As a program for eighth graders in Shanghai American School, 16 students are given the opportunity to go to a village called Xizhou to study a topic of high personal interest for the time they spend there. Without hesitating, I signed up for this opportunity and time flies, I am now, here in Xizhou learning all about my inquiry project, embroidery. It was a fairly easy choice for me when I was first introduced to a six-page list of possible inquiry projects. My eyes immediately trailed to a small section at the bottom of page four. There in bold letter were the words "Making Things." These words can practically describe all the activities I ever enjoyed. I quickly dived into that section where narrower topics such as woodcarving, tie-dye, and etc. were listed. Next to each of them were a summarized description of the opportunities each student may acquire by studying this topic for four months. Considering my interests and the objective of those topics, I realized that they aligned perfectly with Embroidery. That is how I began my journey in microcampus through studying artwork that could be produced through a single needle and a roll of thread.
Mrs. Li (Happy Embroidery Founder)
I learned most of my embroidery techniques from Mrs. Li who manages Happy Embroidery daily. Mrs. Li has more than 15 years of embroidery experience and is also known for her patience and teaching skills. According to the employees of the embroidery school, none of them knew anything about embroidery when they first arrived. They all were taught first-hand by Mrs. Li, bringing them to being experts themselves now. I chose Mrs. Li for her patience and experience. Through talking with Mrs. Li I answered most of my finance questions that had to do with importing materials and managing a store.
Mrs. Yang (Happy Embroidery Employee)
I chose 30-year-old Mrs. Yang to explore the learning process of a youngster who is still working through many challenges while creating work. She has only learned embroidery for two years but is really passionate about her carrier. IN order to understand embroidery through many different perspective and backgrounds, Mrs. Yang has to be part of my resource. Through talking with Mrs. Yang, I answered questions that involved learning embroidery techniques and the process.
Mrs. Duan (Yarn Shop Owner)
Mrs. Duan has lived in Xizhou her entire life and inhabits many characteristics of a local woman her age. She self-taught herself how to play the 三弦 (a local instrument), Bai minority dancing, Knitting, and embroidering. I chose Mrs. Duan because she is part of the community and has watched it change over time. She would be able to provide me with the embroidery style 40-50 years ago and compare it to the modern types she is not as familiar with. Mrs. Duan taught me a fairly great amount of knowledge about the planning and designing process which reveals the meaning behind each embroidered piece.
Mrs. Shi (Embroidery Antique Shop Owner)
I first met Mrs. Shi under on my first-day of field research with Mr. T. He told me that Mrs. Shi has been friends with microcampus students for almost a decade and that she is definitely a reliable and experienced person. I chose her not only for those characteristics but for her unique background and culture. Mrs. Shi is a member of the Miao ethnic minority group and is one of the few people in China that continues to pass on their monumental items. I value her uniqueness and her willingness to explain Miao embroidery features to me patiently. I learned about a new type of embroidery in Xizhou and how it compares with the others.
Mrs. Yang (Si Fang Jie Shop Owner)
Mrs. Yang has never left Xizhou and is 68 years old this year. She enjoys making small crafts and embroidery in her free time and has been doing it since she was ten years old. I had several conversations with Mrs. Yang for her wisdom and experience. Since she has lived years in Xizhou, she would be able to inform me with not only the change in the culture but in embroidery too. Through having conversations with Mrs. Yan, I learned about embroidery changing over time in Xizhou.
Thesis Statement: In order to compare the embroidery styles in Xizhou, I will design a product, choose the material, and produce the piece.
Sharing My Learning
Click here to find a video I created about my learning journey in Xizhou.
Since December, I researched all about embroidery in Xizhou which encourages me to engage in multiple meaningful conversations with the citizens. Through this four-month experience, I learned many things I could not have within the bubble of Shanghai. My biggest takeaway is not of my project topic itself, but the process of learning about it in Xizhou. What I found fascinating is the patience the citizens have towards young folks like me. Rather than waving us away when we asked them questions about their personal financial details, they are willing to pause their day and inform us of their knowledge. I appreciate their patience towards our simple questions and how they treat us as if we are part of the community too.
