On the day of March 10, 2018, 16 8th grade SAS students left their school and home to arrive at an unfamiliar land called Xizhou for 28 days to explore a topic they choose, to explore the place of Xizhou, and most importantly, to explore themselves. I choose tea. I studied tea because I have always wanted to know more about my country's drink, especially in the province that is known for its tea production, Yunnan. There were many sources for my project, but I think the most major of them has must be Ms. He, as she has taught me everything about Puerh and Dian Hong from A to Z, and also Ms. Zhao for getting me into flower teas.
When in Xizhou, there were a couple of main questions I wanted to answer before I go back. Those questions included: how does tea go from leaf to drink, how are the tools of boiling tea used, and what are the 功效 of Puerh and Dian Hong. After answering these questions, I made a thesis for my final product. To understand the basics of tea, one might consider the production/picking of tea, the gong xiao(功效-health benefits), and the boiling/tools of boiling tea.
Sharing My Learning
I have created a video for my Final Inquiry Project, which you can see on youtube here.
The Inquiry project has taught me not only what I studied, tea, but also how to meet new people and how to be responsible for my own research and learning. I learned to make up my own questions and I also learned to take control of the steering wheel, moving my learning process to wherever I want it to go. I also learned to shrug off anything I regretted because at first, I regretted not going to the tea fields, but then I realized that it did not matter if I went to the tea fields or not, my project can still have a focus on tea production, and I instead took pictures of a tall tree and a small tree to represent the tea trees. The inquiry project made me meet new people and the first fieldwork session was awkward, but then I realized that the worst a field work day could get is awkwardness, nothing worst. The inquiry project has exponentially improved my social skills with strangers and I will miss not only everyone I have met in Xizhou but everyone I have not when I leave.
The topic shifted from the people who produced tea to the tea itself. I realized that I was more interested in the tea itself and although I would not be learning about tea drinks and producers, I would still know the people who produced tea and sold tea even if my inquiry project was not focused on them, so I decided to do tea itself, that way I could learn about both people and tea. I also realized that it would be extremely hard to connect with people who planted tea because I would have to drive to the tea plantation multiple times to get to know them well, and even if I could do that, the chances of the same tea planter being in the same place at the same time would be very unlikely, so I decided to go to tea itself because it was more logical to research and the fact that I thought I would get more out of my inquiry project that way.
The most difficult part of my research is planning out what to ask, as many times I would go back to a tea shop asking nearly the same questions, so I always had to direct my focus onto whatever my contact is talking about and improve many of my questions. This, however, allowed me to learn much more information than that of what I originally asked, so instead of just learning about for example, what is the tools of tea, I would also learn about that weird looking tea in the corner of the shop, or maybe even about how some trees use more pesticides than others, so I think that was a big plus from my improv questions. I would still recommend you to prepare questions if you are a future Microcampus student because it is always better having questions to ask rather than muttering word viruses all the time.
A major A-ha moment would be when I was doing field work and deciding what specific part of tea I should focus on and at that moment I was deciding between Puerh and Dian Hong. However, when I learned more about them after that session, I realized that although it would be easier to just learn about either Puerh or Dian Hong, the topics were interesting and that I could handle both topics in my inquiry project, so instead of picking just one tea to research, I did both and that decision really opened up new questions for me, so instead of just asking the same questions about puerh over and over again, I could switch to Dian Hong, which would allow me to talk longer and interest my contact for longer too.
This inquiry project has also allowed me to, as you would expect it, learn about tea. However, I did not just simply learn the facts and information about tea, but also some of the opinions and also the lifestyle of tea. For example. one of my contacts told me that qiao mu was much more ecologically friendly compared to guan mu because it uses up much more pesticides and fertilizers and that really changed how I thought and understood tea, that it was not only just a drink but sometimes it would also damage the environment. The contacts I met also made me think about the people who deal with tea on a day to day basis compared to not, and I saw that many of the tea sellers were extremely nice, and then I realized, people who sell tea and deal with it every day are naturally calm because first of all, they drink tea much of the time which calmed them down, and also that because they have to talk to people every day on a day to day basis and boil them tea to convince them to buy them tea, the niceness is not only from the seller's personality but also because it is a good business practice.This project helped me understand the topic better but more importantly, the people better, which is probably the major part of my learning.
