wanted to understand more about ethnic minorities and their role in society. Before this experience, I knew that these ethnic groups existed, however I was unaware of their significance. Second, I wanted to escape from the common misconception that all Chinese looked the same. Through my 3 years living in China, I have noticed facial differences, but I still did not understand how or why they looked different. Third, I wanted to connect with locals in the village, doing this topic gave me a chance to not only talk to tie-dye makers or silversmiths, but anyone and everyone. Fourth, I wanted to challenge myself and accomplish something that no past Microcampus alumni has done or most people in society has studied.
My sources for this project was anyone that was not busy. During my 9 hours of time to go out into the village, I talked to 25 different people. This included shop owners, customers, street food sellers, tie-dye makers, silversmiths and anyone I passed by. I talked to an abundance of Mr and Mrs. Yangs, a few Mrs. Mas, a couple of Mrs. Zhangs and more. I would personally like to thank Mrs. Wang, Mrs. Duan, and Jiang Yang, for answering not only my 10 questions, but more. Every 25 people I interviewed help made the project possible. With out all 25 peoples hospitality, I would have no information, thus no Inquiry Project.
I chose these sources for no main reason. Some were referred to me by Mr. T, other I made connections with beforehand, and most were anyone I saw that was not extremely busy and seemed friendly enough for me to talk to. At some points, I would pick a specific ethnic group that I would want to talk to to help further focus my work.
For my questions, I asked a variety of different questions. To start, I would ask each person about their certain ethnicity and what that means to them. After that, I would ask them questions about how they perceive other ethnic group. Then I stepped back into questions about ethnic groups and their significance in China. To end my conversation, I asked them if facial features differed based on ethnic groups.
To guide my final project, I created a thesis. This thesis focuses on three main points, which are the perspectives of locals on the three different ethnic groups represented in this area. My thesis statement is: In order to fully understand the difference in facial appearance between ethnic groups, one must consider the local communities perspective on the Bai people, Hui people and Han people.
Sharing My Learning:
Scroll up to the top of this page or click here to see the video I have created about the local communities perspectives on Bai people, Hui people and Han people.
I took away a variety of information from the Inquiry Project process. I learned so much about my topic and myself. I talked to so many people and collected an abundance of different information from all the locals. They shared with me their perception of the different ethnic groups, and their own. They all gave me helpful insight about the difference between ethnic groups including facial features and more. I learned that the difference in facial features between ethnic groups is existent, but most locals do not notice. This Inquiry Project was also a journey of self discovery. I learned more about myself than I could ever imagine. All of the limits and boundaries that I set for my self are all mental blocks. I can break my given limits and reach out of my self set boundaries if I am determined and willing to do so.
My topic slightly changed throughout the course of this journey. At first, I wanted my topic to be about facial analysis of the different ethnic groups. I wanted to really look into just their facial features and see if I could tell what ethnic group a person just based on the size and shape of their nose, eyes, lips, etc. However, before I even arrived in XiZhou, I realized that there is so much more to a ethnic group than their facial features. I then turned the project into the perception on others ethnic groups, and to understand the locals communities perspective on the facial features of others. This project ended working out very successfully because I not only learned about the facial features associated with an ethnic group, but also how the community views others.
Similar to everything in life, my research process had its ups and downs. The most difficult part for me was my Chinese skills. Although I am not a beginner, I am no where close to fluent in Chinese so it was extremely challenging to communicate with others. I could understand what the locals were saying, however I did not know how to reply and could not ask further questions. Another challenging part was the lack of variety in my answers I was receiving. At the start, I was receiving the answer "All ethnic groups facial features look very similar." At that point, I saw no direction to take my final product. Eventually, I started realizing how to frame my question so that I could collect the answers I was hoping for. Eventually, I was able to gather enough information to create a final product.
During my process, I had an "a-ha" moments. My main "a-ha" moment was the understanding about the difference in facial features between Chinese people. Although this realization was not sudden, it was still extremely important. Mrs. Duan was the first person to say something about the difference in facial appearance. After she talked about the difference in the Hui peoples noses, I would always notice that facial feature when talking to others.
This process greatly expanded my knowledge about my selected topic. Before I started this process, I knew about the different ethnic groups in China however I did not understand how they were different or their significance. During the beginning phases, I completed comprehensive background research and understood an extensive amount of information. I not only understood how the ethnic groups were different, but also what makes them different. When I arrived in XiZhou, I put all the information I learned into action. I had real life experience and first hand information from locals. Talking with the locals helped me make sense of all the past information and helped me put it into real life terms. I was able to connect the conversation I was having to all the background information I learned.
