Posted by: daradoodle | March 31, 2009

When It Kills To Be A Foreign Student in China


Tower of Terror has a whole new meaning

Many college students from all over the world venture to China to study abroad. Sometimes I hear kids from the U.S. (usually California) talk about how Shanghai isn’t much different from back home. Weird concept, but at times, this idea works because Shanghai is one of the more Westernized cities (if not the most Westernized city) in China. However, there are still wacky things seen on the streets, or heard on TV, that make you stop and think, no WAY would this ever happen in the U.S. and be considered OK. Well, two weeks ago I had my first real deal taste of the awkward weirdness that is China in a place that should be less apt to have awkward weirdness… the Fudan University Foreign Student Dormitory.

During my Chinese Broadcasting class on Wednesday afternoon (3/18/09), I was talking to my friends Alejandra from Chile and Malik from France/Canada when a classmate asked us if we had heard that someone died in our building the previous night. In complete disbelief, we began interrogating this person, who doesn’t even live in the Foreign Student dorm, for answers. Who? When? How? She was told by another member of our class that her female neighbor from France had died in her room. We couldn’t believe that we hadn’t heard one word about this from anyone! In the U.S., a statement would have been released to media outlets, a vigil would have been held, counselors would be positioned for emotional support, or, at the very least, an announcement would have been made to prevent rumors from spreading. We left class baffled that out of the hundreds of students living in our building, no one had uttered a word about this incident.

At dinner that night, Alejandra telephoned our friend who is a student, but also works for Fudan University’s Foreign Student Office to see if he had heard anything. He hadn’t heard anything and was shocked because he’s always the first to know anything that happens in the dorm and he’s usually the one asked to diffuse the situation.

After dinner, we were walking back to the dorm when Malik ran into his Chinese/French friend who told him (in French) that a girl from France was indeed found dead in her room from an apparent suicide. In an instant, Alejandra remembered that she had seen police cars parked in front of the dorm around 12:30 AM Wednesday morning (3/18/09) when she left the building to get a late night snack. Shortly before at 11:30 PM Tuesday night (3/17/09), I arrived at the dorm and was greeted, oddly, by five of the building staff (usually there’s one person, sometimes two, sitting at the front door after 10 PM to make sure that you to sign your name in a book) and scattered about the lobby were beer bottles, plastic cups and paper plates, residuals from the spring semester welcoming party for foreign students hosted by the Fudan Foreign Student Office. After hearing about the death, me being my Sherlock Holmes self, immediately wanted to know what time the death occurred because perhaps, alcohol had something something to do with the suicide. Hence, a cover up of sorts.

Then the next evening, more information emerged. I was told by a reliable source that the girl had been dead in her room on the 3rd floor for three days before being found. Now, I’m a bit disturbed because you see, I live on the 4th floor. Which means that there was a dead body underneath me for three days. This is also frightening because I’m studying at Fudan University on my own. There are no other students from my university in my non-existent program and since I’m here as a research scholar, I’m not required to be in class everyday. If something happened to me and my death was dealt with the way this French girl’s was handled, no one would ever know what happened to me! I’d be here one day and gone the next.

My frustrations prompted me to contact the president of the Fudan International Student Association (FISA) because at this point, I don’t even think he knows what happened. Sure enough, he didn’t! He gets my email at 1:30 AM on Friday morning (3/20/09) and comes over to the dorm 30 minutes later to talk to Alejandra and I.

I rehash my theory that if a person were to commit suicide on a college/university campus in the United States, not only would the student body be addressed about the incident, but support would be on site to assist those who were affected by the loss. This being the first time that I’ve encountered the “brush it under the rug” since being in China, I really don’t know what to make of it.

The FISA president says that suicides happen frequently on Fudan’s campus. Not necessarily with foreign students, but with the Chinese students. Sometimes it’s like a domino effect where one person kills them self and others follow. Maybe this is why the staff is silent.

He says that he’ll go to the Foreign Student Office in the morning to explain to staff that when they handle matters this way, it only makes them look bad. And it did. An emergency meeting was called that afternoon for officers of foreign student organizations.

Turns out, the suicide occurred about four hours before she was found by the police in her room. Not three days later (so much for reliable sources). She was born in 1989, so at most, she was 20 years old, which is really sad. According to the university staff, her parents “didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.” Whether that’s true or not, who knows. But what I do know is that a student died on a university campus… excuse me, the campus of the one of the “best” universities in China (as I’m frequently reminded), and no one uttered a single word to the student body. I don’t even think a prevention hotline is set up in Shanghai for students (foreign or Chinese) to call if they’re on the brink. Something just seems very strange about the way this was handled and I hope that the university faculty and staff think up a more humanistic approach to dealing with the death of a student next time rather than keeping quite so no one asks questions.


Entrance to the Fudan Foreign Student Dormitory


Third Floor

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  1. I really don’t know what to say…but you are not alone!

  2. I don’t think this is a ‘Chinese issue’, so much as an institutional one. I know for a fact that a very similar situation (suicide in a dorm room), at one of the top Canadian universities, was handled in very much the same way—-the family of the student didn’t want to make a situation out of it, and there wasn’t a public/student safety issue that the university needed to address.

  3. Chinese don’t like to make a scene and they try their best to hide anything that might be sensational. It’s not the coldness people might talk about but a sense(or a subconscious discipline) of “keeping things to myself” everyone follows. Repression, a big issue in China. Even an open city like Shanghai can’t escape repression.
    But it’s still a lovely city 🙂

  4. Hi, so I just got a booking confirmation for room 320. I am enrolled in the international MBA program. My question is, is there another building for MBA students? If not, is room 320 located on the 3rd floor, where this poor soul died? If yes, was room 320 her room??? Thanks in advance.

    • Glad you emailed me so I could give you more details. Good luck at Fudan!

  5. My roommate saw the students body as it was being carried out of the dorms. Creepy moment, but I don’t think there was anything sinister. Just a different culture.

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