On November 14, thirteen eighth grade students embarked on a month long journey to a rural village in Yunnan called Xizhou. The purpose of this trip is to step out of our comfort zone explore China outside the international bubble of Shanghai. Before we left, however, each of us chose an individual topic to research in Xizhou.
We were given a list of numerous projects to choose from. It was a hard process, but I eventually narrowed it down to three: textile production, local recreation / hobbies, and local spirits / legends / stories. In the end, I decided on local spirits / legends / stories because I have always enjoyed listening to stories and the prospect of studying local stories was especially intriguing.
In general, Mr. T. and Ms. Zhang brought me around the village to talk to locals about my topic. I had conversations with many locals, including Mr. Zhao, Mr. Du, and Mr. Yang. They talked to me about my topic and told me a few local legends. Apart from them, I met with many other people who all shared their insight on my topic which helped me greatly.
During my conversations with the locals, I asked them questions related to the history and takeaways of the stories, and how it has been influenced by modern lifestyle today. The answers they shared with me were usually similar, but some were quite diverse. In the end though, I was able to get a better grasp of an overall sense of stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Sharing My Learning:
To share my learning, I created a movie. Scroll to the top of the page to watch it or click here: https://youtu.be/SB84RXxQ4KM
Microcampus has been one of the most phenomenal life-changing experiences ever. It really opened my eyes to the outside world and has driven me to become more observant. The topic I chose to study more in depth here at Xizhou is local spirits / legends / myths. By conversing with locals about my topic, they not only shared with me a few local legends, they have also emphasized the importance of keeping their culture alive. During my countless conversations with people here at Xizhou, I learned the importance of not being awkward or shy when talking to them. Something else I learned while researching local legends and stories was that many people here in Xizhou do not know about their local stories. I think that this is important because it is part of their identity.
My project did not change over the course of my study; however, I decided to focus my project more specifically on legends and stories. I did not study their local spirits more in depth because Mr. T. mentioned that their local religion, Ben Zhu, was very complicated. He told me that if I tried to talk to locals about it, it would most likely leave me feeling more confused than I did before talking to them.
The most difficult part of my research was finding locals who knew local legends and stories. The first few times I strolled around the village looking for locals to talk to, I mainly approached the elderly because I assumed that they would know more traditional legends and stories. However, they told me that they were either too old to remember, or were not from Xizhou. After my unsuccessful encounters, I decided to target slightly younger adults around ages 50 to 60. After I asked them about my topic, they would usually wave me away and tell me to search for older people. I was often placed in this dilemma while looking for locals but eventually managed to find a few people who knew about my topic.
While I talked to locals about my topic, I had a few "a-ha" moments. I discovered that some of my questions were redundant and were not relevant to my conversations. So, I altered a few questions to keep the conversations on track and informational. After I changed my questions, I realized that I was able to learn so much more information that was relevant to my topic.
Before we came to Xizhou, we spent hours gathering background information on our topic. All of my information derived from websites, with the exception of a book that Mr. T. recommended to me. These sources gave me a general understanding of local legends in Xizhou, but I did not know which ones were reliable and which ones were not. When I talked to Mr. Du and Mr. Yang, the stories they told me were very local; all of them took place in some specific location in Dali, such as the Butterfly Spring, Zhou Cheng, Cang Shan, and so on.
To gather information from local contacts, I had to talk to many people in the village. I formed strong bonds with numerous locals in Xizhou while talking to them about my topic. Often times, they would tell me a bit about their lives. It was not a matter of asking them my ten questions and receiving answers from them; it was also to get to know them better as a person and interact with them.
Not only did this project give me the opportunity to learn about Xizhou and my overall topic, but it helped me to develop a better understanding of who I am as a person. Back in Shanghai, we were not given as many opportunities to venture outside and step out of our comfort zone. We were usually told specifically what to do. But here in Xizhou, responsibility is placed in our hands. I learned that time is extremely precious, and that I will suffer if I do not make good use of it.
I also discovered more about myself as a learner. This trip has shown that sometimes I have grown too accustomed to everything being planned out, just like in Shanghai. But after a week or so, I eventually figured out that most of what we do is up to us to manage.
If I could rewind this whole process back to the start, I would make more connections in the village. There is really no point in being shy and not talking to people whom we are living around for an entire month. Eventually we would all have to start somewhere. If we did not make connections during the first part of the trip, everything would be rushed towards the end and sometimes we would not receive as much information as we hoped for.
If this project were to be continued or someone else were to build off of my research, I would focus more on asking about the locals' thoughts on legends and stories. It would make the project more interesting and meaningful. Also, they should note that sometimes stories will be repeated, though not completely the same. At that point, making a comparison or merging the two stories would probably be a good idea.
During this trip, there have been countless people who have helped me along the way. First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Tafel for inviting me to join the Microcampus journey. I have grown during the trip and have been given opportunities many kids can only dream of. I would also like to thank Ms. Zhang, Ms. Mai, and Zoe. They have supported us the whole entire time we stayed at Xizhou and brought us around the village to meet locals. Next, I would like to thank the locals and students of the Nutty Narwhals Microcampus group. They have made this experience extremely memorable; a trip that I will never forget. Finally, I want to thank my parents for giving me unconditional support throughout the trip.
Overall, this entire journey has been an extremely unique experience. It has been the adventure of a lifetime for all of us and I have grown as an overall person. I now consider Xizhou as a second home since we have lived here for 4 weeks. Once again, thank you to everyone who made this trip possible.