Phase 0: Getting Started: Topic Exploration and Selection

Updated 2 years 5 months ago

Hi everyone! My name is Holly D. and I cannot wait for Microcampus! Phase 0 is a topic all about exploration and selection, as we begin to understand the focus of our time in Xihou. After reading many of the reflections from previous Microcampus attendees, there are many valid suggestions that I have chosen to follow. In less than a month, Microcampus will start, beginning 28 days of exploration and learning in Xizhou, a remote village in Yunan that represents life in China at its most authentic form. The main focus of our Microcampus trip consists of an Inquiry Project, where we must choose an important cultural topic to explore and investigate within our host village. We were given a large list of choices and were obligated to choose just one that we not only could learn from but connect with as well.

To begin this project, we were given a list of about 40 unique Inquiry Projects. Our first task was to narrow the topics down to three, which would soon lead us to our final, and permanent decision... Which Inquiry Project would we choose to investigate and would that choice lead us to success? In order to find three possible topics, I first skimmed through the list of Inquiry Project descriptors, making sure to indicate the ones that caught my eye. That quickly narrowed the list down to about ten possible Inquiry Project topics, to which I would later decipher in order to find the perfect one for me. From there, I looked deeper into each topic and slowly began to eliminate topics that I realized either did not connect with me and my passions or did not challenge me enough. Through a lot of consideration and feedback, I finally decided on three possible topics that could connect with me on a personal level and push me to my limits. My three final topics included local cuisine, textile production, and local lake fishing techniques.

While skimming through my final three topics, I collected a few questions regarding the inquiry projects that caught my eye. I had put a lot of thought into my questions, but I was unable to find answers for my first and third choice. Since I wouldn't be researching these topics due to overpopulation and time, the questions were irrelevant to my success in Xizhou. Currently, my questions are directed towards Textile Production, a topic I will be turning my attention towards during our trip to our host village. My questions were based on the culture and creation of the art produced in rural China and I can't wait to discover what the answers may be. Not only had I created questions for my top three choices, but the entire independent project process in general, as well. "How broad/narrow should my Inquiry Project be? Are we allowed to choose more than one topic if they can be connected? How will I make my project different compared to the people who came before me?" Thankfully, Mr. Tafel was able to answer these general questions. Initially, topics can be pretty broad, but as you work through the process they will naturally narrow down. In general, one topic should be plenty. And finally, there is similar work that has taken place before, but inquiry projects are designed to lead students on their own original learning path. I am grateful for the help Mr. Tafel had given me and his overall guidance to put me on the right path.

Topic Rankings:

1) Local Food Products/Cuisine

2) Textile Production (Final decision)

3) Local Lake Erhai Fishing Industry/ Fishing Techniques

My first choice ended up being local food products/cuisine, for I love to cook, eat, and explore the nature of multicultural/global foods. However, this topic was soon overpopulated, and I realized that my best option would be to follow my own path. 

For my second choice (and final decision), I have chosen textile production because I am an artistic person and love hands-on activities. For this project, I will generalize and summarize my understanding on 3 of the artistic elements within textile production, (tie-dye, batik, bamboo weaving, embroidery) keeping in mind that my focus is on the production and technique of these products. This project would allow me to interact with the locals because of the interviews I will take, and the work I will do alongside them. This topic is important because it is artistic, cultural, creative, and beneficial on both an educational and personal level.

My third choice was the local lake fishing industry/techniques, because of how it brought back many of my childhood memories. However, this topic is not as important to me compared to my other choices, I wanted to push myself and try something new, following the Inquiry Projects I have chosen above. 

Now that I am certain on my topic, I have gone back and looked at previous Microcampus students who have completed their Inquiry Projects with a similar focus compared to what I am trying to accomplish. I first looked at Lena L.'s project (Alumni H), since she was the only other person to who had chosen to generalize the idea of Textile Production for her Inquiry Project. Her suggestions included filming as soon as possible, being open to discussion with the locals and to start filming as soon as possible. Overall, she had made it very clear that organization, time management, and curiosity were all vital to having the best Microcampus experience one could hope for. I then went to go read/analyze some of the other topics within textile production. One of the projects that stood out was Maya K.'s, (Alumni O) who had chosen bamboo weaving as her point of focus. Overall, she had made it clear to make sure everyone is "rowing the boat", make as many connections as possible, and to do no stress. As recommended by Mr. Tafel, I went to take a look at what Vanessa L. (Alumni C) had written, her topic was a combination of local history and geographical features.  Even though she did not give any suggestions, she made it clear throughout her writing that one must stay on top of their work and make decisions wisely. Lastly, these three projects will definitely help me down the road, I give thanks to the three for providing helpful advice and useful recommendations. 

In conclusion, after going through a process of deep consideration and feedback, I have chosen a final topic for my Inquiry Project, Textile Production, which marked the end of Phase 0. In Phase 1, I will be further continuing an exploration of my topic by gathering background information and posing questions regarding my topic. 


Hi Everyone! My name is Holly and I am so grateful to say that I am part of the "Ultimate" Microcampus Group. I am learning so much and am so lucky to experience life outside the Shanghai bubble. Not only am I focusing on a topic that I greatly enjoy, but I am able to make connections with the many locals I will soon get to know. This trip I am part of is an unforgettable experience and will "ultimately" be an amazing trip. See you guys in a month!