Xizhou through Eighth-Grade Eyes

I often think of 8th grade as the most difficult year of my life. Perhaps it was moving to a new school. Perhaps it was being a shy and quiet kid surrounded by lots of other kids much louder than I. Perhaps it was moving from a public school to a private school. Perhaps I was just awkward. But when I think back to this group of eleven 8th graders from Shanghai American School, I could not have been more impressed with these students: thoughtful, curious, and such a joy to be around. They brought such incredible energy to our Centre during their month here in Xizhou which was illustrated through their final presentations capping off an interesting and insightful look at some our friends and familiar faces around Xizhou.

Aside from their regular class work, the SAS students each had an inquiry and service learning project which they researched while staying with us. Inquiry projects gave students the chance to invest a significant amount of time each week to investigate a topic of high personal interest which ranged from tea to textiles to traditional Chinese medicine, just to name a few. You can learn a bit more about these inquiry projects through the student blogs found here.

The service learning project encouraged students to reach out to elders in the Xizhou community and to learn their stories. On Friday afternoon, each pair of students invited their partner to the Linden Centre where they shared their presentations with the entire group.

I had not heard much about this particular project since the students arrived at the Centre, just about a month ago. When I walked in to a packed TV room, I was happily surprised to see our friend Mr. Yang and Ms. Dong from the Jinhua Restaurant and our favorite greeter at the Centre, Mr. Yang, alongside the students, and a few new faces.

It was impressive to watch these great presentations, many of which were multimedia masterpieces, which I could not imagine putting together today, let alone in 8th grade.

These presentations highlighted some incredible gems from the life stories of these elders of Xizhou. Here are a few soundbites:

Dr. Zhao, the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctor in our village had originally wanted to be an artist. At 15, when his Mother had an accident which the doctors could not fix, he decided to change his trajectory and first pursue western medicine studies. Later he was inspired to study TCM, and through the years survived during periods of doubts about the utility of this medical practice, but maintains his belief today in the power of TCM. His life mantra is very simple, first take care of yourself, and then do all you can to take care of others.

Mr. Duan, a collective farmer, soldier, and government worker has lived a very interesting life since he left school in 6th grade. One thing he said related the development all around us, is that for him, all the gold or silver not as good as my grass hut.

Mr. Yang (Lao Yang) and I exchange jokes on a daily basis. But hearing some of the wisdom he shared during this project moved me the most last Friday. I did not realize that Lao Yang had a dream of being a musician since the age of 10, the year he started working part-time in the fields to help his family. At 16, he had completely dropped out of school and with this departure released his dream. One question that was asked was, what would his life have been like had he followed his dreams and became a musician instead?

Lao Yang’s answer to this was, “If I couldn’t at least begin my life as a musician, I’d end my life as a musician. No matter how things happen in the past, the present is always the best outcome. If we are to spend our lives starring into our pasts, wishing something was different…”

To say the least, it was an inspiring end to the journey and, several weeks later, has left me with a new perspective on some of the residents of Xizhou and a greater appreciation for the people who make my life more meaningful on a day to day to basis.  It goes to show that anyone at any age can make a positive impact on a community in any number of ways. The SAS 8th graders certainly left their mark on us here in Xizhou and amazed us with their poise, kindness, and sensitivity to those around them. Saturday morning marked their departure and by evening we were missing their infectious laughter and smiles. It will take some time to get used to the quiet of the centre again, but around every corner and in each room we will continue to feel their presence and be reminded of their accomplishments while here.

Our friends at SAS have written about their projects and shared about their time in Xizhou. Learn more about their work here.

A big thank you to Madeline and Meera, Mirabel and Maddie, Ryan and Vella, Noah and Sabrina, Audrey and KT, and Harrison for bringing such incredible energy to the Centre and to Xizhou this past month. To Haisam and Caitlin for your smiles. And to Mr. T for your visionary thoughts, thinking that the Linden Centre might be an interesting place for a group of students to spend a special month. Thank you for leaving your mark here and on each of us.

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