Never Written – Update May 1st, 2018:
Long story short… There is no “short.” It was an incredible and amazing experience and I cannot believe it happened, but I’ll attempt to summarize. And add pictures.
I was trying to form the argument for my thesis, and all the advisers were talking about how all of the thesis students should definitely be applying for grants to travel – there’s way to much student research money pumped into the university to not take advantage of it. I was pretty confident I could get a grant to Disney World – I certainly wasn’t the first one – but I’ve been so many times, I didn’t really need to go. If I went to Disneyland or Disney World, any research I did, any argument I made, would’ve been a repetition of a different argument already being made. Avatarland wasn’t ready – Star Wars land still isn’t ready – neither was Toy Story Land. More than anything, I wanted to add to the Disney academic sphere, I wanted to help push the community forward – and the best way to do that would be going to the newest park, which opened just a few months before I thought of the idea. Dr. Ohmer is an amazing adviser, but all the advisers were repeating to us – over and over again – that we could and should consult more professors than just your adviser in your thesis-writing journey, so I knew I needed to go to Pam (Dr. Wojcik) who was the toughest professor in the department. I knew she would push me to my potential with a different style.
I told her, hesitantly, about the dream argument including Shanghai, but ZERO % of me thought I could go, and 99% of me was terrified to even consider going to China – especially alone. I had never been out of the country besides rural Canada with my family as a kid. I’d only gotten on a plane alone when there were PwC or KPMG signs at the airport showing me to the shuttle – I was hand-held through everything.
So I went to CUSE – the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement, and I asked, “Is there any chance in the world I could do this? Is it even worth applying?” It was unbelievable… it had to be meant to be, or something… it was my business major that was going to give me this opportunity to go to Shanghai Disneyland. The Paul Roberts Endowment for East Asian Studies (PREFEAS (no one called it that – but I’m shortening it here)) was a grant to get students to do research in East Asian countries, but the grant stated very clearly that there was a strong preference to give this grant to Mendoza (business-major) students, and strong preference for students going to China.
I checked off both boxes. No one had even applied for the grant the previous year… because undergrad business majors RARELY do undergrad research. RARELY. Business isn’t a passion for many. Big undergrad research projects tend to be required for graduation, or they’re born from an academic passion.
Most Arts & Letters (FTT is in the college of arts & letters) grants only awarded up to $1,500 per project, often less. The PREFEAS awarded up to $2,500 … and I got the whole thing.
They told me early so I could order a new passport… mine had expired years ago, and I told them, honestly, that I didn’t plan on renewing it if I wasn’t going on this trip – I didn’t have any yearning to travel. It was all a whirlwind to prepare for – I had to super expedite the passport – the grant paid for most of the expediting fee. I needed to buy a hot spot / wifi block that I would be picking up at the Disney hotel in Shanghai because my phone wouldn’t work over there, and facebook, instagram, and google are all blocked because the Chinese government censors their people. I couldn’t buy my park tickets online because they didn’t take American cards except over the phone, so I had to download wifi texting and calling apps, and call Shanghai from America to get my tickets and pay for my hotel reservation.
For a while, I thought my adviser was supposed to come with me. One day I discovered she hadn’t been planning on going at all – saying I would be totally fine and I didn’t need to be babysat, but she’s insane and wonderful so she was like “Why not? I’ll go! And I’ll bring my husband!” Because they’re both ND FTT professors, they got to use their research budget for the trip – so they went for free as well! Later, Dr. Ohmer said she was glad she came with. She had done so much international travelling, she totally forgot all the little things about going through immigration and getting around in an area where they don’t know the language, and she was glad they were there to help me… China would’ve been quite a big leap for my first international trip. I was really overwhelmed when we first got there – I was very happy to have them there. They didn’t bring their cell phones for fear of being hacked (their elderly friends scared them) so it was hard to get a hold of them. Later, on the trip, they told me I could call them by first name, instead of Doctor. But I can’t. I love and respect them too much as role models. 🙂 I didn’t actually spend too much time with them – we met up in the parks for a couple hours on day 1, but I was mostly alone the first day!
Meanwhile, Mom is having MAJOR MELTDOWNS. Talking about how terrified she was – this was during the travel ban, too, so she was terrified I’d get stuck in China like American Muslims were getting stuck in Islamic-majority countries. I guess she had a point. She would cry again and again asking me not to go. Telling me not to go. It became apparent that I was going to go, because it would be a wonderful experience, I was on super-Americanized Disney property the whole time, and it would make my thesis incredible.
So she forced Dad to meet me in China. She made sure he had flights, he had hotel reservations, and he picked up his tourist’s visa. It all happened so suddenly – he jokingly turned to mom in front of us, saying “Uh… are you ok? You’re pushing me out to the other side of the world…” and Dad met me at the end of day 1. There was a little Shanghai Disney passport you could buy and find stamps all over the park, and I KNOW Dad loves that kind of stuff – at the zoo, he loved collecting the wax animals all over the zoo map. So I bought us a couple, gave it to him as a present – and he was so excited! He said “I’m gonna be like a kid in a candy store!”
I was really jet-lagged, and he was up for 40 hours, but he insisted we go to Disneytown for dinner (Shanghai’s version of Downtown Disney / Disney Springs) and we had this crazy fish stuff! It was good but crazy!
The next two days we got up super early and did SO MUCH SHOPPING. Mom tried to tell me to keep him from spending too much, and when we overspent, and we got home, she admitted she was fine with all the spending because Shanghai was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Since then, me and Dad have tried to get Mom & Cory to want to go – telling mom I flew over the north pole made her feel better). We ran around to a ton of rides – the whole park is so incredibly beautiful, I saved every single receipt because I had to for CUSE, but I had so much money for food. All the food was incredibly traditional minus the breakfast pastries. Dad struggled, I ate a lot of seafood and rice.
Pirates of the Caribbean land was AMAZING. I think I went on the new Pirates ride 4 or 5 times. At least one person in each building knew enough English for us to get by – one time the hotel front desk girl didn’t know what “cost extra” meant, or what “price increase” meant, but she did understand “pay more.” This was the game haha. We weren’t the only white people there – Dad made random friends with some British guy haha. Traditional Chinese toilets are porcelain holes in the floor, but there were a couple American toilets in every bathroom. Below is a picture of the traditional toilet. I tried it once – it was weird lol.
We had the most amazing time! The park is beautiful and so brand new, and there’s a zipline obstacle course that would never be allowed in the American parks for safety reasons and because disabled people could never participate. It was a really cool course – there were hidden waterfalls and caves and everything. Remy had a restaurant there! Like Ratatouille! Google it all. It’s gorgeous and awesome and fantastic.
My thesis was incredibly successful and so much fun, but it’s 90 pages, so you’ll have to find that preserved in a different book or box or something. Go to Shanghai!
And I want to go back. We’ll have to sneak pizza in for Dad, but we need to go back and bring Mom & Cory.