To spend 28 days in Xizhou was to peek into my interests and pursue my passions by conducting a research on a topic I have chosen. This opportunity not only provided me a chance to broaden my intercultural understanding but also to cope with various real-life situations. It was a time to become independent, responsible, and raise awareness of our impacts on our surroundings. Due to my particular interest in the development of suburban or rural areas, and knowing that tourism has been the most prevalent industry for the past years in Xizhou, I decided to inspect the role of tourism in the village. For my topic was quite general, I decided to specifically examine the different perspectives of people associated with tourism and project their expectations on the future.
I wondered what topic could be both meaningful to the Xizhou community and to my personal growth in terms of understanding the world with an open, empathizing mindset. In the past years of living in Shanghai, witnessing the great metropolitan city becoming more urbanized each year, I wanted to gain a thorough understanding of what is currently happening in the world. The 21st century is an interesting time period to live in, and if we pay attention to the change of tangible materials along with the evolving thoughts of people, we might even be able to foreshadow the future of our world. As I stand in the middle of this era, I am full of hope and interest towards the many more events that would take place. Thus, I wanted my project not only to input meaning on a personal level but also on a global scale, being prevalent and important to all generations.
Prior to the trip, I gathered information from online resources such as the Encyclopedia Britannica or books addressing the history of development in Xizhou. To gain an understanding of the current situation, I conducted interviews with teachers who had experiences around the village, such as Mr. Tafel, Ms. Mai, Mr. Chen, and Ms. B. Later on, I was able to interview villagers of different status and perspectives. I decided to interview Mr. and Mrs. Linden, the founders of the Linden Centre because their programs have not only contributed to the growth of tourism but also have maintained a relationship with the government. Some elders and young people catering to tourist-based businesses provided their unique insights as well.
I left many different options for my interviews because there was not a limited audience for the topic of tourism. Anyone in Xizhou could share their views since each one of them were contributors to the village's development and economy. They ranged from small business owners like Mrs. Li and Mrs. Fu to Linden Centre employees. But for the majority of the time, I revolved around the local residents in Xizhou to gain an impartial, equal understanding rather than favoring or exemplifying a certain perspective.
The goal of my interviews was to realize the difference between how people of different backgrounds and positions function together to keep a village running. Although there might be a general consensus towards a certain facet of the current situation, I found out that lots of people have contradicting desires. Another aim of my project was to admit the fact that there is no correct or acceptable answer when people are sharing their opinions. Furthermore, it is illogical to criticize anyone for claiming different thoughts because every viewpoint is worth equal recognition. It is the society's duty to take them into account when facing a change that requires more collaboration than neglection of individual opinion.
In order to envision the future of Xizhou, one must consider the perspectives of the business people, the perspective of the government, and the perspectives of those in the tourist industry.
Sharing my Learning:
I created a video to share my learning on the research I have done. Please click here to watch.
From conducting my inquiry project, I was able to take away a virtue called 'empathy'. Empathy is accomplished when someone truly understands someone else, but I will not confidently say that I was able to fully empathize with everyone I have met. It takes more than merely sharing stories and knowledge. It takes more than feeling the same emotions. The quick thirty-minute interviews do not make me connected to every single event of a person's life. However, I have definitely grasped that feeling of empathy. At first, it was challenging because my initial purpose was to record as much information I could in my notebook. There was no such room to observe the speaker and try understanding their emotions because the situation was very uneasy and awkward. However, as I was familiarized with field research, I would focus on the people talking on the spot rather than furiously writing down everything they had said. At that point, I knew the most important thing was to connect with the people, for I was there to listen to their stories through verbal communication not through converting them into hard, solid statements. I observed their expressions, eyes, and reactions to the questions I asked. Those subtle observations were the valuable takeaways from this project. Being in the real world was certainly more interesting than staring into our screens to extract information. Contrary to my prior background information research, the stories the people told were real and genuine.
