Microcampus is a once in a lifetime experience where 16 8th graders travel to Xizhou, learn about their selected inquiry topics, make relationships with the people in the village, and discover themselves. We spent 28 days in Xizhou, aiming to achieve four goals: Expanding Intercultural Understandings, Working through Challenges, Positive Impact, and Personal Growth.
Before we came to Xizhou, we each chose a topic of interest; I chose the topic of Bai minority music. I decided to research this topic because music has always been one of my hobbies, whether it was to play the drum-kit or the French Horn. Back in Shanghai, I am learning the French Horn and playing other instruments. In the past, I have also learned various instruments, but never a traditional Chinese instrument. This is why I felt like choosing Bai music.
At first, I could not find many sources, but after I went to talk to some musicians and festivals, I made more connections with the musicians in the village. One of my primary sources was Mr. Yang, a welcoming musician who I talked to often. I also talked to musicians during music festivals and events where musicians would perform.
I chose these sources because they make the most sense. I would ask musicians about music just like how others would ask restaurant managers and chefs about food. I often went to visit welcoming people such as Mr. Yang; some people did not give me the best information, so I did not visit them more than once or twice.
When talking to musicians, I was mostly focused around the techniques of Bai music, how it compares to western music. I also wanted to know how western music affected or influenced the music choices of the people here. Other questions I was trying to answer were about the instruments and how the knowledge is passed down from one generation to the next. This leads to my thesis statement.
My thesis statement is: In order to understand Bai minority music in Xizhou, one may consider the preservation of Bai music, the theory of Bai music, and the economics of making music.
Sharing My Learning
My final product can be found above or from this link on YouTube: https://www.youtu.be/KUENQ3tXrio
One of the most important things I learned during field research for my Inquiry Project is not about my topic of Bai music, but rather about how to communicate with people and make connections. I feel that during the Inquiry Project times given to me, I made tons of relationships and friends that I would not make if I were on a China Alive trip or vacation. I think that this is also a skill that I can use back in Shanghai to make more friends that I don't know yet, whether they are people my age or adults. I also got my first look at Traditional Chinese sheet music which was a complete surprise to me because I have never seen it before.
Although my topic did not change, my ten guiding questions did change and adapt throughout nine field research sessions. Some of the questions such as the questions about where the instruments are made in the village are irrelevant because no one in the village makes instruments, they are all bought from outside. One of my goals was to learn the basics of an instrument, but when I arrived here and learned about the schedule, I realized that I could not learn it with the given amount of time. Two other questions that I abandoned are the two about instruments because it is very obvious. All the musicians all play the same instruments, and the question was not very practical for understanding my topic better. Overall, I did not change my topic but did eliminate some questions and adding some others.
The most challenging part of my research was finding helpful resources rather than the research itself. Looking for people was the hardest because I thought music would be more relevant in this village. In reality, music is much rarer than what I thought it would be. After finding people, the hardest thing after finding resources to support my research is going up to people and expecting them to give me some useful information. In other words, making connections was much harder than I thought it was going to be. I needed first to get to know the person before asking them questions about music. For the first couple of rounds, I was not prepared and very nervous, causing me to panic and not go according to plan, resulting in a wrong first impression.
My "aha !" moment was not when I first got some precious information but instead meeting Mr. Yang. Mr. Yang is a musician who I often visit not only for questions about music but also for chatting and playing the Sanxian. I got to know him from one of my teacher supports and soon got to become friends with him. When he offered to teach me how to play the Sanxian, I was so happy. I soon became friends with him and invited other microcampus students to chat with him as well. He is also a great storyteller and told me many stories about his life as a child and the Cultural Revolution.
The biggest thing that this project made me realize about my topic is that music is much bigger than what T thought it was. The idea that made me realize this was when Mr. Yang showed me his Sanxian music. The Sanxian music was completely different from what I am used to seeing which is a staff with notes. I felt that this project opened a new door for me and helped me understand that I do not know everything about music yet and there are many more types in the world for people like me to explore. I hope to travel here again and learn more about Bai music.
I feel that this project has helped me create powerful bonds with the citizens of Xizhou, specifically the Dongjing musicians. This project has forced me, in a good way, to connect with strangers and develop relationships with them, something I think I will need to do in my future life. With all the freedom and fieldwork time we are given, making connections with the people become natural in a way after a couple of days of struggle, saying hi every 30 seconds to shop owners and restaurant owners makes me feel connected with the entire village and almost like I am a resident as well.
One thing that I learned about myself is that I am usually shyer when I am by myself rather than when I am with others. When I am with others, I like to talk a lot and join in the conversation, but when I am with strangers that I don't recognize, it will become awkward and forget what to say.
One thing that I learned about myself is that I need to plan ahead before I interview someone. If I don't I usually choke and don't know what to say. I learned this from my first two conversations with people. After that, I would think about what to say before the actual conversation. When I do plan ahead, the conversation flows very smoothly and I get the information that I want and need.
I think the best advice is advice on choosing a topic. If I were to advise future Microcampus students, I would explain to them a little about what to expect and what is in the village. This way students know what environment they are going to be in for 28 days and what type of topic might suit them in that specific environment. This is because when I chose my topic of music, I suspected music to be very popular in Xizhou; in reality, it is not nearly as popular. If I were to choose another topic, I would prefer something dominant such as silverware or farming. I am not saying that music was a bad choice, but other topics suit this village better.
If I were to continue this project, I would stop with the research and start learning a particular instrument. I want to learn the Sanxian if I had another two or three weeks. If someone else were to research my topic and carry out what I already have, I would want them to do the same. During the nine periods of field research, I realized that to learn another instrument, it would take much more time. When I realized this, it was already too late, and we were on our last two days.
I want to give some acknowledgments to the people who have supported me during this journey. First, I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Linden for allowing us to use YanZhuoRan, a beautiful space where we lived for four weeks. Then I would like to thank Mr. T and Mrs. Mai for bringing us to Xizhou and allowing us to experience this program. Others I would like to thank are Ms. B, Ms. Wang, and Mr. Yang. They have taken time from their own lives to give us teacher support so we can do field research. There is a citizen of Xizhou who I would like to mention. Mr. Yang has given me answers to many of my questions and has been very open to me. He would also allow me to play the Sanxian and learn some with him. Lastly, I would like to thank every Microcampus member of the Wildfires group for making this trip unique like none other.
Microcampus is a great experience that not everyone our age to attend. What makes the process so amazing is the investigation we need to do in this village by ourselves and to get outside of our comfort zone. As a Microcampus participant, I believe that this is a life changing experience that should be offered to everyone our age. I have learned many important lessons that I could not have learned if I spent these four weeks in school and on vacation like the rest of the grade. Although this is the end of my time in Xizhou, this experience has planted something new in my life that I will never forget.