Posted by: daradoodle | September 29, 2009

I Left My Heart In China

Jiuzhaigou National Park - Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan Provience, China - July 2009

Jiuzhaigou National Park - Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan Province, China - July 2009

My year as a visiting scholar at Fudan University in China came to a somber end on July 24th 2009. The skies of Shanghai were gray and the humidity was being a champ by enhancing the smoldering summer temperature. The heat made lugging my three massive suitcases and three carry-on bags to the taxi that much more challenging. Thankfully, Jue and Alejandra were able to escort me to the car where I gave them both one heck of a final hug.

Just as it’s played out in a movie, rain began to fall as the taxi sped its way to the airport, and with those raindrops came my tears. Why is it that the cab ride to an airport after saying good-bye seems like an eternity?

So I’ve been procrastinating posting my final thoughts on my “scholarly” year in China, mainly because I just don’t want it to be over! But now that I’ve had two months to gather my thoughts, I must now reflect on the life changing journey that made me open my eyes a bit wider, test my patience to the extreme, partake in social activities never considered (who knew the first time I’d ever play beer pong would be in Shanghai?), recognize language as a tool of survival rather than a form of communication, and ultimately, engage with people from every corner of the globe.

Adjusting back to Western living in California has been… interesting… to say the least. Numerous people have shared how much they’ve enjoyed following my stories of adventure here on Ambassador Doodle. I can’t even being to express how much this means to me because much time was spent writing, uploading, editing, hyper linking, video inserting and updating with an attempt to give you, the reader, a glimpse at China.

Access to Ambassador Doodle was done with the help of a friendly Virtual Private Network (VPN) thanks to government censorship of the internet in China that does not allow access to WordPress blogs (of which this site is hosted) causing the blogging process to be 10 times slower than normal. Hearing that I was able to put a little pep in your step or ray of sunshine in your day makes all of the time I spent on this blog worthwhile.

Preparation Is For Suckers

In late August 2008, just before I set off for Shanghai, I was given a kind memo from an American friend who had been working in China for three years… “There’s nothing that can prepare you for living in China.” And this was probably the best pre-China piece of advice that I had been given.

The Red Pill or the Blue Pill?

There are two routes that one can take when venturing to China for an extended period of time….

You can submerse yourself in Chinese culture; surround yourself with Chinese friends, try to speak as much Chinese as possible, eat Chinese dinners. Basically avoid everything you know and love from your homeland to get the full China experience.

Or, you can live the expat life; make friends from all over the world where English is the common spoken language (most of the time), scour the city for the best Western food and entertainment, do hobbies that you’ve always wanted to do back home but never had the time (like swing dancing, stand-up comedy, band member, film extra, etc.). Heck, you can even start-up events and organizations that you enjoy in your home country that is lacking in China.

Academics SMACKademics

I feel as though my year in China did not enhance or improve my skills as a journalist, but more so as a sociologist. Trying to understand why people from other countries interact the way they do, eat the way they do, communicate the way they do, get on the metro the way they do. It’s hard as a journalist to write about someone or something if you have no clue about their daily habits or lifestyle. I can honestly say that I didn’t really have a clue as to what was going on in China until about six months in. The logic of queuing for a train even though everyone boarding has a ticket, the validity of an official signed document being worthless without a red star stamp, the pushing and shoving to the vegetable scale at the grocery store, or better yet, having to bring one’s own grocery bags to the store for check-out yet unlimited free plastic bags available for use in the produce section. In the beginning, this sort of behavior and way of thinking was perplexing and often frustrating. After a while, I began to, more or less, adapt to these types of cultural differences.

If I Knew Then What I Know Now…

Being thrown into a journalism school at one of the “top” university’s in China only to discover that the staff doesn’t have a clue as to what to do with you… wasn’t exactly the best introduction to academia in China.