Originally, I came to Xizhou being positive that I was going to study all about embroidery and that will be the main concept of my final product. However, as I explored more about the embroidery styles unique to Xizhou I started to notice a trend. There are two main types of embroidery and they both possess completely different characteristics. I became eager to learn about their differences and how they have changed each other throughout the years in this village. When it was time to brainstorm about our final products, I noticed that through my exploration, my research has also turned on a completely different route. This is why now I am studying the differences between Bai and Su embroidery rather than the general topic of "embroidery in Xizhou."
The most difficult part of my research is the lack of variety in the answers I received from my "Big questions." Because most embroiders in the village are elders with similar backgrounds, they tend to have the same response to certain questions. For example, when I ask them about the stories and legends behind embroidery, a common answer I would receive is "It is all about folks' daily life." This left me not knowing what to do with this general answer that can lead to thousands of possibilities. Another challenge I faced in the process is receiving answers for financial questions. Because this is a very sensitive topic, many would try to avoid answering or simply saying "my business is good." One method I have learned when facing these people is to first build a stronger relationship with them. After a couple of visits, the citizens tend to become more open to me and would trust me with their financial details. This would allow me not only receive information for my other big questions but also some of the more sensitive ones.
One a-ha moment I had about my topic is learning about the local embroidery style, Bai minority embroidery. During my Phase 3 research in Shanghai, I have never seen the name Bai embroidery anywhere on the internet. Until I arrived at Xizhou, my mindset about the styles in Xizhou was just Su embroidery. However, on my first day of field research, I went around Si Fang Jie and found that the embroidery sold in shops did not look like the embroidery that is described on the websites I did my research in. Then I learned that this was a local style that originated from the Bai ethnic minority tribe. This is when I had my biggest a-ha moment that leads to my major discovery about embroidery in Xizhou.
The inquiry project not only helped me learn much more about human nature but also about the general topic of embroidery. During my time spent in Xizhou, I had the opportunity to experience what it is like to do embroidery by actually producing a piece that showed my learning process. This skill could not be learned just by researching on the internet because embroidery requires skill work and finger practice that is essential in order to produce a piece. Other than skill work process of embroidery, I also learned about the change of embroidery's popularity in the years that past. Many elders of the village would tell me that this skill is disappearing at a rapid rate in the past decade. Handmade embroidery cannot compare to the efficient and tidy machine made embroidery that is common in China. This information is helpful for my final product, knowing that embroidery is changing.
By choosing the project topic, embroidery, it has helped me interact with the citizens of Xizhou so I can have a general topic to discuss with them. Instead of going up to a stranger and having nothing to talk about, my inquiry topic allows me to have a starting point at the beginning of the conversation. After building trust with a citizen by introducing to them my purpose of coming to Xizhou, that is when I start receiving more precious personal information that they are willing to inform me about. Without my inquiry project's presence, it would almost be that I would not have an excuse to find out more about the culture of Xizhou. This is why we all had to choose an inquiry project before we arrived in Xizhou so we could communicate with citizens based on a more narrow topic.
Before arriving at Microcampus, I have always known myself as a close-minded person who has a limit to everything. This includes high-intensity sports, public speaking, but more importantly, sustaining project-based learning for a long period of time. However, the Microcampus inquiry project has proved me wrong. I learned from this experience that although there are boundaries to everything, limits can be pushed by stepping out of one's own comfort zone. From believing that I cannot research about embroidery for four consecutive months to almost finishing this process, I have pushed my limits which lead to personal growth in myself. Through this process, I learned that my thoughts and actions can be changed just by changing a fixed mindset into a growth mindset.