By the end of the project, my topic changed significantly. Before the trip, I planned to address both tourism and land development issues associated with the government. Through receiving feedback from various sources, I narrowed down the topic to the impact of tourism on the community and the people's outlook on the future. I realized that my topic was extremely broad to conduct a research in a few weeks. Furthermore, there were limited opportunities to contact with the government, especially if I were going to question their land development policies. As a result, I thought my topic would examine three different perspectives with their unique stories to tell. Due to this diversion, I think I was able to build stronger relationships with the villagers because I asked their own opinions rather than a description of the current situation.
The most challenging part of my research was to encourage people to speak up a little bit more. Although my project did include many components of tourism, I still did ask some questions about the government, such as the Erhai Lake Policy. In some cases, people would respond in very short answers, and I would have to create follow up questions to prevent the conversation coming to an end. I struggled because I was not sure how to approach people without posing straightforward questions related to my topic. Gradually, I learned how to start a conversation in a friendly manner by showing interest in their family, business, or even as simple as asking if they ate lunch or dinner. Another difficulty was finishing an interview on schedule because most people I interviewed were business owners, and they would be busy with a customer. However, I saw this as an opportunity to make observations on their actions and gain a new understanding of their perspectives that I would ask later on.
The greatest "a-ha" moment occurred when I interviewed Mr. Chen, a guard at the Linden Centre. When asked to predict the future of Xizhou, he responded that the next generations will naturally decide the future by themselves. I realized that I was so caught up in receiving an answer from my previous interviewees that I never really thought of an open-ended answer. His response was one differentiating perspective that I could include in my final product. Furthermore, it came to me that his answer was very reasonable because nobody could actually really determine the future. The stages of development were prevalent in many other places in the world during many historical eras. Similarly, the members of this community would eventually create their own future. Thus, the moment of realization helped me feel more engrossed in the project and the real world.
Every single process of completing this project helped me understand the topic better. Through listening to various perspectives, I realized that tourism could heavily influence different members of the Xizhou community. For instance, I never considered of tourism being a gateway for local residents to pursue their dreams. When I interviewed Mrs. He, a worker at a traditional clothing shop, she told me she was aiming to open her own business in the future. From early childhood, she had a strong passion for designing traditional attire. She now faces customers on a daily basis, which would familiarize her with communicating with people from various parts of the world. Therefore, tourism is an opportunity for the younger generation to expand their scope of learning and develop their career outside of the village. Prior to the trip, I was aware that the current representation of the Bai culture was not the most "authentic". However, through witnessing the village with my own eyes, I concluded that tourism had both positive and negative components coexisting together; they will both be part of the village's future.
Because I interviewed at least one person in the village every day, I was able to build connections with the people in Xizhou. After each visit for my field research, I would wave to the business owners whenever I passed by. They would respond with a smile or a wave, especially from the ones I have visited multiple times. The interactions I made were mainly focused on the topic of my inquiry project, but I believe that by showing interest towards the village, I was able to earn more credibility and trust. Even more, the level of interactions was different from the usual depth of interactions I would make back in Shanghai. Therefore, taking advantage of the inquiry project, I was able to make many valuable connections that broadened my relationship with the community.
Throughout working on my project, I had moments of understanding myself better as a person. When I started to confidently walk into a shop or a stranger to ask questions, I figured out that I could easily face new people for a cause that I strongly believed in. I realized that I had the courage and the ability to connect with people even if I was in a different environment. During some interviews, I had to find alternatives because the situation was not conducive to conducting an interview. In those situations, I was willing to steer the course into another direction. Thus, I found out that I was adaptable, flexible, and even calm when responding to obstacles. This was not a characteristic I expected to demonstrate, but I am glad that I have developed this strategy, for it will help me immensely when I face real-life problems in the future.
