Microcampus. To most, this word carries no meaning. To me and my fellow Microcampus students, it is the experience of a lifetime, where we have learned, grown, and lived. My name is Holly D., and I am so proud to be a part of the Ultimate Pudong Microcrampus group (2017). For 28 days, eight other Shanghai American School students and I lived in the small village of Xizhou in the Yunnan province. This experience has given us the chance to see ourselves grow - in experiential learning, personal growth, expanding intercultural understanding, and positive impact. We each chose a topic of interest, one that would be the driving force of this learning journey.
The idea of experimental learning is extremely evident throughout this process, and the Inquiry Project that I have created is one key example. 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 available, I came to the decision of researching the topic of textile production, as it was incredibly intriguing and had great potential. However, after hours of the investigation, I decided to narrow my project down to a specific art media in Xizhou, know as traditional bamboo basket weaving. This topic had piqued my interest from the beginning, while simultaneously, I knew it could challenge and push me. I have always had an interest in how things were made, and with this topic, I have learned a variety of new things that I not only took notes on, but enjoyed/experienced as well. Before I arrived in Xizhou, I had only seen a couple bamboo baskets from afar. After the many weeks of research, I am truly grateful for the unforgettable experiences I was given through my discussion, investigation, and incredible opportunities.
Throughout the process of conducting my research and making local contacts, I had to use many different sources in order to understand the different perspectives on my topic. Prior to the trip, I had contacted "Chinese textile technique" experts 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 the people I had already become familiar with, such as Mr. T., Ms. Mai, and our learning support staff (Ms. Song, Ms. Braverman, Mr. Chen). These conversations, also known as "3-5's", gave me a distinct direction of where I could go around Xizhou to find sources. I was(and still am) extremely grateful for their help and support, for without my 3-5's, the process of making connections throughout the village would be extremely difficult. After that(my 3-5's), I soon began to make many connections with the local textile artists from all around the area. Mr. Wang, a local bamboo-basket maker, was very kind and open to answering my questions. Other locals who were especially helpful include both Mr. Li, another basket maker, and Ms. Duan, who runs her own textile souvenir shop. These locals had provided me with an abundance of information and perspectives. Without the helpful guidance of my peers, teachers, and local contacts, the process would be almost impossible and that information I currently know would have never been collected.
I chose to approach these specific sources based off of the suggestions given from my 3-5's, and other factors such as the levels of interest or areas of focus on. I chose these sources because regardless of whether they were selling or making bamboo baskets, they all had first-hand experiences and multiple different perspectives. They knew Xizhou well enough to predict its future and summarize the local production of bamboo products. Throughout the initial research process, the local contacts I had interviewed each shared their own personal stories, experiences, and teachings. That being said, with every local contact that was interviewed, I had automatically gained a new set of information and another important perspective. I wanted to see how the impact of bamboo products in Xizhou had changed over time, and with their knowledge, I was able to find the information I needed. Furthermore, my contacts provided insights from multiple, diverse perspectives. This was extremely valuable, as my background information was mostly from an outside source looking in. By speaking to people on the inside, I heard stories of different beliefs and origins.
When I was speaking to local contacts, the questions I asked fell under one overarching theme. I tried to ask questions that delved deeper than the closed "yes/no" type of question. Those questions could prompt the answerers to tell stories and elaborate. In addition, the questions that I had asked helped me understand the process, origin, production, and technique of bamboo basket weaving in Xizhou. I did not realize this at first, but as my inquiry work progressed, I had changed my topic to a specific art media (bamboo weaving) rather than the overall idea of textile production. For example, questions like, "How do you think that bamboo weaving will impact others in the future?" helped me understand the future of my topic while informing me of how different perspectives can view this art media. I tried to ask questions that related to the artist's success, techniques, and overall life story. That way, I would have my questions answered from multiple contacts all speaking in the past, present, and future. In this case, the overall consensus was that Xizhou will improve and grow throughout the timeline of the bamboo weaving industry.
My Thesis Statement: As I reflect on my learning journey throughout this trip, I will consider the initial research process, the first week of exploration, and my interactions with the many local families.
