Our Service Learning partner is named Yang Fu Lan, or as we called her, Yang Nai Nai. She is retired, but currently lives with her son and his wife. She is the great-grandmother of a two-year-old little girl.
Yang Nai Nai is 80 years old, meaning she was born in 1935. Thus, she has lived through lots of major events in Chinese history in the past decades, and we were all super intrigued to hear her perspective on all of these events. I introduced the group to Yang Nai Nai, as I met her when I interviewed her daughter-in-law, who works at the Linden Centre, about my inquiry project. She has lived in Xizhou all her life, so she has given us some incredibly captivating information to work with. Her kindness, compassion, and wisdom helped us establish a real connection with her that I will forever be grateful for.
I learned a great deal about Yang Nai Nai over the course of the Service Learning project. When we meet a person for the first time, all that shows is the person's age and appearance. If we really go beyond this in order to explore the person's past, we truly begin to know him or her. The most fascinating part that I gathered from this experience was about Yang Nai Nai's childhood. She grew up in a family of six with a low income. Her parents had to go to work, and there was no time or money to look after the children. After they produced and sold textiles, they used the small amount of money they earned to buy a little bit of rice. I could not imagine what it was like to live like this until I heard Yang Nai Nai's story. To this day, she says that she is most thankful for Chairman Mao and the Communist Party for making her life better as the years went on.
I also learned about the effect that the Cultural Revolution and other important events have had on Xizhou and the village's history. Yang Nai Nai described how over the years, Sifangjie's gate has been destroyed twice, and how the old gate used to look better. However, despite the many changes that Xizhou has gone through, Yang Nai Nai has lived in the same courtyard home for most of her 80 years! This shows that despite Xizhou's long, rich history, it has still always been able to preserve cultural architecture and natural beauty.
I also built a great foundation of knowledge on 20th Century Chinese history from Yang Nai Nai's wisdom. First, I learned that the communist party really improved the lives of many Chinese citizens. Yang Nai Nai stated that Chairmans Mao gave her family land to farm and a home to live. Hearing how this personally affected citizens in Xizhou really changed my perspective on Chinese history.
The experience of sharing the Service Learning videos with our partners made the entire experience worth it. Since Yang Nai Nai is unable to walk all the way to Yangzhouran from our house, her daughter-in-law came to the viewing, and we gave her the DVD to show Yang Nai Nai. Even so, we still had an amazing experience showing the video to Ms. Zhang. Since she is clearly very close with her mother-in-law, we could tell that she really enjoyed seeing how Yang Nai Nai responded to our questions. We only hope that Yang Nai Nai will enjoy the video as much as Ms. Zhang did.
I also really enjoyed seeing the other groups' partners and their reactions. One group's partner was super sweet, and I could tell that she was impressed by the outcome of her conversation with the students. She also got a bit emotional, which was incredibly touching. Another group interviewed two best friends, and it was evident how close they were. All throughout the video, they were chatting up a storm! It was very touching to see that after over 30 years of friendship, they have never gotten bored of each other's company. I only hope that some of my friendships from my childhood will last that long and still be that solid!
I think that future Microcampus students can learn from our mistakes. First, they should try to have lots of backup plans of possible contacts from the beginning. Even though their first partner will probably not work out, it is guaranteed that they will find a great partner eventually, and that they will learn a lot from the experience. Next, they should make sure to establish a real connection with their Service Learning partner instead of making the interview a police investigation. When their partner says something interesting, they should try to elaborate off of that instead of moving on to the next question immediately afterwards. Lastly, they should take lots of photos of their partner, and they should try to get a great camera angle to film from. If they follow all of these pointers, their Service Learning will be sure to have a great outcome.