Viewing myself as a learner, I realized that I am eager to learn more about people's thoughts, particularly the psychology of the people. I always sought to gain more understanding of the true and honest opinions of people. Each viewpoint made a contribution to the process of my work because after all, that is what I ultimately aimed to learn. I also carried on the project with optimism whenever I faced a struggle. For most of the time, I would keep a positive outlook on the process I have made and view the upcoming events with an equal amount of positivity.
If I could go back to the beginning of this project, I would have tried to interview people with various jobs. Although I inspected three major perspectives, I focused too much on small shop owners. Therefore, I received many repetitive answers from the same audience. If I could have reached to horse cart drivers and normal cart drivers, I could have approached my topic in a different perspective. Additionally, I would not have relied too much on the recommended contacts from my 3-to-5 interviews. I revolved around the list of contacts all the time that I forgot to include some other contacts I have thought of. Lastly, I would have managed my time more wisely when creating my final product. I took the first two days to wrap up my script writing and recording. Eventually, I had to finish making my video in one day, which was very stressful.
If future Microcampus students would like to continue research on this topic, I recommend conducting a personal journey project after examining the different perspectives of the people. It would be interesting to see how a student of the 21st century would consider their future in relation to tourism. I would also recommend a case-study on how people of the younger generation would grow up in Xizhou. As a result, it would be necessary to interview teenagers around our age. This project would tackle a similar issue in more sophisticated and relevant way.
This 28-day journey would not have been the same without the support and guidance of many people. First of all, thank you Mr. Tafel for allowing us to grow from 8th-grade students to young adults aware of our impacts and responsibilities. Under the daily reminders and guidance, I was able to cope with both social, emotional, and academic hardships with independence. I realized how crucial our thoughts, actions, and attitude mattered and determined who we are. You taught us how to learn and grow in the real world. Secondly, thank you, Ms. Mai, for providing us with wise advice throughout the trip. Wellness was an important factor in our daily lives to keep us healthy and physically active. Whenever we needed help in a confusing situation, you were there to guide us through the steps. I also appreciate Mr. Chen and Ms. B's efforts to support us by taking us on field researches nearly every single day for an hour. I would like to acknowledge the contributions of the Linden Centre staff as well. Every day, they would provide us with delicious meals, clean our rooms, and keep our home safe all the time. Lastly, I would like to thank my Microcampus peers to make this journey a fun, meaningful experience. I believe that we were a solid team regardless of the conflicts and obstacles we encountered. Each one of you guys was truly supportive and understanding, allowing this Microcampus journey to thrive with trust and companionship.
Microcampus is a miniature of this world. For nearly a month, sixteen teenagers, full of passion and determination, set their feet on a land far away from Shanghai to pursue their interests. How well did we know the grand, diverse country called China? It was a matter of time until we could gain a better understanding. I still vividly remember the first day of Microcampus, March 10th, when we were all pushing our carts from the starting line in the airport. We waved farewell to our parents, wishing good luck to ourselves. That was the start. It was simple as a gentle push of the cart to take off this remarkable journey. As we settled into our new habitat, we were introduced to different norms and expectations. At first, they were hard to take in because our minds struggled to fully absorb the change. However, I realized that those subtle changes were not overly exaggerated nor challenging to accept. In fact, they were obvious norms that we did not pay attention back in Shanghai, in our warm little bubble. All that mattered was our views and our perspectives - the change had to start from ourselves. I cannot confidently assure myself that I have become a totally different person. Nonetheless, after each event, I still reflected back on myself and understood what personality I had. As Mr. Tafel mentioned, our six-hour hike did not change us but rather revealed our personality. The revealing of my personality did not surprise me too much. It acted as training wheels to reinterpret my decisions and learn from them. I know the careless, reckless mistakes in my life will be an endless journey. It will be repeated, over and over again, until one of us truly feels a difference from our skin one day. To reach that day, all we have to do is just keep on walking. Perhaps Microcampus has been the starting point to reach the first destination.