Sharing My Learning:
In order to share what I have learned and experienced throughout the past month, I have created a video (soon to be located above) that summarizes my amazing learning journey. As I have mentioned in Phase 4, the video that I have made generalizes the following thesis statement: As I reflect on my learning journey throughout this trip, I will consider the initial research process, the first week of exploration, and my interactions with the many local families. In case the video does not load, for whatever reason, you may also click here to see the video (to be updated soon).
Looking back on the Inquiry Project experience, I can truly say that it is not like anything I have ever done before. Although I learned many interesting facts regarding the topic of bamboo basket weaving, I think that the most important takeaway was being able to understand personal growth. Throughout this process, there were multiple times where I was nervous or afraid to interact with Xizhou locals, especially the ones that were busy at work. 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 local working 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 has truly allowed me to grow as a person and to step outside of the Shanghai bubble.
Throughout the course of my learning journey, I can definitely say that the topic I had first picked is nothing like the topic I have chosen to currently pursue. In the beginning, I was going back and forth between topics, unable to decide what I wanted to study. My final choice had been the topic of textile production, and throughout my research, I couldn't wait to uncover the secrets of such a generalized Inquiry Project. I thought that with a project so vast, I possibilities, opportunities, and learning experiences would be endless. However, with Henin C. focusing on Embroidery and Ana A. focusing on tie-dye, I decided to do something that separated myself from the group. After hours of investigation and consideration, I decided to focus my entire project towards the process of bamboo basket making in Xizhou. `Now that I look back on my bamboo weaving journey, I am a bit curious as to why I hadn't picked this topic in the first place to investigate during my time here in Xizhou. I have really enjoyed connecting and getting to the locals, and am grateful for having the opportunity to weave my very own basket. Sure, I had my ups and downs along the way, but my desire to research and pursue this inquiry project has never, and will never change.
The most difficult part of my research was piecing it all together. I gathered heaps of interesting facts, but I realized that in the end, they did not at all connect. I had collected some information on the production and economy of bamboo weaving, but the majority of my information consisted of the bamboo basket step-by-step process. If I had created my inquiry project from that point, I would have definitely ended up with a disconnected and unbalanced final product. After hearing Mr. T's talk about the hangers and hooks, I had then decided to collect a lot more information on the production and economy of the bamboo weaving business. That way, I would have my three hooks: the production, economy, and the step-by-step process. With only a few days left in the Phase 3 process, I made sure to ask the questions that would help me collect more information on both the production and economy of this textile business. However, by the end of my Phase 3, I had figured out the end result of my information was still very unbalanced. Therefore, I had decided to focus on my personal learning journey instead of an unbalanced, informational video.
During the research process, I had one major "a-ha" moment that had changed the course of my entire project. I was looking through the information I gathered from speaking to the local bamboo artisans, and I noticed that they all said one thing in common: eventually, there would be no one left to carry on the bamboo basket weaving tradition. At first, I was quite confused with this information and wanted to dig deeper in order to find out what it meant. By the end of the research process (Phase 3
), I knew exactly what the locals were talking about and it could be explained. As the generations are increasing and technology is improving, the need for handmade products is decreasing because of the competing factories/companies. In other words, the more textiles that are being made/produced in the factories are taking away a large percentage of the profit that should go to the artisans who spend their days hard at work. When barely any profit is gained/earned, none of the locals will ever want to pursue this occupation. Bamboo Weaving used to be extremely popular and was a skill that had been passed down through the generations. However, the millennials of today's day and age would often reject the opportunity follow through in their families footsteps. For example, when one is given the chance to move to the city and study, one must take it before the opportunity fades. Not only will there be no one left to continue the tradition of bamboo weaving, but because of our evolving mindsets, no one will even notice....
