Microcampus is a school trip where 8th graders from either campus of Shanghai American School come to the village of Xizhou, Yunnan for four weeks. In Xizhou, they study an Inquiry Project that is highly interesting to them, and make a Final Product where they present their learning. My Inquiry Project is Wall Propaganda Messages.
I chose this project because it blended my interests with some challenges. I have interests in history and politics, which propaganda blends very well. However, I will also need to talk with the locals about their experiences with propaganda, which posed a challenge for me.
For my project, I had multiple different sources to draw information from. My main sources were Mr. Linden, Mrs. Zhao, and Mr. Xu. All three of these sources worked with foreigners and were very familiar with them, but also knew people who were not as familiar (like their family) and had different perceptions. If they did not live through the Mao days, they had family or friends who knew them very well, and were very open about talking about it. You can find a list of sources in my Phase 3.
I also had some guiding questions to focus my information with. They related to the locals' perceptions of foreigners (like Japanese, Americans, Koreans, etc.) and their perceptions of the current propaganda campaigns (China Dream, Protect Lake Erhai, Anti-Corruption, etc.). You can find a list of guiding questions in my Phase 1.
From this information, I developed a thesis statement: During early New China, the late Mao days and the current day, different styles of propaganda reflect the different attitudes and policies of the government that created them.
Sharing My Learning
My final product, where I present my learning and experience, can be viewed above or in this link.
From the Inquiry Project experience, I learned that pacing was incredibly important. Oftentimes I could afford to make slow, steady progress, not necessarily daily; however, as deadlines approached, I struggled with increasing my pacing to achieve those deadlines. I also learned the value of conversation, whether with my peers, teachers, or locals that supplied my information. Sometimes I would fail because either one of us failed to keep the conversation engaging, but I knew that there were multiple different ways to do something. I learned not to be discouraged by failure, which happened multiple times, and managed to improve significantly because of what I learned.
My topic had multiple minor changes during the course of my study. I deliberately chose to hold off narrowing my project to one certain message, as I was more interested in the stories of other people. At first, I planned to discover local perceptions about propaganda; however, it was difficult to get a general consensus about multiple different topics, and I had trouble linking many of the perceptions back to propaganda. Afterwards, I chose to analyze propaganda under different time periods, and succeeded that way.
The most difficult part of my research was the conversations with the people in Xizhou, as they had mixed rates of success and failure. For some people, I failed to keep the conversation on topic and left without a lot of new, insightful data that could pull my project in a different direction. With others, I managed to do exactly that, and I used their information much more in my final product. For each person, I also had to take multiple notes which negatively impacted the conversation. Nevertheless, I had a lot of information to talk about, as evidenced by my Phase 3.
I had multiple "a-ha" moments and major discoveries during my research. During my background research, when I looked over other people's research, I saw how I could structure my information to provide even more clarity. During my very first conversation after my 3-to-5's, I realised how important the "Protect Lake Erhai" campaign was to Xizhou and all the problems that it posed. During later conversations, I also realised how I could convince someone to rethink what he/she said and provide a clearer insight to help my topic even further.
This project helped me understand the topic much better by changing my mindset on propaganda. I regarded it as completely bad and harmful, especially in rural places where outside information was hard to come by, and the locals would be completely unaware about it. Instead, I found out that some of it was morally neutral, like teaching kids about the Japanese invasion and how important it was to Chinese society. I also realised that Xizhou was not some rural backwater that would have a much different mindset than that of Shanghai; instead, this place had a number of educated and aware locals that had traveled outside of China and were much more objective about everything.
This project helped me interact with the community around me by allowing me to realise the hospitality here. Total strangers would have no trouble inviting you to their house for dinner after a mere ten minutes, or at least start sharing certain items. They would be relatively open about their personal life as long as you did the same. I also had a glimpse into their working lives, often very similar to those in Shanghai except much more flexible to allow conversations with total strangers. Conversations like these had helped make my day much better, and I have no doubt that the person I talked to would feel the same.
This project helped me understand myself as a person more clearly by forcing me to improve or showing me the consequences. I definitely struggled during the trip, but I managed to look for ways to redeem myself in the eyes of others, and by doing so dropped or severely reduced some of my bad habits. I also understood myself by realising how much I liked doing this, to find information and talk to others so I could make my own realisations. This trip may have encouraged me to start talking with others more often, no matter urban or rural area.
This project helped me understand myself as a learner by probing my interests and encouraging me to dig deeper. I may have been much more hesitant about talking to new people, especially if they were not recommended to me, if I did not find the topic fascinating and worth the effort. By digging deeper this way, I was able to understand more about my project and remain outside of my comfort zone. I also enjoyed the immense freedom that I had as a learner, that I could go out virtually on my own and decide whatever I needed to do.
I would like to give thanks to a multitude of people who helped me on my project. These people are: Mr. T, Ms. Mai, Ms. Song, Ms. Zhao; Mia C, Debbie S, Audrey T, Jason M; Brian and Jeanee Linden, Mr. Du, Mrs. Li, Mrs. Zhao, Mr. Xu, Mr. Landsberger, Mr. Xie and Mr. Xu. Thank you all for your advice and guidance in helping me complete my project.
I am so proud to finish this project for good! This Inquiry Project took four months to complete, in which I read and followed dozens of instructions, took over a hundred photos, looked over several different earlier exemplars, and did hours of research.