Out of all the possible topics I could have chosen, I wanted to investigate the family planning policy in China. I once read an article about it, and was captivated by how it worked and the damage if could have done to families, and how it may hurt and help the country. This topic was also important to me because I believe that everyone has the right to have as many children as they want, and equal rights between genders, which does not always occur in China. I had to turn to multiple different sources throughout my research process. Some of my main sources included Xiao Tang since she is an only child and has told me about her experiences firsthand, Conghui Dong, an English teacher at the local middle school, and He Laoshi the admissions director and the local middle school. Since he admitted students into the school, he told me about the process and how they check their background information to make sure they are not "illegal" children so they do not get free schooling. I chose these sources for multiple reasons. First of all, most of them had been reccomended to me, and were trusted. They are all also very knowledgable about my topic. I turned to these sources to answer my ten main questions (phase 3), but most of all, I wanted to know what the community thought of the policy, and how it had affected their lives. In order to have a thorough understanding of the family planning policy in China, one must investigae the the facts, as well as the impact it has had on society.
Coming to Xizhou was a life changing experience for me, and am so sad to see it end. I saw a new side of things, and took time to relax and think, which I normally do not get in Shanghai. This was probably one of the most important lessons I took from Microcampus. I need to take time for myself, and instead of always focusing inward towards others I know, I need to focus outward on my surroundings. We are always in bubbles, whether it is in JInQiao or with friends. Of course it is nice sometimes, but when I go out of the "bubble" I get new experiences that I most likely I would have not if I did not take chances and explore. I also got a chance to use the limited Chinese I know out in the real world, since no one speaks English. I had to get around using the little Chinese I knew, between ordering food and having friendly conversations. I came to a point where I would just carry around a little notebook with useful words and phrases to help me out.
While working on my inquiry project, I made many changes to focus more on my interests. During the first few days, my original topic was focused more on education in Xizhou and the gender roles for children in and out of school. There was not much information I could find, and while I was researching, I came across a few articles on the family planning policy in China. I could not stop reading about it, for I was fascinated. After doing a few hours of research on the policy, I talked to Mr. Tafel about my new interest and changed my topic since it was along the same lines with children and gender issues. It took me a few days to catch up to everyone else since I had to redo a few stages of my project, but it was well worth it because I was much more interested by the family planning policy. After I had found out all the facts and history behind it, I wanted to see what the community in Xizhou thought of the family planning policy. I went out on the streets and started forming new relationships with woman, so they could talk to me about how they formed their families based around the policy, and what they thought of it. At the end, I decided to focus on four woman to hear their stories. My project had taken yet another turn from the facts, to the impact the family planning policy had on society.
During the research process, my project had many highs and lows. My highs were when I had formed a bond with someone and was able to talk about their story, however personal. Whenever I found out new information that was no where on the internet, I was thrilled because it is only possible to find from talking to the locals. Moments like this happened on the daily, encouraging me to work harder on my project and find out more. But with the highs, came lows. I love being out with people talking about it, and not so much behind the computer. It was harder to motivate myself to get all the information I had found out, and type it all up and put it on the website. Believe it or not, doing the work on the computer was harder for me than talking to people about the one child policy. There were a few challenges, between not having a freedom of speech in China, so people had to watch what they said about the government, hence I did not hear one person critize them.
Another one of my favorite parts from working on my inquiry project, was when I would have an "aha" moment, which happened often. It felt great to discover something new, and especially when it was interesting to me. One of my biggest, was when I was interviewing an admission director at the local middle school, and he said that he could only have one child because he worked for the government. It was a policy called shiyedue. I was astonished, but yet it made a lot of sense. Moments like this happened all the time, and I was always delighted to find out something new.
This inquiry project gave me a deeper understanding of the family planning policy in China. When most people talked about it, all I thought about was the negatives. Most of the time, the news reports tend to focus on abortions. I am not saying that it does not happen, but this is a big misunderstanding I had, that if anyone had more than one baby, that was the only option they had. I realized I was wrong when I came here. In addtion, I never really thought of how the Chinese felt about the policy, and how it affected their lives. There are so many factors in the family planning policy that I was never aware of, but now I can see most aspects.
On the daily, I interacted with the community in Xizhou, mainly because of my project. Since the family planning policy can become so personal, I was able to connect with people on a new level. I had to start with friendly simple conversations, until they were more comfortable to connect on a deeper level. This took time and patience, on my part and trust on theirs. I was a complete stranger from a different country and culture, but dispite our differences, most of them eventually grew to trust me, and I trust them. It was not easy to form relationships, but once they were formed, it was a great feeling. I really appreciate all they have done for me.
The Inquiry project not only helped me understand the community of Xizhou better, but it helped me understand myself better as well. I learned that I could do a lot more than I thought I could. When I reach out to the community and people around me, I challenge myself to get to know new people that I would have never met, if I just focused on my friends. I also am able to understand a lot more Chinese than I thought I could. I can not necessaraly speak or write very well, but my understanding is getting way better since I have been surrounded by it. I also learned that I do much better when I take ten minutes in the day to just sit and relax, instead of running around stressed out about my workload. When I had a lot of work and was started to feel stressed, I would sit on the terrace for ten minutes, then get working. This was very affective for me, and a plan to be doing this from now on, especially when I get back to Shanghai.
If I were able to go back in time to the beginning of the project, there is some advice that would have been useful to me. The main and most important thing would be to use your time wisely. SInce we have a whole block of time do work, it is easy to get distracted. Also, talk to people early on in the process. Instead of waiting until the last week to start talking to locals, the earlier you get going the better. If you start talking too people too late, you may find new information that you would like to follow up on, but do not have time. Last but not least, have fun! If you take the project too seriously, it is hard to enjoy yourself.
If I had time to continue my project, there are many directions it could go. I was supposed to talk to government officials, which I would have loved to do, but they were really busy and kept pushing back the date, so I was unable to do so. If I had more time, I would have been able to talk to them, which would have perhaps made my project more based on the facts and other policies put in place instead of the impact on society. There are many ways other Microcampus students could build on the work I have done. I put down the base of what their is too know, and they could dig deeper in multiple directions. They could look at one specific policy put in place inside of the family planning policy, why people in the countryside can have two children but people in the cities can not, or even the gender roles in the schooling system, which I started to do. Time is an essence, and I wish we could have had more!
There are so many people who helped me throughout my stay here in Xizhou. I would like to give them all a big hug and thank you, especially Mr. Tafel for making this opportunity possible for all of us, and for many more eighth graders to come. Not only was he a supportive rolemodel, but he was brave enough to watch 16 kids for one month, which takes some guts. And of course Ms. Mai for doing the same, she was always caring and encouraging us to always do our best. She really made Microcampus a more loving enviroment. I would also like to thank Xiao Tang for making sure we were always having a good time and acting like an older sister to all of us, especially the girls. She helped us get place to place and translate during our inquiry projects. You could always count on a laugh when you were with Xiao Tang and I will dearly miss her! Brian Linden deserves a big thanks for giving us a home away from home!