Four weeks ago, I was a teenager that grew up in the cities. I could not wait to leave Shanghai and start my new life in Xizhou to learn and study. Way before any of this, I went through pages and pages of topics that could possibly be the one for my inquiry project. I landed on the topic love and marriage, because I was interested in how the cultural, background, and environmental differences could impact the way a person's response on how they define love. My sources in the beginning were the teachers that stayed in Yang Zhuo Ren with us, such as Mr. T, Ms. Mai, Ms. B, and some supporting teachers from the Linden Centre like Ms. Wang and Mr. Yang. They are experts with our Microcampus program, and they also have more than enough connections with the town. Some local contacts were Mrs. Zhao from the restaurant with Tafel fried rice, Mr Zhang with an antique shop, and YangYuan who works at the front desk of the Linden Centre. I chose these contacts, because they are either close friends with the teacher supports, or they are familiar with Microcampus and comfortable with students having conversations with them. Some questions I was trying to answer were about love, marriage in general, and the perspectives of the older generation. This would lead to my thesis statement for my project: In order to understand the perspectives of love and marriage in Xizhou, one might consider the viewpoint of the younger generations, the mind of the older generations, and my own thoughts that had emerged throughout this trip.
Sharing My Learning
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There are multiple take aways from the inquiry projects we have done for this trip. Some of the main ones were making connections and time management. Trust me, without any sort of time management, my whole schedule and everything else would be falling apart. Microcampus is all about organization and being responsible for our own actions and work. On the other hand, it also takes time to make connections. Being able to have a conversation with someone, especially with a sensitive topic like mine, I needed time to build trust. It all begins with small actions like simply saying hello when I see them on the streets. At first, making these connections were simply for my projects in the future. Then, I realized that I was actually enjoying the process, enjoying greeting people whether I know them or not. Talking to strangers is not easy, but at Microcampus, it pushes me out of my comfort zone, and made me realize all the beautiful things I could do and see that are outside of myself. "It is not who you think you are that holds you back it is who you think you are not."
My topic did not change throughout the course of my study, although, I did wish that I chose something else instead. I thought that if I chose a topic that I could possibly make a product of, it would be cooler than whatever I had (I did not have much of a plan before). Something like embroidery or tye-dye used to make me look at the bad sides of my own project. Of course, now I am really grateful for sticking to my original topic, because I successfully found the meaning behind my project, and what I personally believe.
The most difficult part of my research was definitely improving my conversations with the local contacts. In the beginning, I could not tell whether the information I received was useful to me or not. I had to change the way I ask questions and follow up questions each time I talk with a person. Organizing my notes was also difficult, because a writer could never catch up to the pace of a speaker, therefore, I totally recommend to create a type of language or sketch to get information at a faster speed. Also, there will definitely be bad days during those teacher support moments. There was a time whereI had never been rejected so many times in a day, so preparing for refusals or declines is always a good choice.
One a-ha moment was when a man told me proudly that he met his wife by fate. Like I mentioned before, many elders would be embarrassed to answer what they think of love. Some might even say that they have no knowledge on it. Mr. Zhang, an old antique seller, was one of a kind. I asked him how did he and his wife meet, and he had this wide grin on his face. He told me: "You kids would not understand." I insisted and he just let out a breath and looked at me. "It was fate." Just those three words were able to express his love for his spouse. I was extremely honored to be the one talking about something he enjoyed. Honestly, I was super inspired when I walked out of his shop that day thanking him for his time.
This project helped me better understand the topic I chose, because I had the time to actually communicate with people in real life. I was able to see them face-to-face and get their first responses. The answers were honest (at least I think so) and many were from their own experiences. Love is a broad term, yet it is something that takes a specific part in everybody's lives. Through this project, I learned the different point of views of women or men, younger people or older people, and best of all, my own judgement.