My project has helped me understand and learn about all the elements that are needed in order for one to truly understand the bamboo weaving business. These elements rely on both the passion and mindset of the artisans that connect to their technique, lifestyle, economy, and production. When I first selected my topic, I had no idea what to expect and soon discovered the amazing opportunities and experiences within my inquiry project. I had no idea how to make a bamboo basket and how the bamboo basket business was profitable. However, as I traveled through this project and through my bamboo weaving journey, I was able to learn so much more than I had expected. I now understand the time and energy that is used to create a bamboo basket and the efforts of running the businesses. I also understand the work goes into this process, and time/effort that it takes. Most importantly, I now understand the story of the artisans past through each of the bamboo baskets that they make. This project has taught me so much more than the basic step-by-step process of constructing a basket, and has helped me understand the ways of an exotic, new culture.
The topic of bamboo basket weaving has helped me interact with the community, village, and locals, in a variety of different ways. To start off, I was able to meet with a bamboo artisan in the small village of He Yi Chen, named Mr. Wang. He has been such a kind, welcoming person and has taught me so much about the bamboo weaving process. Most of the information I currently know is because of his efforts throughout the interviewing process, and I could not thank him more for all the help and support that he has given me. Throughout the past two weeks, I had visited his home and was even able to make a bamboo basket to take back to Shanghai. During my initial explorations in Xizhou, I had also met and questioned many of the local vendors that sell bamboo weaved products throughout Si Fang Jie and the local market. Without their help, I would have never discovered a new set of valuable, innovative perspectives. Nowadays, whenever I walk past the local side shops, I always make sure to wave and greet them in order to truly show my gratitude. Rather than just talking about the step-by-step process, I am able to showcase my learning through a video because of the information I have gathered. Overall, I am so happy that I chose this topic to study here in Xizhou, because without it, I would not have been able to meet all of these amazing, unique people.
I have learned all about the bamboo weaving business how to interact with the locals within a new community. More importantly, my learning journey throughout this Micocmapus experience has also helped me understand how I have grown as a person. As I look back at the steps to make a bamboo woven basket, I able to understand and connect those steps to what makes up me as a person. I understand how the base of the basket is who we are, and how this is something that never changes. This is the strongest part of the basket, as it supports us through every journey, mistake, and adventure we take. I have also learned how the sides of the basket can make up who we are. These are our small habits, hobbies, wonders, likes/dislikes, interests, and so on. This part of the basket is constantly changing and molding in order to shape out true personalities. The top part of the basket is the final step of the process, which represents its completion. This is when you are finishing, transitioning, or ending a part of your journey, such as a road trip, school year, specific time provided, or even Microcampus.
This process has also helped me understand myself as a learner. Through my work, I realized that I do best while mono-tasking. Before I left, I used to multi-task, balancing writing a 5-paragraph essay with watching a Youtube comedy video. That kind of balancing act rarely worked out, and when it did, it ended with weak results. By making myself focus on one task and one task only, I was able to complete my work on time with valuable content.
If I could go back in time to the beginning of this project, I would tell myself not to be afraid. Once I forgot my fears, broke down the barrier, and connected with the locals, the process sped up, and I learned so much. Furthermore, do not be afraid to make mistakes, because in the end, you will learn from them. It sounds counterintuitive, but the mistakes I have made have helped me grow throughout this exciting journey.
If I were to, or if someone else were to continue researching this topic, I feel that there would be multiple new directions to take. To start off, it would be very interesting if someone were to narrow down the focus towards a design or step in the process. If I could continue studying this topic, I would love to direct my attention towards just one part of the entire process. With this suggestion, I would make sure to gain a lot of information/clarity from one stage of the process instead of an overall generalization.
My Gratitude/Thanks throughout the Trip:
Mr. Tafel & Ms. Mai: Not only did they open up this great opportunity but they also helped push and guide us through all the barriers.
Mr. Wang: For helping answer my questions and teaching me through the weaving process.
Mr. Li: For helping answer my questions and willing to support me through the entire process.
Ms. Duan: For helping answer my questions and letting me take photos of her stall.
My time in Xizhou will end up being a small fraction of my life, but the memories I have made will last me a lifetime. I have learned more than I could ever ask for: about my topic, yes, but also about myself. So whatever I do, wherever I end up, I will remember my time in Xizhou, where for 28 days, I truly felt at home.