On March 10th of 2018, my Microcampus journey began. With 15 other students, I came to a village called Xizhou in Yunnan. The goal was to investigate a topic of high interest for 4 weeks, but I certainly learned much more than knowledge related to my topic.
I decided to study religion because I thought it would reflect the culture, the history, and the society of Xizhou all at the same time. I wanted to explore many areas of subjects, and religion seemed to fit that well. At first, I tried to study two major beliefs in the area-Buddhism and Islam. But when I began my research in Xizhou and started talking to the residents, I found the information was collecting too much to process and share in such a short amount of time. After considering for a while, I decided to focus only on Buddhism.
The key sources that I relied upon during the process were Mr. Yang, Ms. Zhao, Mr. He, Ms. Zhang, and Mr. Dong, and Mr. Zhang. I chose Mr. Yang and Mr. He because they were willing t share sensitive topics such as the Cultural Revolution and they lived through it as well. Two of them gave me diverse views as Mr. Yang is religious while Mr. He is an atheist. Ms. Zhao was the first person I talked to during my research in Xizhou, and her responses eventually set the tone of my entire project, they also led me towards narrowing down my final product as well. Along with Ms. Zhang, Ms. Zhao exposed me to other generations other than the more religious age group, which is the retired people around age sixty. Based on Ms. Zhao and Ms. Zhang, I learned how the working people around age 40 would practice their religion, and how they brought up their children into becoming religious. Mr. Dong and Mr. Zhang, the security guards at the Linden Centre, did not provide me with much information but shared their views on the Xizhou community as a whole, which helped me wrap up my product.
The types of questions I attempted to answer during the trip were connecting the practice of religion to other daily factors in life, such as how religion affects views on other people and every-day actions. I also tried to lead my questions into revealing the reason behind believing in a religion. By the end of my research process, I reached a point where I chose what kinds of information to share. I selected the information based on my thesis statement: In order to understand Buddhism in Xizhou, one must consider the practice of the religion, the purpose of Buddhism in the community, and how Buddhists view people of other religion.
Sharing My Learning:
In order to share my learning, I created a video describing the practice of Buddhism, including the effects and causations of it in Xizhou. Click here to see my final product.
I took away a variety of things from this magnificent experience. It was a great chance for me to step out of my comfort zone and talk to people in Xizhou. Being a helpless introvert at the beginning of the trip, I relied on my Chinese-speaking fellow Microcampus students to build connections with the villagers. While I was building connections during my inquiry project fieldwork, I also depended on my teacher support for the day to talk to potential partners, but by the end of the week, I grew more confident about myself and my skills as well. I was finally able to avoid awkwardness while communicating with strangers about their religion, considering that the topic may be extremely sensitive to some people. I was more productive than any time in Microcmapus by a substantial amount, and I believe this comes from the discipline and time management skills I obtained over the past few weeks keeping up with a challenging and tight schedule. I picked up powerful work ethics compared to what I used to have back in Shanghai. Surprisingly, I also acquired the skill of reducing stress even when the deadline is near, something I never thought I would do in my everyday life. Furthermore, I had an opportunity to truly comprehend the community of Xizhou, unlike normal school trips where students only see the surface of a culture.
My topic changed dramatically over the course of three weeks in Xizhou. In the beginning, I was planning to compare and contrast the two major religions, Islam and Buddhism, and analyze both of the beliefs in a span of two weeks of research. I thought my project was working out perfectly until I talked to Mr. T about my project and noticed that my final product will not have the capacity to go through all the information that I learned. It was bitter, but I knew I had to cut out most of the information because they were so widespread around diverse topics. Knowing that my learning would not disappear and remain in my Phase 3 workspace assisted me in recovering from the emotional loss I endured from changing my topic that I grew so attached to. When I set off on producing a video, I thanked myself for modifying my subject because it made my video much more simple, steady, and uncomplicated to understand.
The most difficult part of my research was motivating my partners to respond genuinely to my questions. Since religion is a sensitive subject that has caused multiple tragedies and conflicts in China, especially in modern events, I felt like the people I talked to were holding back the majority of their thoughts during fieldwork. Later, I came up with a strategy to motivate the residents to feel comfortable sharing delicate subjects. I first started off with light-hearted questions and gradually moved onto personal, historical aspects of religion. Still, this did not work out some of the times, particularly with residents of older age group.
