My name is Ryley S. and in November of 2015 I, along with 12 other students from Shanghai American School Pudong Campus, went on a month long trip to the town of Xizhou located in China's southwest Yunnan Province. While in the village students research a topic of high personal interest and complete an inquiry project on the topic. At first I had chosen to investigate the economics of bamboo weaving in Xizhou but I later switched my topic to the physical bamboo weaving process.
Before leaving for Xizhou all students were required to research background information for their topic as well as other preparation work. This work took around a month to complete, and the work was very vital towards maximizing our time in Xizhou. I had not completed all of my prep work before arriving in Xizhou and this was the wrong choice. I lost much time and gained unwanted stress since I had to complete my Shanghai work in the village.
After arriving in Xizhou we began conducting field research and learning as much information as we could so that we could create our final project at the end of the trip. We gained names of people and places where we can find information on our topic. From there we went out to those people and places and began to have conversations and meetings with the people to gather information. This stage went on for around a week, and then we switched to working on our final product.
What my audience is currently reading is my takeaway from this trip. The video above is meant to capture my experience in Xizhou and on Microcampus in a video. This is the space where I am explaining about my time in Xizhou to my audience. I am explaining what I found interesting while living in this place, what I learned, and how I grew as a person.
Sharing My Learning
In order to share what I learned with my audience I decided to make an iMovie. I felt as though this was the best way to convey all of the thoughts I was having throughout my time in Xizhou as well as share with my viewers some images, videos, and time lapses of my experience. This movie can be found at the top of this page, but if for some reason the movie is not working here is an alternative link.
While at Microcampus the majority of our time was taken up with inquiry project work. When I first read through the inquiry project it sounded interesting, but yet also seemed as though it could be quite boring as there is so much work. After living with my project for a month it is apparent how wrong I was. The inquiry project was a once in a lifetime experience, and it provided so many memories, unforgettable interactions, and a chance to really get to know this spectacular place known as Xizhou. My inquiry project taught me so many things that I would not have been able to learn or experience anywhere else in the world. It taught me the beauty of interacting with strangers; the feeling of being put into a completely foreign environment and having to adapt, and that one sometimes need to take a step back from life to acknowledge and be aware of the gorgeous surroundings.
As I previously explained in my introduction my research topic changed halfway through the trip. I originally come to the village in order to learn about the economics of bamboo weaving in Xizhou, but halfway through my project changed to learning about the weaving process. This change occurred due to Mr. Wang and his family. One day I had gone to Mr. Wang to talk about the economics of bamboo weaving, and after having a conversation he offered me a try at weaving a basket. I decided to try and I caught onto the technique very quickly. Mr. Wang could tell that I was enjoying it and he offered to teach me how to make a bamboo basket. I considered his offer and discussed with my family and Mr. T. I finally came to the conclusion that I would switch my project to the process of weaving as I realized it interested me more than the economics.
Throughout the process of researching my topic there were struggles along the way, although oddly for me the most difficult part of my research was near the end of the trip. In the third week of the trip I begun to going to the Wang family regularly in order to start working on my basket. On a few of the days I would arrive at their house at the time that was convenient with them and they would not be home. This was often frustrating as I was stressing about getting my project finished in time, and I had already spent 15 minutes biking to their house. I would often need to think of a plan B on the spot, and this is pretty risky. Although luckily for me I always had other work to do back at YangZhuoRan. Although these situations were annoying they did teach me that I should always have a plan B, C, and D in place of unexpected changes like these.
Looking back on my inquiry project I am surprised that I never had any “a-ha” moments or times when I made major discoveries. In fact there were only a few times when I thought to myself “ooh” that makes sense or “hmm” that is interesting. One of times was while I was talking to locals about their bamboo weaving business and about how their price items. One of my common questions was if the people had a different price for locals versus foreigners or white people. To my surprise the answer was no; the price stays the same for all customers. I was surprised because in other countries that I have traveled to the local guides told us foreigners to be careful that we are not getting ripped off, but that is apparently not the case here. Another moment was when I had started weaving with the Wang family. There were some points in the process where I kept snapping the bamboo or cutting the bamboo too thin. I continued to get annoyed with myself since I could not do the task correctly. After watching me struggle for a bit Mr. Wang stepped in and demonstrated the correct way to cut the bamboo and the techniques on how to not snap the bamboo. It was teaching moments like these when I thought to myself “ooh” how did I not figure that out sooner.
Before arriving in Yunnan I knew absolutely nothing about bamboo weaving except for the fact that bamboo is used for a variety of purposes, and can be woven into many more functional objects. Throughout the inquiry project and the Microcampus trip overall I gained a solid understanding of my topic. I learned both the economic/business side of bamboo weaving as well as the physical process of making a basket. I also interacted with people who bamboo weave for a living and this helped me achieve an understanding of the life style as well. This trip updated my knowledge in many areas and especially in bamboo weaving.
