I have been lucky enough to spend the last four weeks living and working in Shangri-La, an area in the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture that is rich in culture, wildlife and bio-diversity. During that time I have gained a unique insight into the projects of the SISC and the impact they have on education for sustainable development in local communities. While helping with existing SISC projects, I have also been working independently on designing, marketing and costing a research program, ‘The Shangri-La School’ for students to undertake here at the Napalinka centre in Shangri-La.
Met with an open brief and a wide range of possible avenues down which to take the Shangri-La School, my first task was to decide upon the target market of the program and how best to reach them. I initially concluded that with my own international perspective, I would be best able to design a program for other overseas students. While I felt that my experiences at a university at the UK and knowledge of the summer programs frequently advertised was vital in designing and structuring my own research program, it was often challenging to communicate this to colleagues at SISC. Not only was the language barrier often a problem in conveying my ideas, but ideas themselves were sometimes questioned as they seemed inappropriate for the domestic audience that the colleagues were familiar with. Despite this, after sharing my own motives for coming to China and experience with programs in the UK, I was able to produce a convincing argument for creating a program for the international market.
While my knowledge of this market certainly did prove helpful in structuring the program, I also struggled with assessing what research projects would be most beneficial to the local area. Being in an unfamiliar environment, It took several weeks to obtain a good understanding of Shangri-La and the resources available here. Listening to the colleagues and visiting previous SISC projects, I was finally able to discern the vital role of wild-life and biodiversity in the area as well as seeing first-hand the impact of rapid urbanisation in Shangri-La. From this, I could determine the research that would be most valuable for students to conduct in a limited time period, given the abundance of resources available at the SISC.
In spite of this, I was still largely unfamiliar with the cost of several elements necessary to run the Shangri-La School, such as hiring an A-Yi (local lady to help with cooking and housework), a mini-bus and driver and maintenance costs of the Napalinka centre. This proved to be problematic when trying to calculate an accurate budget for the program, and more importantly, the cost for students. By thoroughly researching online, approaching local people and seeking help from the colleagues, I compiled a cost projection spreadsheet, making alterations over the duration of my stay. This also became easier over time as I had more confidence to communicate with local people, and felt more secure in asking questions.
Working independently on the Shangri-La School project has indubitably challenged me to work quickly and efficiently without specific deadlines. At times, it was difficult to come up with new and interesting ideas when working alone and to execute these without the time pressures of a fixed schedule. I found that by designating certain days to work in the office I could be productive without the distractions of being in the centre. Overall, I preferred the flexibility of working this way as it allowed me to explore the area and enjoy the best of the weather without losing focus on the task in hand.