While researching embroidery on the internet back in Shanghai, I often find myself lost in the words and not find any meaning out of it. However, the learning experience is different when I was provided a needle and thread and taught how embroidery is created out of these tools. I find it much more interesting and helpful when I can actually practice the project I am studying about rather than reading about how another person learned it. Soon, I was able to understand the challenges of creating embroidery and some of its constraints. Through this inquiry project process, I acknowledged the fact that I am more of a hands-on learner rather than a reader who learns through words.
If I could go back to the start of our inquiry project topic, I would advise myself to explore deeper in a variety of embroidery styles and practice each of those skill works for a section of my inquiry project time each day. This way, I would not only be able to compare the two main styles (Bai and Su embroidery) but also understand many of the minor styles practiced in the village. By doing this, I can also go back to Shanghai with a more thorough understanding of Xizhou's embroidery culture rather than segments of it lead by time constraints. Future Microcampus students that are interested in studying embroidery should keep in mind of the time provided and make sure he/she splits workload equally so there is no rush to finish.
To continue my inquiry work in the future, one should consider learning about the ancient Xizhou embroidery techniques and compare it with the modern types. Since my final product is based on the idea of comparing styles, it would be interesting for the comparing of styles to continue, but in a different form. Therefore, instead of comparing the modern styles in Xizhou, I would find it interesting if the past and present techniques were compared. This way, the audience would not only have the chance to enjoy a lovely piece of embroidery but also understand the change of embroidery over time in Xizhou.
Mr. Tafel- Thanks to our Microcampus teacher Mr. Tafel for guiding us through the process and providing us with so much freedom to explore the village. Because of his amount of trust in us, he never doubted our ability and is always willing to give us another chance after a mistake is made. Without his determination and hard work, none of us would be here now learning about Chinese culture outside the bubble.
Mrs. Mai- Thanks to Mrs. Mai for her patience while she is waiting for me to learn in Happy Embroidery. She is the key to making sure we are all in good health and ready to learn more the following day. Without her, the process would break down with students not being reminded of the close connection between learning and personal health
Mrs. Braverman- Thanks to Mrs. B for her support when I am uncertain about my final product. I appreciate her suggestions that help better improve my final product that still lacks a few final touches. When things go wrong, she is always the one to remind everyone that there is still a good side to the story.
Mrs. Wang- Thanks to Mrs. Wang for her teacher support during field research. She is always open to questions and answers gracefully whenever she knows a possible answer. When she sees me around, she would always check in on my final product to see if I am doing okay.
Mr. Yang- Thanks to Mr. Yang for his humorous characteristic. I appreciate how he continues working with SAS students even though he is not a native English speaker. Instead of backing up, he still takes the challenge and persists through it. He provides great answers that can help one better understand the Xizhou community.
Mrs. Li- Thanks to Mrs. Li for managing Happy Embroidery so many students that are interested in the art can explore within that area. I also appreciate her patience when teaching me how to embroider in basic techniques.
Mr. Yang/ Zhao- Thanks to the guards of Yang Zhuo Ran to keep us in a safe community we all know we can trust living in for a month. I appreciate the smiles we get in the response of our greetings in the morning.
Friends- Thanks for these folks back in Shanghai for supporting us during our time away from home. Even though we are not next to them, I know that they are always someone I can talk to.
Microcampus members- Thank you for looking out for me during these 28 days and always keeping me accountable.
Community- Thanks to the Xizhou community for putting up with 16 of us for an entire month. I appreciate their welcoming smiles and their acceptance of our flaws and differences.
I would like to give a final thanks to my family that sponsored me to go on this wonderful trip so I can get an opportunity to explore China outside the bubble.
In a blink of an eye, the Microcampus trip is now over. Throughout this journey, I have not only learned how to be a better friend, teammate, and student, but also how to be a better person. With the guidance of the four pillars, I have experienced a tremendous amount of personal growth personally and intellectually. I believe that I have definitely made the right choice to sign up for this trip. Even if it means missing one month of life in Shanghai, it also means to me gaining a month of memory I would never forget. Thank you for all the people that contributed to making the magic come true.