The Inquiry Project helped me make this village my home. Because of my topic, I was able to talk with a variety of different people. As a result, I made so many different connections with a variety of people. I was able to talk to people of 4 different ethnic groups, outsiders, locals, silversmiths, tie-dye makers, 20 year olds, 99 year olds and so many more. This helped connect me with the village because everywhere I went, it seemed as if there was somebody I had previously talked to. This topic also helped me connect more with the community because I was able to walk to all different parts of it. One day, I walked all the way to the Linden Center to talk to Mrs. Yang. I explored Si Fang Jie on a deeper level and talked to our neighbors. Because of this topic, I also was able to venture into new places and achieved a higher cultural understanding. One day, I went to a Mosque to talk to some Hui people. Although they were all busy, I still had the opportunity to connect with the place.
The Inquiry Project taught me so much about who I am as a person, and where I could improve. I learned that I have the ability to do anything with the proper mindset. I faced a variety of challenges through out the entire process, from Phase One to Phase 5. The only way I could overcome these challenges is if I changed my mindset, to focusing on the positive and the improvements made instead of pushing my self down for all the negatives. I have also began to understand the importance of self discipline and full responsibility. As I grow up, I will have not have a teacher that will change the expectations for me. I know understand that I have to follow the guidelines and make sure that I manage my time appropriately so I can complete anything in time. I also learned about myself as a learner. I need a clear cut plan, or else I end up slightly confused. Some days during teacher support, I did not have a plan of who specifically to meet with, which ended up with me not collecting lots of information from that day.
If I could go back in time to the beginning of this project, I would have proceeded knowing how challenging it would be, but most importantly how great the reward is. During the first week of the trip, I wanted nothing more than to go home. The workload was too much and the expectations were so much higher than what I was used to. However, I now realise that I was incredibly naive for thinking that. As I completed the sharing my learning portion of this assignment, there was no greater feeling than watching my video and seeing everything I learned in the past few weeks. I wish I could have started the project with all the experience I know now.
If anyone else or myself were to further continue this project, It could take a few different directions. Firstly, It could focus more on how the Han arriving in XiZhou has changed the way the citizens look. I collected lots of comments about how the Han looked very similar to the Bai people. It would be very interesting to focus on why the Han and Bai look so similar and if the marriage between the ethnic groups changed their appearance. Other direction this project could take would be focusing only on how the Bai people perceive other ethnic groups. Since this village is mostly Bai, the Bai have been able to compare them selves to the other ethnic groups. The last direction this could take would be how the increase in tourism changed the Bai dress. I can tell that most Bai people do not wear their traditional clothing anymore, and some of the villagers said this was because the younger generation is wanting to be more like the tourist that come visit.
There are so many people that I would like to thank for their support of this process. Firstly, I would like to thank Mr. T and Mrs. Mai for starting this program, continuing is for 4 years and being the most patient, trusting, and generous people I have ever met. I would also like to thank all 25 people I talked to for their hospitality and kindness towards me. I would specifically like to thank Mrs. Ma the bakery owner, Mrs. Duan the basket weaver, Jiang Yang the owner of the best western cafe in XiZhou and Mrs. Wang the tea shop owner for all of their question answering and unconditional support. In addition, I would like to thank the rest of the Revival group for being extraordinary. The memories, laughs, and motivational speeches from all of us are something I will never forget. Lastly, I would like to thank the village of XiZhou, my home, away from home, away from home. This village is full of the most compassionate and happiest people I have ever met. I have created friendships and connections that are absolutely unforgettable. A last thanks goes out to Mr. T and Ms. Mai again, because they both deserve so much more thanks than could fit in this paragraph, or final product in general.
This experience has been life changing. There were many times where it was extremely challenging, but the ending feeling is so much greater than all of the hardships. I have learned so much about myself and my impact on others. I will never forget the people I met, the experiences I had, and the memories I have made. Being part of Microcampus at a young age will greatly impact the way I proceed into the further years. I have immersed myself into a culture that is not my own and made connections with people who do not speak the same language as me. Microcampus is a truly incredible thing. Not just because It gives students the opportunity to stay in a beautiful village, but because it makes any person part of something bigger than them selves. All 246 Microcampus students so far are part of something that no other person can relate to. Although I do not know most of the Microcampus alumni, there is something that connects any future Microcampus student and myself to them. Participating in a program like this is more valuable than anything else in the world. I will look back at photos years from now and will have to smile, because there is no greater feeling than the one this program gives its participants.