As it turns out, there were quite a few people like me at Fudan University (the only difference being that I wasn’t paying for my tuition). You turn up excited to follow through with tasks and goals that you’ve set for yourself only to learn that what you thought would be available to you (i.e.; Chinese language classes, courses taught in English, proper equipment necessary for producing news packages, etc.) doesn’t actually exist. Then every time you walk into “your” department’s office, a look of sheer burden crosses the person’s face sitting behind the desk. Basically, what I learned as an “academic scholar” at Fudan is that no one cares what you do while you’re at the university, as long as you don’t ask anyone for help. If you stick to those rules, you’ll fit in just fine.

The best professors at the School of Journalism at Fudan University are (hands down!) Hong Bing and Lu Ye. Both of these professors are proficient in English and provide a wealth of knowledge about the history and development of media in China. Both have strong connections to media outlets in Shanghai, which contributed to a revolving door of esteemed guest lecturers. Without these two classes (taught via the LSE Global Media and Communications double masters program), I would have been much better off as a Chinese Language student.

On the other hand, I have to mention the outstanding hospitality that I received from other schools within Fudan University such as the Department of Sociology and the School of Economics. Before the spring semester began, I collected course schedules from all of my friends in English taught programs. I was adopted by Chinese Economy masters program and welcomed in their Thursday afternoon language class. Leslie 老师, 谢谢!


A lot of native English speakers in the world (Americans in particular) don’t realize how common it is for people of other nationalities to speak more than two languages. For example, in my student housing building, most people spoke English, their mother tongue and Chinese. I wish that I had been more serious about learning a foreign language in high school or my early college years. Surely, if I knew I’d end up in China, I would have started studying Mandarin a long time ago.

The Adventure Continues

There are so many stories and photos that I’ve yet to post on Ambassador Doodle.  I am extremely happy to announce that some of my stories have been published on the newly launched CNN travel website, Type my first and last name, “Dara DiGerolamo,” in the search box and you’ll see my stuff.

I was fortunate to take a three-week trip around China before heading back to the U.S. and I’m in the process of pitching some of those stories to publications and blogs. Depending on how that goes, you might see some of those stories up here sooner than later. I’ve also gone on a California Coast adventure since returning to the U.S., so look for a post about that as well.

As for my next step… stay tuned!

Keep your feedback coming and thanks again for all the support!

add to :: Add to Blinkslist :: add to furl :: Digg it :: Stumble It! :: add to simpy :: seed the vine :: :: :: TailRank :: post to facebook


  1. Till next time…..


  2. I don’t know If I said it already but …Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  3. Bravo! I feel the same way. No one should judge any culture before he/she visits the land that nurtured it. A lot more is waiting to be explored 🙂

  4. I am spending a semester abroad in Florence next year (how much Italian do I know? umm… Mamma mia!) This was really enlightening! Thank you so much!

    Bronte ❤

    (p.s. I actually found your site when i googled my blog's name Doodle on My Heart… you're listed right beneath!)

  5. Hi Dara, I love your blog! As part of the new LSE-Fudan cohort, I agree with a lot of what you wrote regarding the J-School, and them not knowing what to do with us half the time. 🙂

    Hong Bing now teaches a class called the Evolution of China’s Newspapers. We don’t have Lu Ye; what did he teach?

    Best of luck back in California.

    • Hey Christine, I hope that my blog is making up for the lack of guidance from Fudan administration. You’ll probably have a course with Lu Ye next semester as my course with her and the LSE students was during the Spring semester. It’s a broadcasting (main focus being on television) in China course that was very informative. She used lots of video clips as examples, invited guest speakers to the classroom and organized a trip to Dragon TV where we met with two of the news directors and toured the facility. Send me an email and let me know how you’re liking your Fudan experience.

  6. Very sad that you have left China and just to say I enjoy your writing very much. Hope to meet some day and thanks for keeping me up to date on all the goings on……without having to resort to opening a facebook page. Good Luck with the future posts

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad that I was able to keep you somewhat informed about your son’s whereabouts 🙂 I hope to return to China this year to finish a few projects and start new ones. And perhaps I’ll find my way to the U.K. one of these days and we’ll meet in person.

  7. Brought me back to those days that we had a lot of fun together, really a lot of fun!!! Things were much tougher here in London…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: