I arrived in Xizhou to spend four weeks working and researching on a topic of high interest that I chose in Phase 0, which was creating a visitor's guide. Over these past four weeks, I have conversated with numerous people living here in the village, seeking information and advice for my project so that I could share it with my audience.
I chose this topic because I wanted to create a guide that could help tourists, specifically foreigners, avoid what I have experienced before when traveling; being confused and having no idea where I was, what I was to do, how I was to communicate with people, or what meaning the place had. I want to prepare tourists for their arrival so that they would get to learn the most about the culture, find all the hidden gems, and basically, have a good experience overall while not disturbing or leaving any negative impacts on the community and culture, and instead, only benefiting them.
My sources for my research process in Xizhou include Linden Centre staff, Microcampus teachers, and people who have experience in the tourism industry here, which includes the horsecart and scooter drivers people generally see on the roads.
I decided to choose these sources since I knew that they would have the most experience in tourism and would give great suggestions. I also decided to choose the horsecart and scooter drivers as sources since I could ask more personal questions on how the increase in tourism has affected their lives. They gave good suggestions on how tourists could leave a good impact on the community and the culture, and also gave a huge amount of information on how tourism has affected the village in these past years. I chose the Linden Centre staff because I knew they worked every day with tourists, especially foreigners, who are my designated audience, so I decided to ask them for tips on how to have a perfect experience in Xizhou. In the end, these sources all contributed greatly and have helped me learn so much not just about Xizhou, but about the important impacts of it, unknown to most tourists who come by.
The kinds of questions I was trying to answer all focused on tourism. They were mostly about what tourists should do, tips for their convenience, and the impact of an individual tourist and the whole industry.
Through the process of the endless research I have done, I now know that in order to create a tourist guide beneficial to both Xizhou and tourists, one might consider essential information on Xizhou, the tourist's possible impact on the village, and attraction suggestions.
Sharing My Learning
My visitor guide can be accessed from here.
I took away many skills and lessons from the inquiry project. The fieldwork sessions have helped me improve my confidence when I speak with people. I have learned greatly about the impacts of tourism and development in Xizhou, and about the different lives that people live because of the different ways they are affected by tourism and development. From this, I thought about tourist towns I have visited before, like Lijiang, Dali Old Town, and even the cities like Shanghai and Beijing. I realized how the culture is richer when villages like Xizhou are left untouched contrary to how the culture seems to have disappeared in globalized and developed cities like Shanghai. During my fieldwork session conversations with the residents, I learned about which settings most people prefer to talk in and how I can adjust my questions to get more answers. Overall, the inquiry project has taught me more about talking to people and the impacts of tourism that I would never have become aware of if I never chose this topic and kept traveling in the future.
Over the course of this trip, my topic did change. When I first began my inquiry project, my topic, which is the creation of a tourist's guide, was leaning more towards a creation of an itinerary. It was targeted towards helping other tourists have a memorable and local experience in Xizhou when they arrive, a chance for them to experience the rich culture and history of Xizhou. As the trip progressed and I learned more about Xizhou through my own eyes, I realized that it would be important to consider talking about the impact of tourists and how they can travel in a method that is sustainable and beneficial to the culture and community. My project was now moving on to a different path and purpose; I was now trying to create a memorable experience for tourists while also minimizing any negative impacts they would have on Xizhou. Then the turning point came. During that fateful afternoon when I obtained the chance to talk to Mr. Linden, I had an entirely different perspective on tourism. Mr. Linden talked about the tourists he usually sees in Xizhou and how they never seem to be interested in culture. He talked about the outside businesses and the packaged day tours that bring close to no profit to the community. And as Mr. Linden talked about how tourists needed to be more curious and willing to learn, I realized that there was much more to creating an itinerary than just planning each day and then plastering all the plans onto a website. After my conversation with Mr. Linden, I decided to stop planning an itinerary, and instead create a guide that aims to prepare tourists to go on a learning journey by themselves without any tours or any itineraries planned by anyone but them. I wanted to create a guide that could benefit the tourist and the village so that the tourist could have a memorable learning experience while also having a positive impact on the community and culture. I do not want to see Xizhou turn into a tourist town that caters and appeals to all tourists. I want tourists to see Xizhou's real culture and community, to learn about the rich history and make connections with the residents in order to expand their own intercultural understandings much like I did here during my 28 days of Microcampus.
The most difficult part of my research process was when I was gathering information about tourism and its impact. I was rejected by a few people when I tried to ask them some questions because they thought that they were too "uneducated" to know about the impacts of tourism. Others who agreed to talk were sometimes unspecific, saying a simple "Yes" and not elaborating. I realized that it was because of my questions and how they seem to be too formal, discouraging my contacts to talk as they would believe that they are not qualified to answer my questions. With the help of my teacher supports, I eventually altered my questions to be more personal, making it easier for my contacts to answer since they would know the direct influence of tourism on their lives, rather than the impact on the community overall. From this difficulty, I learned that playing around with my questions and altering them in different ways really helps me get the answers I need.
My a-ha moment was definitely my conversation with Mr. Linden. He changed my whole research process and my perspective on tourism. After my conversation with him, I changed the answers that I was looking for and was suddenly more aware of my surroundings every day and how they linked back to the impact of tourism in Xizhou. I saw the village in a different perspective and changed the questions that I asked my local contacts. Mr. Linden's conversation with me was truly a turning point on my project, and I feel quite relieved that I was able to talk with him. Otherwise, I probably would never have been aware of the big impacts tourists could have on the community, and how I could change it with just a guide.
