My Service Learning group was Sean and Diego. Our project partner was Mr. Gao Shunlong, a 64 year old man who owns a small tourist shop off Sifangjie. As a result of our experience we learned a lot about his family life, including his daughters and his wife. We also learned about the difficulties that he faced in his childhood and the troubles he has with his life now.
We also had the opportunity to learn about the history of the village as a whole while interviewing Mr. Gao. He told us about some of the ethnic minority issues that he faced as a child including the marriage between him and his wife, because he was a Bai man and she was a Han woman. He also pointed out the evidence of the way of life before on the walls of Xizhou around us and talked about times when he witnessed the destruction of the architecture.
The things that we learned about the history of the 20th century included what he remembered about his Mr. Gao told us about troubles he had during the beginning of the reform, including something called a meat ration which he only got once a month. He talked about his life during the Cultural Revolution and the troubles that his parents faced and the times of starvation. We enjoyed learning about these things, but at the same time we knew that it was a very hard time for him and it was difficult for him to talk about these things.
The presentation went relatively well. Mr. Gao is a pretty happy and joking man, and throughout the process he seemed pretty happy to be with an old friend Mr. Zhao the security guard. During the video, he kept a pretty straight face, but would occasionally smile and chuckle at some good memories. There was a part of the video that didn't go that well and the sound cut out, but Mr. Gao didn't seem bothered by it.
For future Service Learning Microcampus students, I strongly recommend you do exactly what Mr. T says about looking for partners early in the process. Many of the elderly here are very open and welcome so there is no need to feel shy about these things. While looking for potential partners you can also show them previous projects which can be found on the Microcampus hard drive. This can help them ease up after knowing that it is a safe thing to do. There is also going to be a lot of pressure on the person who can speak the best Chinese, so remember not to get them too stressed out and try to help them as best as you can. If you are that person, just get through it and you will be fine. There is a lot of pressure, but it will feel great after you are done.