The learning experience, Microcampus, lasts for four weeks, twenty-eight days. Members of the Voyagers Group each chose a topic that we found to be of high interest to be able to study more during the course of the trip. Months ago, I became part of that group. We were to leave on the eighth of March to a small village called Xizhou. The twenty-eight days are used to expand our inter-cultural understanding, getting out of our comfort zone for our personal growth, solving real-world problems, as well as leaving with a positive impact on our environment.
For my topic, I decided to choose Local and Small Businesses, and had planned to conduct a case study on a business. The reasoning behind this was because of my family; they also own a business and because of this, I was interested in being able to gain some more insight into other businesses as well. In addition to this, I thought that the thought process behind building up a business and developing a business over time was engrossing.
Throughout my research of businesses, there were several people who provided me with very helpful insight and information about my topic. These include the silversmith, Mr. Zhao; Mrs. Yang, the woman who runs the the textile street stand. I decided to include these people because they often helped me further and deepen the basis of my topic. In addition, both of these business owners, I evetually became close to and were able to provide me with both emotional and educational support. Other than them, Ms. Yang, the tea shop owner, as well as Roy and Ms. Fu. They were open to being able to share their past with me, which allowed me to get a better understanding and perspective of different types of businesses.
Over time, I found that the kinds of questions that I was trying to answer changed as my research went along. In the beginning, I was focused on getting a perspective on how their business was now, how to run a business, and relating my own life with theirs. However, as time went on, I found that my focus for questions shifted over to wanting to understand how tourism became a factor in their business, as well as the change of their business over a period of time.
My time at Xizhou, along with the help from the local residents and teachers led me to be able to create this thesis for my Final Product: In order to understand the evolution of different small businesses in Xizhou, one might consider the contrast between an older business run by a local, a newer business run by a local, as well as a modern business run by a newcomer.
Sharing My Learning
My final product is a video that will be showcasing my experience here at Xizhou. The video will consist and revolve around my learning and research of the different small businesses that I had talked to during Microcampus and can be found through this link.
After spending twenty-eight days here, there were obviously many things and lessons that I took away from this experience. One of the key factors that I had realized over the course of my time here would have been that getting out of my comfort zone was what allowed me to be able to get to where I am now. By this, I mean that when I was able to get out of my comfort zone, the experiences that I had then were the ones that were able to further and deepen my understanding of my topic. I was not only asking them skin deep questions, or questions at all sometimes, I was able to talk to them and get to know them as a person. Being able to do this, helped the flow of the conversation and even, eventually, the person be able to open up to me and talk about their lives from long before and how that led them to become who they are now.
My topic did change; however, this change only happened once having arrived in Xizhou. The change was not something I realized immediately. It was only once I sorted out my notes, that I found my topic seemed to focus on a few particular aspects. Prior to arriving, I had no aim for my topic but if back then, I had chosen a specific topic, my main focus would have been on a small business case study. After I sorted out my notes, the focus seemed to shift over to the tourist effects on certain businesses depending on the logetivity of the business, as well. Furthermore, I had found that the origin and type of businesses also shifted and differed depending on the longetivity. Another reason for the change was because of a recommendation I recieved from Mr. Tafel; he recommended that I maybe focus on change between certain businesses, and I had found that to be compelling. This eventually led me to narrow it down to the comparison of specific businesses.
Because of my shy dentencies, there were plenty of rough patches throughout the process of Microcampus, especially during fieldwork. I found that during my first fieldwork experience, I was stuttering the entire time, and found that the conversation was not going as smoothly as I had hoped. During that first hour, I was not able to understand much and struggled to be able to ask or make up follow up questions to be able to keep the conversation going. This also continued to happen throughout the next couple of fieldwork sessions, but over time, this obstacle slowly faded; however, it never completely disappeared, despite that, it got increasingly more comfortable especially in the last few sessions.
My "a-ha" moment came only when I was asked a question by one of my teacher supports, Ms. B. We were walking back from a fieldwork session and she asked me what my final product was going to be focused on. Up until this point, I had never really thought about that and only focused on getting more and more information every single research session. During that moment, I tried to refresh what I remembered most about my notes and found that every similar answer I acquired, was from a business that had been run for for a similar period of time. This conversation was what eventually led to my thesis and helped me build a basis around my research from that point on.
