For four weeks, I was in a village called Xizhou, located in the midst of Yunnan. I became part of something bigger than I imagined, a group called Microcampus. I joined this group back in Shanghai, spending about 15 minutes every day working and deciding on a project topic that I would be studying in Xizhou. In Microcampus, there is one major project called the inquiry project, where we go through phases that help accumulate research and present it. In Shanghai, I had chosen to study tourism in Xizhou out of the infinite choices I was given because of my high fascination in economics and studies of people. I arrived in Xizhou with a topic chosen (Phase 0), questions to be answered (Phase 1), resources found and to be found (Phase 2), knowledge to be acquired (Phase 3), and a product to be presented (Phase 4 & Final Product).
Reflecting on the past, I chose to study tourism because of my fascination with seeing things, especially business, at a different perspective. Tourism seemed to have it all. It was gathering people and using diverse communities to create a business. I have been in the stance of both the host community and the visitor, and in these stances, I found myself torn between what I thought about tourism. Moreover, tourism in villages was very vague and unclear to me. I also wanted to see a community thriving with or even on tourism.
In the midst of learning about my topic, I had to collect sources. I learned many things from books, websites, research journals, and people in the community. Overall, my main online source came from Chiu-Hui Hung, an author of many research journals on tourism and part of the Department of Tourism, Leisure, and Entertainment Management in Tatung Institute of Technology. From books, I juggled between two books during my experience in Xizhou; one called "Cultural Heritage and Tourism in Asia and the Pacific" and the other called, "Sustainable Cultural Tourism: Small-Scale Solutions". Generally, I also talked to many people in the community, including baba makers, silver shop owners, antique shop owners, tourists, and people who worked at the Linden Centre. To learn more about the sources I gained knowledge from throughout my project, please go to Phase 2 or Phase 3.
I chose my sources based on the credibility of the resource and the relevancy of them to my topic. Chiu-Hui Hung, the author of one of the research paper I used, specialized in researching and knowing about tourism and such, so I chose to use his research paper. Also, his research paper was very descriptive and specified in a very meticulous and detailed manner regarding tourism overall and tourism in Taiwan. I also chose the two books for they were located in the Linden Commons, the third site of the Linden Centre. A few of my teachers and mentors recommended these books to me, so I read these in regards to guiding my research in Xizhou. While deciding and planning who to talk to in Xizhou, I considered three of the following as my criteria: where he/she is from/how long he/she has been in Xizhou, how impacted would he/she would be from tourism, and perception onto tourism. Using these three, I found general occupations that I suspected would be suited to help me in gaining knowledge and found people from there.
I found these sources in an attempt to solve my major questions from Phase 1. These questions were like a light to help guide me into finding answers for my project. I asked questions along the lines of what tourism is like in Xizhou, the general relationship between Xizhou and tourism, and then tourism dependency, sustainability, and impact in Xizhou. One third or half of my questions were regarding the general tourism in Xizhou, quite unknown to me back in Shanghai. Then, I expanded onto impact, thinking, "How would tourism impact a village like Xizhou?" I did not know anything regarding a village that had begun to be impacted by tourism and its process into it. All these questions were concepts to help push me into learning about tourism as a whole.
After learning most of my answers to my questions in Phase 3, I had to come up with a way to present this bulk of information. Therefore, I used Phase 4 to create a thesis statement and an overview of my project. To present my final product, I came up with this thesis, "To examine the impact of tourism over time, one must consider the impacts through rent and location of vendors, products that vendors sell, and the lives of people in the community.
Sharing My Learning
To access and to watch my final product, which is a video, please watch the video above. If that does not work, please refer to this link, located on Youtube or find a better-quality version of my project located in the Microcampus Harddrive under "Wildfires", then "Inquiry Projects".
After spending countless hours working on my inquiry project, I took away the sense of community and thriving in that community. More than the knowledge that I gained, I also gained experience within working in and with a community that I have no clue about. I took away the knowledge of how to work independently in a field-research based project, where one may not know what the final product could be. I let myself wander around in the midst of my topic, which is something out of the ordinary in regular school life. Most importantly, I learned how to be part of and interact with the community around me, how to communicate with others, how to contribute and ask something of people within the community. I learned and observed the harmonious connections and correlations between everything in the community, including the visitors and the people within the community.
Initially, I started my project by studying many different aspects of tourism, including sustainable tourism, tourism dependency, and tourism impact. It was there that I realized that doing all these projects were far too many and too much to complete in a mere month. So, I made the hard decision of letting go of my partial hours worth of research regarding sustainable tourism and tourism dependency and started working and researching solely on the impact of tourism. I think that this is and was a positive decision and that it helped bring me guidance on what I wanted to achieve and learn in XIzhou.
Whiling in the midst of researching, the most difficult part of my research was knowing what to research about and what target I was aiming for. Because of my faulty decision on having a broad topic of the impact of tourism, there were many minute paths and diversions that I could research into. I ended up looking at the main aspects and main impacts brought to the community by the impact of tourism. After the first week of learning context upon tourism, I put myself down into planning and looking thoroughly of who I wanted to talk to and why. This was the hardest part of the research since researching cannot be solely conversing with people and studying books and research papers. Planning was hard since I had to spend hours thinking of what I know and how I can use that information in the near future of presenting.
