When I first heard about Microcampus, I knew full well that I wanted to apply. I wanted desperately to take this opportunity to learn about something that I am fully passionate about, and so here I am in Xizhou, a proud member of the Wildfire 2019 group. We are staying in Xizhou, a small village in Yunnan province, for 28-days. We are here to research a chosen topic of our high personal interest. I, without doubt, chose "Happiness".
I have chosen to study happiness here in Xizhou because the notion of "being content" has always attracted me. When I first received the varied list of broad topics, I knew that I wanted to choose one that could help me understand the villagers and their stories on a deeper level. I wanted to choose a topic that I know will keep me intrigued and interested during the next four months of researching, and perhaps a topic that I will be passionate about for the rest of my life. With this purpose in mind, "Happiness" was the first topic that came to my mind. For me, happiness has always been something so complex. Its definition is obscure and the true meaning of happiness has always been unclear to me. What is happiness? Underneath the core of it all, what does it mean, really? And so, I began my month-long journey and attempt to answer this complicated yet genuine question.
Happiness is an existing part of our everyday lives, whether people are willing to see it or not. Because my chosen topic is relevant to everyone, my sources and contacts do not always have to be specific people. Although when I do ask for recommended contacts, I try to ask for villagers that seem to smile more or seem happy most of the times. I am thankful that I have chosen this topic to be my inquiry project because it provided me with the chance to talk to many different people. I had amazing conversations with Mr. Zhang (a bicycle fixer), Mr. He (a painter), Mr.Huang (the imam at the Mosque here in Xizhou), Mr. Yang (an antique dealer), Mr.Yang (a musician), and more.
As I continued on with my inquiry project, I had specific questions that I was aiming to answer. My questions usually revolved around what happiness is to them, and what impacts our happiness the most. I focused most of my time on the materialism influences in our society today and how that could possibly end up influencing our perception of happiness. I also had many conversations on what aids us in our path to achieving happiness and what, in turn, becomes a drawback to us.
After two weeks of inquiry project work I have finally summarized all my collected data into one thesis: In order to understand how my definition of "happiness" has changed over time, one might consider my perspective of happiness before I came to Xizhou, during my time here in Xizhou, and 13 years from today.
Sharing My Learning:
For my final product, I have chosen to share my learning through the form of a short video. You can find my video here. Thank you.
During this once in a lifetime inquiry project experience, I was able to truly understand the importance of connection and just how much our lives are connected by it. There are so many shared experiences between each and every single person, and although I did not believe at first that I am somehow linked with everyone, with observation and understanding, I began to notice just how much this link matters. With all the conversations I had with the people of this village, I was able to slowly recognize this connection. And because my inquiry project was on happiness, I learned a great deal about how this connection can aid us in achieving this joy. During this experience, I learned about how the little details in life can contribute to this feeling of contentment, and our connections with others and our ability to observe and feel, allows us to truly see all these little things.
Through the course of my study, I did not change my topic. Happiness is a topic that is relevant to every single person on this planet, whether people notice it or not. With this point, It is comparably much easier for me to find contacts and to learn information from different perspectives. There really was no reason for me to change a topic, as I am also genuinely passionate about my inquiry project. During my work in Shanghai, I did not narrow down “Happiness” to too specific subtopics, because I knew that I wanted my topic to stay flexible during my time here in Xizhou. And so although I took away a few of my questions during the field work (Phase 3) process, I did not change my topic.
With this experience came some inevitable challenges and obstacles. First off, when I first started my Phase 3 field work I was not as comfortable talking to people about such a personal topic of "happiness". I was not so sure how to start a conversation and to keep the discussion going. For the first few times I talked to the villagers, I relied heavily on the notes I took beforehand and the questions that I wrote down. My connection with the people felt more like an interview than an actual conversation, and the majority of the information I received for the first few sessions of inquiry work felt like I had only scratched the surface of my topic. It was hard for me to go skin-deep. However, as time went on, I was able to take my time to really think through everything my contact has said. I process the information, and I have learned to dig deeper into their train of thoughts in order to get more out of the conversation. Now, I am able to comfortably talk with people with the mindset of learning from them on a level much deeper than just "yes or no" questions.
