Four years ago was when my sister was in 8th grade. Four years ago was when I first heard about the program of Microcampus. 4 years ago was when an idea was planted in my mind. As soon as I heard of the program, I was intrigued. However, my sister did not go on the trip that year since she went on a Spain trip. Although not having much information about the program until the beginning of my 8th-grade year, the idea of being able to go was always tucked away somewhere in my mind, occasionally peeking out from it's hiding place reminding me of the opportunity. So when the application process started, I immediately signed up. In the beginning, my parents had a few concerns about the outside of school classes that I would be missing. However, after some persuasion from my side, my parents also agreed that this was a once in a lifetime experience and let me go.
At 3:00 PM after school that day, I was thrilled to see my name on the list of Microcampus students of 2019. All 16 of us were first given a list of potential inquiry topics. From the beginning, I knew that I wanted a topic that would allow me to learn about the culture by interacting with the people of the area. I was also always fascinated by the body language of different people since everyone has a different way of processing information. So when I saw the topic of body language, I immediately knew that I wanted to choose this topic. Body language also came with people watching. I thought that this was an excellent opportunity to slow down and reflect since, in Shanghai, there is rarely time to be able to slow down and think about the actions taken and how they affect the community around me. After looking at the projects of Microcampus students in the past, my focus shifted to the differences in the actions of tourists and citizens.
On March 9th, 2019 16 students along with two teachers and a three 1/2-year-old boarded the plane which was the gateway to our 28-day journey. We thought that we were ready, but we were not. We had around 9 hours of field research where the students went into the community to gather information on their selected topics. The primary source of my information was myself. I spent most of the field research times watching citizens and tourists. I also talked to the citizens and tourists to get an idea of the perceptions of Xizhou. I spoke to store owners, (Ms. Zhong, Ms. Li, Mr. Zhu, Ms. Huang) citizens in the morning market, (Ms. Qing, Mr. Peng, Ms. Zhao), and tourists I met on the street (Ms. Huang, Apple, Shawn). I chose people that were exposed to a wide range of either citizens or tourists daily since they would have a general idea of the actions taken on both sides.
My main questions were about the assumptions made on the people and place of Xizhou. I wondered how the assumptions would affect the actions and clothing of the tourists and if the citizens would notice the premises and if it would affect them. I also wondered if both the citizens and tourists see and understand body language. After a few conversations, I realized that my questions were more focused towards an expert on the topic rather than citizens and tourists on the street. I then had to change my questions to be able to answer the initial problems I came up with. As I was people watching, many new questions kept popping up in my head.
To be able to understand the perceptions of the people of Xizhou, one may consider the perspectives of long-term citizens, short-term tourists, and short-term scholars.
Sharing my Learning
I made a video to explain my learnings and the different perspectives in Xizhou. The video can be viewed above the introduction. If the video does not load, one can also find the video by clicking here.
My biggest takeaway was being more aware of how the actions one takes could affect the community around them. Through my conversations with both citizens and tourists, I realized that whenever we go somewhere new, it is another person's home and we need to respect it. I noticed that there were also many differences between the younger and older generations of citizens. The younger generations would dress like tourists with brighter colors and accessories. The younger generations also were usually on their phones and devices. I think that the main reason the younger generations were acting; this was is that tourists have assumptions that the citizens were impoverished and less educated. The younger generations want to break away from the stereotypes and become people that are more accepted in society. Noticing this has helped me also be aware of how thoughts could be the cause of a gap in between a community.
When I first came to Xizhou, I wanted to learn about the body language of China, how it has changed through history and if there were drastic changes between Chinese and western body language. However, after a few days, I realized that I was more interested in the differences between tourists and citizens than body language in general. I became interested in how the thoughts of tourists would affect their actions and how they dress. I wanted to know if the tourists were aware of their surroundings and what the citizens thought of the tourists. I have always heard stories about how rude tourists could be, and I wanted to experience their actions first-hand.
One of the main challenges of this project was figuring out what my final product would be about. I was not able to get various information from the citizens, and the knowledge that I gained from tourists were shallow and repetitive. I had many personal observations, but I wanted to add first-person perspectives into my project as well. I first wanted to make a personal journey, but when I was looking back at the information, I realized something. There was a part of my conversations that I had not paid attention to. It was not the information that was important, but the way the person shared the critical information. I realized that the citizens were not willing to share a lot because the tourists were around the citizens felt pressured in some way. The actions of citizens left a significant impact on me, and I decided to focus on different perspectives for the final product.
