As part of the Tactical Microcampus group, I embarked on a 28 day long trip to Xizhou. In the duration of this experience, there were many opportunities for us to engage in meaningful activities that were challenging, in order for us to gain personal growth.
One example where we had to take part in experiential learning would be our Inquiry Project. This was a project that involved us building connections with the local community, in order to find sources and study a topic of high personal interest, that we chose before the trip. After looking through the bounty of options avaliable, I came to the decision of researching the topic of body language, as it was incredibly intriguing to me that the way one presents themselves through appearance and actions revealed so much about their true character and culture.
While I was conducting research about this topic, I had to use many different sources, in order to learn the most about my topic. Prior to the trip, I contacted experts on body language through the internet via email, and asked for feedback and/or suggestions regarding the work I had completed at the time. Once I had arrived in Xizhou, I conducted a series of short conversations with people I had already become familiar with, such as Mr. T., Ms. Mai, our support teacher Ms. Zhao, and one of the founders of the Linden Centre, Mrs. Linden. These conversations, also known as "3-5's", gave me a distinct direction of where I could go around Xizhou to find sources. In the end, I decided to open up the range of my sources to both locals and tourists, as I had gotten interested between the differences of body language between the two groups. I started making connections with locals first. Mr. Yang, a horse carriage driver, was very kind and open to answering my questions. Other locals who were especially helpful include both Mrs. Zhao, owner of Old Town Snacks, and Mr. Huang, who runs a tea shop. As for tourists, a girl named Stephanie was incredibly supportive, and others such as Ms. Li or Mr. Luo provided me with an abundance of information.
I chose to approach these specific sources based off suggestions given from my 3-5's, and other factors such as levels of interest or areas of focus also influenced these choices.
In the time frame of my research, my main focus was answering questions surrounding the perceptions held about the people in Xizhou. In more specific terms, I was looking into how locals, tourists, and myself interacted with the Xizhou people differently, through body language or physical appearance. More than that, I wanted to know the cause of these variations between groups.
In order to understand perceptions held about the people of Xizhou, one might consider the perspectives of long-term residents, perspectives of short-term tourists, and the perspective of a student who has been living in Xizhou for a month.
Sharing My Learning:
I decided that my final product would be a video, which can be viewed by scrolling above. In case the video does not load, for whatever reason, you may also click here to see the video.
Looking back on the Inquiry Project experience, I can truly say that it is not like anything I have ever done before. Although I learnt many interesting facts regarding the topic of body language, I think that the most important take-away was being able to understand personal growth. Throughout this process, there were multiple times where I was nervous or afraid to interact with the strangers, especially the tourists. Before Microcampus, I was not one to jump out of my comfort zone, as I am not an impulsive thinker and tend to go through all the possibilities of how something can go wrong, before taking a risk. On the other hand, if I did not go out on a limb and make conversation with the tourists around me, vital pieces of my research would have been lost, and I would have never gotten the thrill of making connections with new people. After all, the only person who was stopping me from taking chances in the beginning, was myself. By saying this, I mean that the Inquiry Project truly allowed me to grow as a person and step outside of my bubble.
My topic was not one that went through any drastic changes. Saying this, it definitely took some turns I did not expect it to. At the beginning of the trip, I thought I was going to study only the body language of locals, and what gestures were the most important to them. After hearing Mr. T.'s tour of Xizhou on the second day, I became intrigued with the idea of comparing and constrasting the body language of locals with tourists. This is because in the tour, he had been discussing how most tourists who came to Xizhou were unaware of their impact on the community and often did not understand Xizhou's true culture. Over time, my topic went beyond body language, and went into the realm of people watching as well. This means that it expanded from basic movements and postures to also discussing a person's physical appearance. More than that, it went into depth about the cause of the differences between locals and tourists as well.
The most difficult aspect of this project, for me, was figuring out what I wanted to do with all the information I had collected from local contacts. It was challenging because I had so many different aspects I could talk about, from skin color to volume level. Besides that, I was also unsure of which facts I would want to include and how to include them. For twenty minutes or so, I stared at my screen, thinking about ways I could incorporate all of my ideas. In the end, I realized that it would be better to shorten the number of facts included and lengthen parts discussing my personal experience. This is because I decided that it would be better if viewers were entertained, and learn a couple of the most important facts, instead of being bored from watching me drone on about what I learnt, and not listen to any of the information given.