This topic made me interact with the entire community of tea shop owners because every time I would visit a tea shop, I would get sat down by the owner to talk about tea and to drink because that is what the tea sellers do every day, talk about tea and give others tea to convince the consumer to buy tea. However, even if I did not buy tea, the sellers would still treat me like everyone else because they also really just want to talk about what they do every day, especially to someone that is researching about their job's focus, tea. I have found to know many people through this project and I am really going to miss sitting down in front of a tea seller just to talk about tea and drink tea to relax.
This project made me understand myself as a person because I realized that I am an extremely curious person, looking around a shop for any products that makes me ask, "what's this?" I also realized that I like talking to strangers very much and that I really like the freedom to explore places however I want, like Xizhou. This project also made me realize how much I like small communities instead of big cities like Shanghai because I would get too lost in Shanghai and because I would never be able to meet the same people easily as I live far away from many shops. This is while in Xizhou, I could walk outside for 5 minutes and talk to someone without much worry, and even if I get lost, I would never get too lost. I also realized that I really admire the beauty of nature because in Shanghai, everything is dark and cloudy. However, in Xizhou, the sky is blue and the grasses are green, normal things that were not normal to me.
This project made me understand more about myself as a learner in ways that were quite surprising. For one, I realized that I was really good at talking to others and getting to know them without too much anxiety or awkwardness, and another one, I realized that if I learn something that I am truly interested in, tea, for example, I get much happier when I learn about it instead of sitting in a classroom learning about something boring, although I won't give examples. The way that I learn about tea has also made me understand myself as a learner, because while in a classroom there are 20 students fighting for the same teacher over a period of 90 minutes, I could meet anyone I want in Xizhou and talk to them about what I want to know without other people fighting for it for however long or short that I want, so I would never get bored or to inpatient of an answer to my question in Xizhou.
If I could go back to the start of the Microcampus trip, the best advice I would give to myself is to take every chance of field work to meet as many people as I can, and also to take every trip and opportunity that would be offered. For example, I did not take the chance to go to the tea plantations, an action that I regret because I would have seen the beautiful tea fields and also would have a much more close up learning to tea and its production. There were also many other tea shops that I have not visited, which I also regret because I would have known so many more people that way. The final piece of advice I would give to myself is probably to remember to take as many pictures as possible, as I would have many more photos for my project and for memories.
If someone else would continue my project, I would like that person to expand above not just about tea, but more about the history of tea and the opinions and lifestyle on tea. I really enjoy history so I want the history of tea to be more researched and shared because tea has had a thousand to two thousand year history. I also want the opinions of tea sellers to be shared because people who sell tea does not only care only about money but most of them also care about the culture of tea and have a high interest in tea and tea culture as they would have never chosen to be a tea dealer if they did not have a high interest. I also really want to learn the lifestyle because I do not know how much people drink tea every day and I would love to learn the rolling tea plays in people's lives.
There were many people who supported my research along the way. But I would like to thank Ms. Yang. Mr. Wang, Mr.Li, Ms. He, Mr. Yi Xiu, Ms. Wang, Ms. Dai, Mr. Wang(#2) on the teachings of packaging, and last but not least, Mr.Wang(#2). These people have not only provided me information to do my project but has also had enough patience to listen to a 13-year-old ask questions about tea for 45 minutes at a time. If these people did not give me their time and patience to answer my questions, I would not think I would have an inquiry project right now. I really respect these people and when I leave, I will miss them
The time in Microcampus has taught me many things about not only my topic but myself. This experience has allowed me to meet many astounding people and learn many crazy facts and opinions. The 28 days felt short because I realize how much I want to meet new people and now that we are approaching our last week, it feels like I have not had enough time to do everything I wanted to do here. The experiences in Xizhou were life-changing and I will never forget the Microcampus trip.