One of my most significant a-ha moments during this project was when I was having conversations with the community. I realized that only a few people knew body language by its official name and had to use creative ways to explain body language to them. I used to think that the citizens who sit in their shops and see people walk by would be able to notice body language. However, after many conversations, I saw that both the citizens and tourists do not notice body language. Before coming to Xizhou, I thought that tourists would usually go to places only to take photos or get products that were "authentic" to the area. However, after talking to Apple who is a tourist from Nanjing, my perspective changed. After our conversation, Apple asked Mr. Yang who was my teacher support for the day places to go to learn more about the culture.
This project has helped me develop a better understanding of the concept of body language. I used to think that body language was a straightforward topic. I thought that everyone's actions were the same; it just depended on the thought process of the person. Now I understand how body language consists of different layers and is a sophisticated concept. Someone's body language could show their background and where they came from. Not only can someone's actions reveal their character and mood, but it could also explain what they are thinking and their assumptions. This project has not only let me go in depth of the concept, but I now know how actions and thoughts could affect a community on a large magnitude.
If I had chosen another topic, I might have only had conversations with the people that were experts in my topic. However, because the topic of body language and assumptions apply to everyone, I was able to immerse myself in the community better and get to know more people. I also spoke to both citizens and tourists to get an idea of the thoughts on both sides which allowed me to interact with different groups of the community and not only the citizens of the area. Citizens may be the most crucial factor of the community, but tourists also play a large part in building the village of Xizhou.
Throughout this process, I have learned a lot about different thoughts and types of body language. However, my primary goal was not to learn about the differences between citizens and tourists but to learn about myself and grow as a learner. I understand that I have been holding back and not connecting with the community around me enough. I am now able to go up to strangers and get my point across even if they do not look interested at first. Due to the size and the people of the community, I feel much more connected with everyone. Also, because there is time to stop and think, I am now much more aware of my surroundings and how my actions affect them.
If I were to go back to the beginning of the process, I would have gone up to people as soon as I saw them and took more risks. In the beginning, I would watch the person first to make sure that I was going to get a response then approach him/her. I was afraid that I would get rejected. However, as time went by, I began to feel more comfortable in asking people knowing that even if they were to refuse to talk to me, they would do it nicely. Once, I approached two friends that completely ignored me at first, but when I would not stop talking and introduced myself as a student, they started to share their ideas with me and became very open.
One interesting thing for a future student who is also curious about the topic of body language to consider would be not only comparing the perspectives in Xizhou but maybe also doing it in other places such as Shanghai. It would be fascinating to see if there was a difference between citizens and tourists in large cities and small villages. There might also be different assumptions people have of the area and various reasons why people have those assumptions.
I would like to give a special thanks to the community who have been so helpful during my journey. I am so grateful for Mr. Tafel and Ms. Mai for providing us with a fantastic experience and allowing us to overcome challenges by ourselves. Although having led this trip 22 times already, it was clear that Mr. Tafel and Ms. Mai put in the same amount of effort as the first trip. I would like to thank everyone kind enough to take time away from their day to answer my questions thoroughly. Without Ms. Zhao, (citizen at the morning market) Mr. Zhu,(Antique seller) Ms. Zhong, (shop owner) Shawn, (tourist) and Apple, (tourist) I would not have gotten this far with my work and such great ideas. Last but not least, I would like to thank the other 15 students and Sofie for bringing joy to every moment of this trip.
This has been a precious and irreplaceable journey. Although there are some things that students in school have done that we have not, we have done a lot of things the students in school have not. This was the perfect environment to be able to learn so many life lessons that I would not have in school or anywhere else. I will miss seeing the sunrise at 7:00 am every morning and seeing the sunset at 7:00 pm every night. I will miss hearing the birds chirping and seeing the clouds disappear as they pass by. I will miss all the food including Tafel Fried Rice, Xizhou Baba, Er Kuai, The Ugly Brownie and so much more. Most of all, I will miss the connections that I have made with the community. Ms. Zhang, Mr. Tan, Mr. Zhu, and the many Mr. and Ms. Yangs (including the chicken). Although the journey is over, I am glad that I was part of it.