One of my main a-ha moments was during my conversation with Stephanie, a foreigner from Singapore. Up untill that point, I had the misconception that all tourists did not understand the means of Xizhou, and only travelled here for the purpose of a photo. Instead, she surprised me by asking if there were places other than Sifangjie that held history of Xizhou, after learning that I was to be here for a month, and knew the place relatively well. This allowed me to discover that the situation between locals and tourists, like all others, was not all black and white. Although I had not dismissed the knowledge of the disrespect some tourists give to the locals, I was able to stay more open to the possibility of tourists who were genuinely interested in learning about Xizhou culture.
Before this trip, I had the idea that all gestures and postures signified the same emotions and thoughts in all communities. Now, I finally understand that the topic of body language consists of many different complex layers. Not only does body language signify one's mood, it shows their character. Furthermore, in some ways, one can even say that body language shows their history and culture. This is because the way a person uses body language differs, due to the fact that simply no one has experienced identical events.
If not for the Inquiry Project, I would not understand the village nearly as well as I do now. Although I would have had other opportunities to build connections with locals, without Mr. T., there was no other way for me to know what was the real culture of Xizhou. I may have spent my time here through the eyes of a common tourist, thinking that things such as hair weaves or flower crowns were staples of the lifestyle here. On the other hand, with Mr. T., and without this project, I would not have known the viewpoints of tourists and stayed in the mindset that everyone viewed Xizhou the same way; through the perspectives of locals. To clarify, this project provided me with variations of insights towards the people of Xizhou, and gave me the opportunity to gather those different perspectives in order to pose my own upon this village.
Not only did I learn about the topic of body language and the village, I have also taken away and learnt about who I am as a person and student. After completing this project, I finally understood that I could potentially manage my time more effeciently than I normally do. For typical school assignments, I am usually one that pushes everything until the deadline is hours away. With the Inquiry Project, I quickly understood that I would not be able to treat it the same way I normally treat projects, especially after Phase 0 and Phase 1. I learnt the extent of how influential ripple effects could be on my surroundings, and realized that I would have to step up.
If I could go back to the beginning of this process, I would take more risks. Back in Shanghai, teachers inform us the need to step of our comfort zone so repetitively that most students do not take the time to listen and comprehend the message. Personally, I had lots of challenges starting a conversation, especially with tourists. If I had an alumni, not just a teacher, tell me at the very beginning to apply focus into the area of risk-taking, I would have taken the idea much more seriously, instead of brushing it to the side. I believe this is because I would be listening to an alumni reflect upon their personal experience, which would add more credibility, knowing that they have been through the same things I have been through.
If a future Microcampus student decided to continue on this path, I would encourage them to start strong and conduct research about body language in Shanghai. This is because in turn, their project could be about comparing and constrasting the differences in body language and physical appearance between those in Shanghai and those in Xizhou. It would be interesting, especially if they were studying the students in Xizhou and comparing them to us, and look more into depth about how culture effects the way we show ourselves to other people. Another direction my project could take would be if a student decided to focus in on interactions with tourists in Xizhou. They could borrow a uniform from a local school and bring clothing that they would wear for a typical day in school, wearing these two outfits on two different days. They could then ask tourists the same series of questions each day, and see how they react differently, based off whether they thought the student was a local or a tourist. This would focus more in on the body language of tourists and their interactions with other tourists and locals.
Lastly, I would like to give thanks to some people within this incredible community who have been wonderfully helpful throughout my Inquiry Project process. I am genuinely grateful for the insane efforts both Mr. T. and Ms. Mai exert into the experience of Microcampus. Thank you both for leading from behind, allowing us to take the reigns on the means of our Microcampus experience. Ms. Song and Ms. Zhao, thank you for your support and your patience when helping us with whatever we needed. I also would like to thank all the locals and tourists who were willing to answer my questions and share valuable information, especially Mr. Yang (horse carriage driver), Mrs. Zhao (owner of old town snacks), Mr. Huang (owner of tea shop), Stephanie (tourist), Ms. Li (tourist), and Mr. Luo (tourist). Without you all, I would have no Inquiry Project to present. You have all played such important roles throughout my Microcampus journey.
Microcampus has been such an priceless opportunity. A huge reason to why is because of the Inquiry Project. In the process of creating my final product, I have learnt life-long lessons and made memories of experiences that allowed it to go beyond the simple information involving body language. There were so many things that I learnt here, in which I could not have learnt at school, or anywhere else. I am extremely thankful to have been a part of an experience that was bigger than myself.