Throughout my entire inquiry project journey, I was able to truly develop my understanding of happiness. Before I arrived here, my definition of happiness was extremely obscure. I did not know what it means and even now, my image of happiness is not one hundred percent clear to me. But it has, of course, developed. Unlike before, I can now see the edges of what happiness could possibly be like. For me, happiness is the little joys in life combined into one. Every single person has the ability to be "happy", yet only those who notice and appreciates the little details in our lives are truly happy.
With my inquiry project, I was given an amazing opportunity to understand happiness more. Back in Shanghai, happiness is limited to my friend group and my family, and I never would have thought that at the age of thirteen I would be going out independently into a village to learn about other people's perception of happiness. I now know that happiness is so much more beyond what our little bubble at home allows us to feel. Happiness is so much bigger than just us. It is the impact that the others have on me, the impact of the environment and surrounding, and the impact of the world around us. We are so often limited to happiness being our "friends" and "family", while the truth is that happiness is a part of the bigger spectrum of life. This topic really allows people to be both empathetic towards others and grateful for the chances and people surrounding us.
My inquiry project allowed me to really connect with the Xizhou community. With all of our Phase and fieldwork, I had so many interesting conversations with the villagers. Like what I set out to do, I learned about their stories and their opinions. By talking to them one on one and asking them quite personal questions, I learned a great deal about their personality and who they are as a person. My inquiry topic, happiness, also gives me a chance to talk to a variety of people. My contacts were never limited to specific age ranges or occupations, as happiness is relevant to every single person.
Aside from learning about the Xizhou community, this project allowed me to learn about myself. I learned about the importance of communication and connection. I learned about stepping out of my comfort zone and the importance of doing so. Only by communicating with the villagers, am I able to connect with them. Only by connecting with them, am I able to effectively communicate with them. And only when I have stepped out of my comfort zone to learn to freely talk to them, am I able to do both.
Throughout this project, I have a better understanding of who I am as a learner. I know that I work and process information better when I am actually experiencing it, rather than reading off of a textbook. In Shanghai, much of what we learn is based off textbooks or lessons that are given by the teachers; however, here in Xizhou, the people here are our textbooks. We learn from our conversations with them. The Microcampus experience is our classroom. We learn from our mistakes and we grow both as students and people. With the opportunity to step out of the normal classroom that I am used to, I know which learning environment is better for me, and in which surroundings do I grow more.
If I were to go back in time to the beginning of this experience, I would give myself the advice of asking deeper questions that would evolve into more conversations. I would have liked to not start off many of my conversations with introductions to make them feel more comfortable instead of starting right off by asking my questions. I would have told myself from the start of the journey to slowly and gradually build onto the conversations instead of jumping right in. Now that I look back at it, I think the way I began some of my discussions might have been rather overwhelming, and if I had another chance, I would not start off that way.
If I were given more time to develop my topic, I would move on to experiencing the happiness of others. Instead of just asking questions about happiness, I would like to actually observe as they are experiencing it. For example, if one of the villagers were a painter (and art brings him great joy), I would take the first session to talk and understand him, while for the next session, I would come back and learn how to paint with him. By actually experiencing their happiness I can go beyond just his "responses to my questions", and I can truly understand how they feel doing the things he loves most.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to give a huge thanks to a few people. First off, Mr.T and Ms.Mai. They have shown extreme patient when it comes to taking care of sixteen crazy teenagers, and the thought that they have put into this Microcampus program is beyond recognition. They have been so cautious of every little detail when it comes to our safety and learning experience, and I would like to thank them for it all. Secondly, the Linden Staff members. Mr. Yang, Ms. Wang, Ms. B, and of course, Mr. Liden. This journey would not be possible without their help and guidance. I would also like to thank the Xizhou community. This village has proved so much more than just a "program" or a place for us to "study". This has become a home for all of us in so many different ways. I would like to thank the people of this village for being so welcoming and open. I would like to thank them for the warmth I feel when they smile and wave at me on the streets. I would like to thank them for being so open about sharing their opinions and their very own stories. And of course, I would like to thank the rest of the WildFire group. They are truly the ones that make this experience what it is now. So, thank you. Thank you.
A few months ago, I would have never thought that I would be here in Xizhou, experiencing something like this. The Microcampus trip provides so much more than just the learning of an "inquiry project". Here, we learn how to be aware of the impacts we leave behind. We learn about the stories of others. We learn about the importance of connection. We learn how to appreciate the wonders of this universe. We learn how the importance of being independent and the importance of solitude. Here, we learn how to be a lifelong learner. And that says plenty.