by Aria, Alex, Sam, and Sarah
Our service learning partner was Ms. Li. She is 72 years old and grows vegetables to sell at the Morning Market. She has been living in Xizhou all her life. She was very friendly and comfortable with sharing her story.
As a result of this experience, I have learned much about Ms. Li. She is a passionate, lively person who thrives on everything with great determination. She enjoyed school, especially mathematics when she went to school. She also has a loving heart, which could be seen based on her relationship with her parents, husband, children, and interactions she had with my group and me. She sold vegetables for about 50 years and still does. She enjoys going to the temple and praying. The group appreciated her warm personality. She offered the group her carrots each time she encountered us and greeted us with a big smile.
When I talked to Ms. Li, I also noticed the growth and development in Xizhou in a more direct manner. When Ms. Li explained that what she ate when she was young is very different from her meals today, the past that seemed distant to me when I heard the teachers talk about it suddenly felt real. I learned about the struggles Xizhou went through over the course of history, and how it recovered and developed to a village today.
As the history of Xizhou is part of Chinese history, information about 20th century China came up often during the conversations with Ms. Li. She mentioned the year 1958 and that life was very tough at the time, which is the precise year of the start of the Great Leap Forward. She stated that the situation was so bad that she had to eat wold grass. This helped me truly understand and build empathy regarding the events of the past. Furthermore. she stated that life got better and better as time passed by, showing how far China has come and improved. It was interesting to see that she had a good impression on Mao Zedong and showed her love towards him when she described him to my service learning group.
It was very unfortunate that my service learning partner was not able to attend the showcase; she had a Buddhist celebration with her family on the same day. Although the true spotlight was missing, my group and I kept a close eye on the reactions of the audience, which included service learning partners of other groups. We still made sure to present the final video the next day when Ms. Li was available for sure at the Morning Market.
On the last day of Microcampus on day 28, my group and I finally had a chance to show Ms. Li the final video. It was such a meaningful experience. We went out at nine in the morning to meet her at the Linden Commence. When first started playing the video, I could tell that Ms. Li was a little nervous as her hands started to fidget and she was about to look away. Then, her personal information about her early life came up. It was interesting to see her expressions change as the topics in the video changed. She laughed at the footage herself walking.
I noticed that the reaction from Ms. Li was quite similar to what I observed from the large audience during the official share. She laughed and smiled at the same parts as the audience did. I felt guilty because I did not think Ms. Li felt comfortable looking at herself talking about chairman Mao. I was grateful that she was willing to share tough topics with my group despite her challenging personal experiences. I read emotions and memories pass on her face as she observed herself talking about her childhood.
I realized that Ms. Li is a greater individual than what I already anticipated. As we walked her back to Sifangjie, she greeted almost every single person she met on the street. They all seemed to know each other very well. I was once again struck by her warm heart and friendliness. As it was only hours away from our departure to Shanghai, I may have felt more sorrow saying farewell. It ached my heart (and my group's) to say no to her invitation for lunch, and to part our ways after about hugging her for the fifth time that day.
I have a number of recommendations for future Microcamous students who will go through the same struggles and experiences. One of the keys to success would be feeling confident in oneself when during the process of service learning, including building connections. At first, I was insecure about my Chinese which led me to lose great opportunities to connect with the residents, and it also put more burdens on my teammates.I would also like future students to be more involved while building connections by visiting potential partners more often. Even if the early conversations do not make it into the final video, the beginning of the process is extremely important for a solid relationship with the service learning partner.Additionally, being patient with the project is helpful as well. Even when the group reaches a stage where they think they are ready to move onto more sensitive questions, the service learning partner may not be comfortable enough to genuinely share their experiences regarding some issues.Furthermore, it would benefit the whole group to acknowledge each and every one of the members as this project involves strong Chinese speakers, and perhaps some teammates may feel left out, and that they are not contributing to the group. Some members may feel like they are sharing more burdens than others. Showing gratitude and supporting each other will reduce the conflicts and hardships that could result from the process.