I do not want to say that this project gave me the motivation to speak to people, but it did. If it was not for this, there is really no reason for my to connect with anyone unless I really want to. Like I stated above, this project pushed me to leave my comfort zone (which is a great thing) and assisted me in getting used to talking to strangers. I became extremely solid with introducing myself to people I did not know before. Xizhou can function without us, the question is whether it can function WITH us. Through our inquiry projects, I was able to be aware of my impact in this area, or even the world. I have created a unique connection with not only the people in Xizhou, but also the place and the beauty of the culture.
This project helped me better understand myself as a person, because I found out that I am actually pretty fast at adapting to an environment. This is also thanks to my mom for not letting me drop Chinese, therefore the language barrier other people struggle with is nonexistent to me. I also found out how my actions, word choice, or attitude could impact a person or a community. Every single word I say or thing I do could either be positive or negative to my relationship with this person. At the same time, I also realized how much I could do without my parents with me. I am really proud of all the connections I made by myself, and I feel like this project taught me life lessons, which are things that I would not be able to learn in a classroom. Like Mr. T said before, our lives in Shanghai were simply just connecting the dots. We had the dots all drawn for us, and all we needed to do was to connect them. While at Microcampus, the whole process is on us, Mr. T and Ms. Mai only provided paper and pencil for us. They would come help when our pencil breaks or paper rips, but at the end, the self portrait is still named after us.
This project helped me understand myself as a learner, because in order to consider myself as an attentive and good learner, I needed to know what I was doing. This project is absolutely based on time management and organization. I found out that when I am working on something I am actually interested in, I can take in plenty of information at the same time and still be able to absorb the knowledge. I am personally proud of my own time management, because we not only need to honor the 4S and 4H, we need to be aware of the four pillars of Microcampus, and everything within the box. I believe that I did a pretty neat job in keeping myself healthy to continue to let myself grow into a better learner.
If I could go back in time to the beginning and advice the old me regarding to this project, I would tell myself to take photos of all the couples on the streets. I did not know how relevant photos were until I was about to begin working on my final product. Since my topic is about love and marriage, photos of humans or human contact are important. I would also tell myself to figure out a path of my thesis statement sooner, so for the last few teacher supports I would be able to focus on a specific type of person and get as much information as I needed. Other than these, I would say I honestly had a really nice experience.
If someone else were to continue this research project, there would be many new directions it could take. Love and marriage is an extremely broad topic, there are a million ther paths that could be taken. Some possible choices could be the perspectives of Xizhou women and men regarding to love and marriage, perspectives of the younger generation that are married compared to the single, or the idea of love and marriage to a local Xizhou citizen set side by side with a foreigner. On the other hand, if someone else were to build onto the work I had done, they could possibly choose to focus on the younger generations only. Maybe one set could be from age 12-17 and age 20-28, it would be interesting to see how this little amount of age difference could make their answers similar or completely off. One thing I hope I could have done or tried out was to ask little kids what they think love means.
At the end, I have abundance of people to show gratitude for. I want to say thanks to Mr. T for being patient with our team and always sharing his knowledge and experiences with us. Without him, I would not be typing this at right now, because he among many other supporting teachers were the ones watching us grow within this 28 days. I also want to thank Ms. Mai for always being there and reminding us to rest and take a break from our work. The afternoon meditations were one of the keys in letting us become calm and recharge our batteries. Next, I would also like to thank the Linden Centre crew, Ms. B, Mr. Yang, and Ms. Wang. They shared their understanding of Xizhou with us, and helped us throughout our projects. At the same time, they are like friends when we are not doing our inquiry work. Thank you Mr. Linden and Mrs. Linden for pursuing their dream and expressing their appreciation for Chinese culture. Without this determination, we would not be able to have this unrepeatable and once in a life time experience. Last but not least, my supporting family and all my teachers and friends back in SAS, for encouraging me on taking this adventure.
Overall, my experience in Microcampus had been a blast. Even though to go on this trip, I had to sacrifice other classes and opportunities in Shanghai, it was all worth it. I became closer with many students that I only said hi to in the hallways once or twice. It was also my first time staying so far away from home and for such a long time. I experienced what it would be like to take care of myself, and to live with a group everyday. Microcampus is an event that had impacted me, and not only made a mark in my mind, but also in my heart.