A Summer in Southwest China: Pt. 3 – Davidson

I struggle to think of a time when I haven’t found myself in a constant balancing act between dedicating my time to learning in the classroom and then to those learning experiences outside the classroom. Save this summer, it was the first instance since coming to Davidson that I could completely dedicate myself to pursuing learning experiences outside the classroom – far outside the classroom ­– without any inhibitions. It was an opportunity I couldn’t have dreamt up. Though I entered it with a lot of uncertainty, it molded into 2+ months which gave me the ideal learning environment I may never have again.

I found so much I had been missing at Davidson. I had that independence, I was in the rural settings using locals, conversations and friends as texts, and in a part of the world that had been forgotten by privilege. But I needed two years of Davidson to make it all work.

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Screen Shot from an interview I filmed for a Nuosu Anthropologist. The Yangjuan elder spoke of the development of the school, the state of the village and his hope for future generations.

I came back from China seeing how necessary all of that friction I’ve felt in academia was. I began to see the learning by doing I was nostalgic for at college as something closer to learning by bumbling – and a large chunk of me wished I had even more time at Davidson under my belt so that I could have sunk my teeth even deeper into the experience. That’s not to say that I don’t I love bumbling, it’s to say that even if I were to find the opportunity elsewhere, this summer would have been very different. Were it two years ago I would have instead been bumbling in the dark across Liangshan, unaware of my position and impact and wasting everyone’s time.

Luckily, Davidson had completely changed the lenses with which I viewed places and people outside my own – the “other” ­– and my identity. I could begin to see my position and privilege as a white, male, American college student moving through some of the poorest parts of China in a way I wouldn’t have earlier. To begin to understand the history and implications of my presence and interactions left me in an almost constant discomfort. But I think if it weren’t for this discomfort ­the distances between us would have kept me from making genuine relationships with my friends and their homes.

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I was honored to hop in on the Fire Torch Festival annual pictures after the pig sacrifice.

Davidson has also given me the chance to develop comparative lenses which interpreted much of my experience this summer. I left Davidson with Native American Studies in mind but have been disappointed to find no opportunities or classes related to the topic. Yet, unexpectedly, every location Davidson has allowed me to travel to –Taiwan, Cambodia and Colombia – has provided me an opportunity to learn more about that country’s indigenous contexts and history of marginalization. And so between these experiences and my own independent studies, this summer was the first time I felt able to interpret the indigenous marginalization I was encountering with this comparative lens. Now it is a framework I am so excited to continue to develop before I return home to South Dakota.

Lenses aside, the knowledge I have learned to digest at college was, of course, also a critical foundation for this summer. I am hard pressed to think of a class I have taken at Davidson which didn’t inform some part of my experiences. Without scholarship I was able to pursue on my own and a spread of classes, I would have been much more ill-prepared. A shout out to Liberal Arts is in order here for allowing me to approach the contexts I spent time in this summer from so many different angles.

I have left knowing that Liangshan and the Yi will be a part of my future, both in the sense that I will return and that I will take what I learned from this summer with me to every community I visit in the future. I feel myself doing so now in my studies in Northeast India.

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Yeah right…A shout-out to all of my teachers (K-Today) who made this summer possible.