My inquiry project's process has been able to help me grasp a better understanding of my topic. When I had first started my inquiry work and was thinking about what type of answers I was going to be getting at Microcampus, I thought that the answers to my questions in Phase 1 would be fairly generic and simple. No one would have had their family's history affect the way their business was run. I never really thought about how the "outside world" or outside the "bubble" situations would affect entrepreneurs or their business. However, once coming to Microcampus and interacting with the residents of Xizhou, I found just how much certain events can affect one. My understanding of entrepreneurs was only skin deep, and although I stated in Phase 1 that I wanted to continue my research about business owners's personal lives, I never really understood what kind of answers I would be getting. I expected answers similar to, "my family was poor, therefore I was not able to start a business", answers that revolved around, I, me, my. However, when I had talked to the silversmith, Mr. Zhao, he explained that because of the government's restraints on the economy and the gold, he and his family were not able to get the resources that they needed to be able to continue running their business. Because of this, they needed to find illegal ways to carry on their family tradition of silversmithing.
This project required me to be able to talk to the people around me and get to know them. If this was not requried, I would have normally never have even spoken a word to them. Every person that I pass by on the street as replied my smile and wave, with one back as well. This gave me more confidence in being able to talk to strangers and being able to hear their story and hear about what they love, and about their family, and their history. In other words, if I had never been forced to learn and become comfortable with the idea of talking with people, I never would have been able to get to know and form a connection with anyone at Xizhou.
The experience here at Xizhou has also been able to allow me to understand myself more as a person as well. I realized that it is okay to take time, it is okay to accept the pause inbetween work. I learned that I tend to rush through certain projects or areas of work that leave a stain in place of what should be clear and consice. I remember talking to the silversmith and stumbling over all my words trying to choke up the Chinese questions that I thought I was prepared with, and sounding like I had never even practiced with my questions at all. Mr. Zhao, the silversmith, took his time and calmy told me to calm down, and take my time. Through this conversation I was able to recognize what I was doing wrong in that moment, that I was rushing and not keeping the pace and steadiness I was supposed to. I learned that I was always rushing, always trying to stutter out what I was able to remember, but that it was okay to take time and become calm.
This several month long process has helped me better understand myself as a learner in serveral aspects. I realized through the nine sessions of fieldwork that I enjoy being able to watch the process of someone work while being able to talk to them, through this, I learn more about what types of products they make, the history of the product, as well as why they create te products. I guess it would be more similar to, watching and interacting with the change of something helps me grasp a clearer understanding of the topic. In addition to this, I found that silence was a large part in being able to make a connection. While watching Mr. Zhao, Ms. Yang, and Mr. Yan create jewelry, cheese, and baba, I felt more relaxed around them while being able to watch them work.
If I could go back to the start of this process, I would tell myself to not ask as many direct questions. In the beginning of fieldwork, I found myself struggling to make conversation with the business owners and jumped directly in the why, who, what, how, kind of questions. This did not, unsurprisingly, make a very strong connection. Once that did happen, I realized, or thought that it was not appropriate or mannered to go back and disrupt their work again. In other words, I did not think that I had left that business with a very positive impact. Now, I would have told myself to start with questions asking about their day or talking more about myself first.
There were just an uncountable amount of people who have helped me along this 28 day long journey. I would first like to be able to thank Mr. T and Ms. Mai for being there every step of the journey, supporting and caring for us, and allowing for such a remarkable program to be able to exist. In addition to them, Mr. and Mrs. Linden have been absolutely great and I would like to thank them for providing us with this space. The people whom take care of the space are also just as important, they spend their time taking care of sixteen students and so, I would also like to be able to thank the cleaning staff, He and Zhao Shifu, as well as the kitchen staff. Furthermore, my local contacts were extremely friendly and open to a random thirteen year old, and I found that to be especially kind and generous. They consisted of: Mr. Li, the owner of a clothing store; Mr. and Mrs. Yang, the owners of the Cheese Factory; Mr. Zhao and Mrs. Yang, the silversmiths; Mr. Yang, a former teacher; Mrs. Yang, a street stand owner; Mrs. Yang and Ms. Cheng, two owners of a street stand; a woman who sells tie-dye at Sifangjie, Mr. Yan, the baba maker; Ms. Yang, a tea shop owner; Roy, a cafe worker; Juan-Juan, the co-owner of a tie-dye shop and restaurant; Ms. He, a Lanshi worker; and Mr. Liu, a man whom only recently, opened up a chicken restaurant by Sifangjie. Every single one of these people were just so amiable and generous to me and I cannot thank them enough. Last but not least, I would like to thank the rest of the Voyagers Group, for making this a phenomenal experience.
This month-long experience has been a spectacular learning and growth journey and I will forever continue to carry on the lessons that I have learned here throughout my life onwards.