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First Pre-Course Assignment: “The Danger of a Single Story” and Miao Ethnicity

Hello again from your instructor team!

As departure day draws closer, the three of us are hard at work on both sides of the Pacific, eagerly preparing for your arrival! Each time we finalize a new detail about the summer ahead, we think of all of you and how strange and exciting it is to be preparing for the memories we will all be making with people we haven’t even met yet. Spaces we pass through here in China that carry meaning now for us as individuals but will soon mean something to you, and to all of us together as a group.

With that in mind, if you haven’t posted an introduction here on the Yak Board yet, classmates and instructors alike can’t wait to hear a bit more about you!

In addition to a reminder about self-introductions, we’d like to introduce our first pre-course assignment. While we’re sure you’re all very busy as you wrap up the school year, we hope that you are also finding time to reflect on the adventure ahead. That you are making space to sit with yourself and ask questions about the many motivations that have brought you here, your expectations, your fears, and how you hope to learn and grow. We think that these pre-course assignments can support those thoughts as we introduce some of the reflective themes we’ll be exploring in-depth throughout the summer. For this first assignment, we’d like to consider how the stories we tell about one another shape the way we understand the people around us.

First, please watch acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” at this link.

As you watch this video, we hope you will approach it with curiosity and critical thinking. Are there any parts in particular that resonate with you? Ideas that help you put your own feelings into words? Ideas you disagree with?

After you have watched Adichie’s TED talk, consider:

  • What are some of the “single stories” you have heard, or that you believe, about China?
  • What are some of the “single stories” you have heard, or that you suspect others might believe, about the United States or the country/ies you consider home? What do you wish they knew?
  • What are some of the “single stories” people believe about you? What do you wish they knew?

Next, we’d like you to take a little bit of time exploring the Miao (or Hmong) nationality 苗族. During our first homestay in Zhaotong 昭通 we will be living in an ethnically Miao village and we hope you’re excited to learn a little more about what this means. A good place to start is this link, which provides an encyclopedia-style introduction the Miao nationality. You are encouraged to follow some of the links on this page to continue your research! As you read, remember that ethnicity is complicated in China in different ways than it is complicated in the United States.

Do you notice any single stories about the Miao people emerging in your research? What does this story look like? How does the language that is used in the article(s) help to shape the story?

You don’t have to post anything here (though you are always welcome to share on the Yak Board!), but we hope this feeds your own reflection in these final few weeks and that you are excited to bring these thoughts and ideas into conversation soon when we meet.

With anticipation,

Maddie, Patricia, and Ian