While working and conversing with other people, I met many deadends and learned many significant pieces of research. There were times that I had to let go of research because of its uselessness, although I had spent an hour working on it. There were other times when I had great sudden realizations. This can be anything from discovering the comparison of Sifang Jie 20 years ago compared to it now to learning that rent is enormously impacted by tourism. When I discovered these pieces of information, it was like opening a door to find more doors to open. There were more opportunities to seek and to find each time I had an "a-ha" moment, but then came the part of deciding whether it was worth it or important and relevant enough to use.
Takeaways from the Experience
The inquiry project has helped me not only understand tourism better in Xizhou, but it helped me with interacting with the community I was living in, learn about myself as a person, and also myself as a learner.
The tourism impact on Xizhou can be studied anywhere in the world because of the internet and modern technology. I think that even if I studied upon tourism in Xizhou in Shanghai, it would not be as thorough or as in-depth as it is now. This is due to the fact that I learned everything in Xizhou through personal stances, real people that I saw face-to-face every day, and tourism in action. Learning through personal stances meant that I got to put my opinion into the information and receive feedback and information upon my opinions and stances on the information. Furthermore, I got to see the stances of people that I knew for 28 days. These people were active business owners and people of the community, not an author of a website who is probably like me, only knew Xizhou for a month. I go to see public views and general public stances on topics within tourism, such as rent and others. Most importantly, I got to see tourism bloom in action, see people with cameras lined up and crowded around a stand for XIzhou baba or to buy a silver necklace. I saw crowds of people near the government-issued gate, taking pictures under the tall pillars. These are the things that are valuable to my topic, though no one would usually write about online.
Moreover, this project was a chance for me to interact with the community around me. Whether it was finding different perspectives of tourism in Xizhou or conversing with people who have been part of the tourism development, I got to meet many people within the community and gotten to know them as a person, not as an interviewee. This projects condemns the idea of official interviews, but rather encourages the idea of simply talking with someone about their life and the little things that can help you in the project.
Furthermore, this project helped me understand myself as a person. Because of the inquiry project overall, I have gotten to create habits that I do not normally do, yet are very significant to my project, such as making use of time effectively, learning to work independently without any specific timeline provided by teachers, or just saving my work every five minutes. I remember a quote ringing in my head throughout my entire inquiry project experience by Mr. Tafel, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." --Aristotle. The inquiry project helped me understand good habits to maintain as a person throughout my inquiry project, specifically what good habits I have and what habits that I should not keep in terms of doing the physical work.
Overall, this project helped me find and understand myself as a learner. In the beginning, when I was working on Phase 0, I soon learned that steady progress is truly key and that if not done, the ripple effects can be burdening. Countless times, I found myself learning this problem and that I should fix it. That is one of the many examples of which I understood myself as a learner. I learned things about myself as a learner that I never considered before, such as how I find conversations in Chinese far harder to do than an interview in English. I think that because of the way that the field research was laid out, I understand that as a learner, I overthink too much about minute things that should not matter as much as they do. Furthermore, in the process entirely, I now understand that as a learner, I digress off my topic easily because of the excitement of finding new information and how to stop this digression from distracting me of my project.
Guidance and Tips for other Microcampus Students
If I go back to the beginning of my project, I would have really taken the time to narrow down my project as a whole. This would eliminate wandering around in my vast project and getting to the point much quicker. I would have also tried to understand more about XIzhou beforehand so that I would not be shocked by the basic context regarding tourism in Xizhou. More importantly, I would have planned out my project in a better sense, thinking about what I had in mind to present in the future, what I wanted to gain out of this experience, and what I wanted to learn more about. I digressed off my topic countless times while working on my inquiry project, so a main guideline and framework for what I wanted to achieve in the future would have been crucially helpful in serving guidance for me. An aspect of this that is fairly important is learning purpose. An inquiry project should have a purpose and not be done because "someone told me to do so". I think that I could have achieved and learned more if I took more time in the beginning to seek purpose rather than having to go seek purpose in the midst of my field research.
I started learning about tourism from square 1. This meant that I had to everything from learning about the basics of tourism on the impact of tourism on the people. I did not get to the point where I could start learning about sustainability and dependency at a far and thorough extent. Other Microcampus students that see to study about tourism in the later years should take the basic context and research that previous Microcampus students and I have done and could learn more about how tourism has developed over the years, how tourism changed XIzhou in comparison to what they know in Shanghai, or the Linden Centre program entirely and its correlation with tourism. There are many paths that future Microcampus students can take if they build on the works of previous students.
I would like the teachers and mentors that helped me throughout this experience of inquiry project, from the beginning in October to its final end here in April. It has been a long journey with ups and downs and I would not have made it through this process without the help of my teachers including Mr. Tafel, Ms. Mai, and visiting teachers from Shanghai American School, Ms. Braverman, Ms. Wang, and Mr. Yang from Linden Centre, and the people in the community who agreed to help me in finding information.
This experience of being a Microcampus student is one chance in a lifetime that I happened to grasp. Without going through the process of the inquiry project, service learning, and overall working in Xizhou and with the community, I do not think that I could understand learn about the world around me. The time spent on my inquiry project was definitely effective and well used to expand my learning about tourism, and not just overall, but to the personal community that I called home for 28 days.