This project has helped me understand my topic better especially through the fieldwork sessions. Roaming around the village and talking with the residents here has allowed me to have a better idea of Xizhou and its culture, and how I can prepare tourists to learn about it through my guide. I also learned about the different effects the development has on the lives of the residents living here and the future of the culture. This project, with the different phases and objectives, has allowed me to work in different ways with the information I gathered and allowed me to learn so much about this topic.
The inquiry project has also allowed me to make many connections with the residents here. The fieldwork sessions have given me the chance to see the lives of others rather than focusing on my own. Before the trip, I had a general confidence with interacting with people and starting conversations, but during the trip, I have become even more confident and willing to start talking with the people I see around me. Through the interactions I had with the residents, I also learned more about Xizhou overall. Learning from other people's perspectives and lives in real life is so much more different than scrolling through countless web articles and typing search terms into Google. It is a different learning experience that allows people to make connections while also seeing life in different perspectives, rather than people making no connections and only staring at a screen.
The inquiry project has helped me understand myself overall better as well. I now notice that even though I had the confidence before the trip to start conversations with strangers, I never really tried it and was uncomfortable doing so. During the trip as I worked more on my project, I realized that starting conversations and talking to people is not as scary or uncomfortable as it seems. I also understand that I am able to make connections easily with some effort and learned that people can be very open and willing to share about their lives if I ask the right questions. Overall, I have learned that I am braver and more courageous than I thought I was when it comes to talking and making new connections, and stepping outside my comfort zone during this project has helped me learn and understand myself in so many different ways.
The inquiry project has helped me understand myself better as a learner through the 28 days I have spent learning in the village through conversations and observations. Contrary to how I learn back at school in Shanghai, the inquiry project has helped me learn through conversations I have instead of through instructions and classes led by teachers. These conversations are also started and led by me most of the time, which shows that with the right questions in mind I can always learn by myself and understand the information better than I would through classes. This happens because my learning is more fit and personalized to my needs, rather than how classes are planned to fit the general needs of students, and this allows me to learn faster and more efficiently because of the control I have over the conversations and the research I conduct with the people in Xizhou. Simply making observations of the village has also allowed me to learn about the community. This inquiry project has allowed me to understand myself better as a learner because of the freedom and control I had over my own learning process.
If I could go back to the beginning of this project, I would have quite some advice for myself. I would advise myself to plan out my project well and to use the time that Mr. T has given to me efficiently. If Mr. T gives a certain amount of time to finish something, that is the amount of time it will take if the work is done productively and efficiently. I fell behind with my background research because I was not certain about what I should research for my topic. It took me quite some time to figure it out, and by the time I did figure it out I was already behind my work. I could have avoided this by referring to the previous projects as a guide instead of taking so much time to figure it out by myself. The previous projects by the alumni were a big help because they gave me an idea of what I needed to research on and what information I needed. I also wish that I talked to Mr. Linden earlier. Despite how useful the conversation was to me later on, it at first slightly threw me off my path and confused me. I took some time to figure out what to do with the information he gave me, and it would have worked better if I had talked to him earlier on during the trip. I also think that if I had talked to him earlier I would have been able to talk to more of the horsecart and scooter drivers. I would be interested to see where my project would have gone if I had done this. This is what I would give as advice to myself if I went back to the beginning of the project.
If a future Microcampus student were to build off of my project, they could choose to elaborate more on the impact of tourism and learn more about the different perspectives the residents have of tourism and the tourists that come to Xizhou. They could find out what most of the community thinks of tourists and advice they would offer to tourists to get more out of Xizhou while also having a good impact on the community. They could learn about what the community would like to see more of in tourists and what they think tourists should try to learn more about in Xizhou. It would be interesting to see how the community feels towards tourists rather than just aiming to help tourists have a good experience in Xizhou.
Overall, the inquiry project was an extraordinary experience and allowed me to learn so much about the community and culture here in Xizhou. It would not have happened without Mr. T, who started this whole Microcampus program and who has put up and supported numerous Microcampus groups since 2012. Thank you, Mr. T, for your crystal-clear instructions, for the feedback, and the advice you have given me throughout my project. A big thanks to Ms. Mai, who supported me during my teacher support sessions and gave me suggestions and feedback on my conversations. Acknowledgments to Ms. B and Mr. Chen, who have taken hours out of their day to come support the whole Voyagers group in our work every day, and for giving us constructive feedback during our various conversations with the residents here to help us feel less awkward and uncomfortable. A special thank you to my parents for supporting me and allowing me to embark on this wondrous journey, for your willingness to let me be far away from you for 28 days, for helping me in the process of having to prepare for the trip. A final thank you to the community of Xizhou, for being willing to be our contacts and sources in our research process, and always being patient during the conversations we all have had.
These 28 days at Microcampus have flown by and will be something that I will be able to reminisce about forever in my life. I am grateful for having the opportunity to participate in a learning experience like this, and to be able to step outside of the Shanghai bubble and become part of a different community. The inquiry project has taught me so much about my impacts wherever I go and how I can approach people to talk to them. The teachers here, especially Mr. T and Ms. Mai, have taught me so many valuable life lessons and given me the opportunity to learn by myself. Microcampus did not build my character, but it revealed it and allowed me to learn and understand myself so much. Future Microcampus students, hold on to these 28 days because they will be crazy and an experience of a lifetime.