Many college students used to rush through their summer fieldwork projects. Why waste precious holiday time on seemingly meaningless assignments?
This summer some students have found exciting, challenging and rewarding projects. They probed topical issues such as food safety and prices.
21st Century reporter Xu Jingxi interviewed three teams whose fieldwork projects were memorable.
Shanghai International Studies University
Chen Yanzhe, 19, was bold to quiz market traders about dodgy practices.
Some unscrupulous vendors use a swelling agent on ginger and potatoes and bleach lotus-roots with sulfur.
Chen secretly took pictures of poisoned vegetables. She even managed to get past door guards in order to interview staff of the local bureau of quality and technical supervision in Huangshan city, Anhui province.
Chen is not an investigative journalist. She’s a student working on her summer project. But she wants to find out the truth. Chen is a freshman majoring in Spanish.
While many of her peers chose mundane topics for their fieldwork projects, Chen’s team picked the controversial issue of food safety.
Chen said: “It would require less work to study a boring topic. But we wanted to develop our critical and independent thinking.
"You feel motivated if you work on a hot issue and get a lot of attention and responses.”
Local residents responded to Chen’s team’s questionnaires. Experts from the Science Squirrels Club followed the team’s Sina Weibo micro blog and answered students’ questions about food safety.
The new generation of migrant workers
A young construction site worker became upset when he answered a questionnaire about his living conditions. He said: “Why do city dwellers look down upon us?”
Meng Xianghao, 20, the student who was doing the survey, tried to reassure the young worker. Meng told him he hoped their survey of migrant workers’ living conditions would make a difference.
But the worker replied: “What do you want to achieve from handing out questionnaires?”
It wasn’t the first time Meng got the cold shoulder. But Meng, a sophomore majoring in international economics and trade, didn’t give up.
"I believe that summer projects can be influential,” said Meng. He told migrant workers interviewed about a previous survey on 2,000 post-80s migrant workers in 2008, done by six students from Nanjing Normal University.
Their survey caught the attention of the central authorities, to many students’ surprise. To some extent, it helped in making the central government more aware of the migrant workers phenomenon and addressing the issue seriously. A key official document issued in 2010 by the State Council proposed using the term “the new generation of migrant workers” for the first time.
Meng mentioned this story to gain the workers’ trust. But it wasn’t enough.
Meng’s instructor Sun Wujun advised more efforts to get to know their interviewees. “If possible, work and live with migrant workers beforehand,” said Sun.
Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade
The idea for the research came from a puzzling question: why are vegetables in city markets so expensive while in Shandong province a farmer commits suicide because he has to sell his produce at a loss?
The project took two weeks in Zhejiang, Fujian and Shanghai. Team members interviewed farmers, wholesalers, market managers and vendors, and officials at the Shanghai Municipal Agricultural Commission.
The team members are all sophomores majoring in economics. They discovered there are complicated reasons for price differences.
Vegetable prices rise during the journey from producer to consumer. The final selling price reflects the cost of packaging, transport and cold storage and traders’ rents for market stalls.
Team member Su Jianqun, 20, said: “We are exposed to abundant information from media. We discussed the issue in class. But we wouldn’t have known about these factors without our field trips and interviews.”
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