While living in Xizhou and working on my inquiry project I was given many opportunities to interact with the community in and around Xizhou. I connected with many locals and learned a great deal from simply watching locals doing their everyday tasks. One day I connected with a boy and his friend by having a Rubik’s Cube off. For many days I interacted with the Wang family through learning the art of bamboo weaving. Often while I am eating I will take time to notice my surroundings and watch people living their everyday life. This trip has given me a chance to interact with many people and become a part of a foreign community. It is such a great feeling to become a part of an unknown place.
From living in this village and from working on my inquiry project I learned a lot about myself as a person. It helped me learn that I am not comfortable in new environments, and it takes me a while to adapt. I learned that I too often react to situations rather than taking a step back, thinking through the situation, and then responding. I also learned that I judge things to easily. I will form conclusions and impressions without giving things a chance. All of these things that I have listed I feel as though I have somewhat worked out. Part of this trip was designed for self-improvement and I feel as though I have done just that. I have self-improved and I have worked hard to become a better person, student, and peer overall.
Throughout the inquiry project process I learned many things about myself as a learner. I found that I learn best visually and through demonstration, and this was especially obvious during my bamboo weaving lessons. I also learned that I, as a learner, do not always take risks. I sometimes need a bit of a push or some encouragement in order for me to try new things, ask unordinary questions, or to think outside of the box. This trip definitely challenged me as a learner, and it helped me overcome some of these flaws. I am hoping to transfer the skills I learned here back to Shanghai so that I can continue to grow and become ever more successful as a student.
Looking back on my experiences and time here in the village there are a few things that I would like to have known before I started my project. For example if someone would have told me to take more photos at the beginning of the trip as well as organize them into neatly labeled folders this would have saved me a lot of time when I should have been focusing on my final product. Another tip that I feel future alumni would benefit from knowing in the beginning of the trip would be to translate ones 10 big questions before arriving in Xizhou. I feel as though this would benefit many people in both being more prepared for conversations with local contacts as well as giving non-native speakers more of a chance to interact with locals earlier on in the conversations.
As I am looking back at my inquiry project there are a few things that I wish I had done. Maybe if future alumni are interested in studying bamboo weaving then they could continue my research project and expand on or even take the project in an entirely new direction (although I do suggest continuing to connect with the Wang family, as they are so open and nice). If a future student were interested in expanding on my current work here would be my suggestion; continue to meet with the Wang family, but try to focus in on one specific part of the bamboo weaving process and learn as much from it as possible. Ask them many questions about it, and even go into questions such as “how did your ancestors figure out how to weave this” or “how long did it take you to master this?” Although if one is interested in taking my project in a new direction here are a few of my other suggestions which one can follow or dismiss and come up with new outside of the box ideas. My ideas are as follows; perhaps one is interested in how the Wang family or bamboo families in general sell the items, and in this case ask if the family would be willing to have you go along with them to the market. Maybe one is interested in the family life of a bamboo weaving home. Ask about when the children start weaving, what is the average death age for people in your home, how many people in your family decided to drop bamboo weaving and go into higher paying jobs. All of these ideas would make for very interesting topics.
This trip would not have been possible without the help of so many people. I would first like to thank Mr. T and Ms. Mai for both planning this truly spectacular experience as well as accepting me onto this trip. They also had stunning patience with our group as we had been testing their patience the entire trip. Next I would thank the Linden’s and the Linden Centre Staff for constructing and keeping our home, YangZhuoRan, in place and in order. I would also like to thank the other chaperones, Ms. Mai, Mr. Jake, Mr. Jack, and Ms. Zoey, for helping all of us students on our interviews and with our 3-to-5’s. I thank the Wang’s as well as the other locals I talked to and interacted with for their welcoming demeanor and kindness. Lastly I thank my group the Nutty Narwhals for making this trip and this experience so enjoyable. You guys were always there to support me, help me when I was struggling, and laugh with me when I was happy.
Microcampus has truly been a spectacular experience. It offered me a chance to step outside of my comfort zone, to connect with complete strangers, and to adapt to an environment totally foreign to me. This trip was often a challenge both mentally and academically, but I truly feel as though I came out on top. Of course there were bumps in the road, and sometimes too often, but the overall experience was amazing and I have no idea what could change my wonderful memories of this trip. Once again thank you Mr. T and Ms. Mai for doing this job that is often very hard and tests your patience to an inhumane level. Without you guys coming up with this idea for a trip as well as executing it and helping us students through the process this trip would not have ended nearly as well as it did, and I would not have had this truly life changing experience.