I had two major "a-ha" moment during my research that I will remember for a long time. One was when Mr. He, the security guard, stated that local students led the destruction of temples and that the government did not have a direct relationship with the vandalization of religious buildings. Another one was when Mr. Yang told me how the government supported religion by providing financial aid and repairing old constructions. I always tried to find how the government interfered with the religion, and I used to have a biased opinion about the Chinese government, that it would always attempt to oppress religious activities. Mr. He and Mr.Yang taught me that current government could be supportive of beliefs. This experience also motivated me to focus on normal citizens and the society of Xizhou rather than the political aspect of religion.
This journey helped me understand a tremendous amount of things that I did not bother to consider about religion in the past. I had no clue about how exactly religious communities recovered after so many years of repression, and how people passed down their beliefs in the modern society when religious activities are not frequent in daily lives. The only example of religious people were my parents and older family members because most of my friends are atheists. This experience has challenged me to grow into an accepting, empathetic individual. Most of the times, I was exposed to extreme examples of religion in both real life and media like the news and books. Staying in Xizhou showed me a positive side of religion and how it could benefit the society. I also had glimpses of the practices of other religion besides the one worshipped in my family.
Being shy to talk to people even in a community I am used to, I had to grapple with communication with strangers and dealing with delicate topics. If not for this project, I would not have made a strong connection with the community. Because this was an individual project, I was pushed to talk alone with the residents, which I found helpful by the end of the trip because it motivated me to step outside of my comfort zone and interact with people in and around Xizhou. I maintained my relationships with the people I interviewed during my inquiry project, saying hello to them every time I passed by their shops, and they would smile back at me. The project attached me to the community as a whole and left an unforgettable mark in my heart.
I figured out things about myself that I never noticed before in my life. I stopped underestimating my ability because I finally understood that I am capable of many things despite my doubts and anxieties. I accepted myself as a human being who could make mistakes and has strengths and weaknesses that do not necessarily make me a bad person or an untalented student. Conversations with Mr. Yang taught me that I might change over time and I should not be disappointed that I might grow up into someone that I did not expect myself to become. This project further caused me to acknowledge that it is acceptable to feel dependent on others, may that be a person or an ideal.
The process of my inquiry project taught me about myself as a learner. I realized that I like to have clear plans and guidelines rather than needing to deal with vague questions and instructions. I also noticed that I love exploring how humans act and think. I found the topic of religion especially interesting, perhaps even more than before I came to Microcampus, but I started to shift my focus to what type of aspects make religion so strong and prominent in many societies including Xizhou, and what motivates the majority of the people to remain faithful to the rules and regulations of their religion despite the fact that there are no real legal restrictions set to punish those who do not follow religious regulations. I noticed that I like to have plenty of time to think and process the information because it leads to new ideas.
If I could go back in time, I would give a few important advice to myself. Although it was already mentioned multiple times by teachers, I think reminders about taking hundreds of photos and videos would have made my final product much easier to work on. I would also tell myself to have faith in myself instead of becoming anxious and full of doubts. It would have boosted my confidence talking to neighbors and building connections. I feel like I could have obtained more knowledge if I had the strength to walk up to people and start off a conversation. I would tell myself to work on my project during downtime if I felt like it would help me in the future.
If I were to continue on my project, I would like to explore more of the religious practices and ideas instead of only talking about how religion is passed down within the family and how often people engage in religious activities. Personally, I wish to learn about religious festivals and the stories behind them as well. I think other Microcampus students could build on my project by considering how Buddhists think differently compared to people of other religion or no religion, and if the religion affects the moral values of an individual. Specific records and stories about the relationship between Buddhists and Muslims in the community could be interesting as well.
I would like to thank numerous people for guiding me throughout the project. First, I would thank Mr. T and Ms. Mai for leading us for the past five months and making this trip successful. They have been very patient and generous with each and every one of the students. Their advice was extremely helpful and necessary for my project to be completed. I would also like to thank Ms. Braverman and Mr. Chen for proving the student with teacher support during the fieldwork of our research for four to five hours every day. Without them, I would not have been able to carry out my research in the first place. They encouraged me to stay positive and provided emotional support along the way. They carried out so much work that made did journey possible, but were not recognized by the students at the time. I appreciate the support from my family and their understanding which made my Microcampus experience possible. Finally, I would like to thank the Voyagers, all my fellow Microcampus students, for their kindness and encouragements that helped me hold myself together during hard times.
Microcampus has been an experience that I will never forget in my life. It was such a unique chance to grow and learn independently. It showed me what I could achieve as a learner and taught me a great deal about religion. There were some ups and downs, but I learned how to turn the downs into a learning experience and appreciate the ups. Microcampus would always have a place in my heart.