NYU Shanghai graduates ready for fulfilled life

Yang Meiping Zhang Ziyun
A new group of 369 students from 34 countries and regions have graduated from Shanghai New York University and are setting off on a new life journey.
Yang Meiping Zhang Ziyun

Shot by Zhang Ziyun. Edited by Zhang Ziyun. Subtitles by Zhang Ziyun.

A new group of 369 students from 34 countries and regions have graduated from Shanghai New York University this year and are setting off on a new life journey.

They are the sixth class of graduates from the first Sino-US university in China.

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, they remained focused on academic excellence with resilience.

Some of them have already landed jobs in top-flight companies and non-governmental organizations, such as Morgan Stanley, Amazon and IBM. Others have earned coveted postgraduate scholarships.

Among them, some foreign graduates are intending to stay in China after graduation.

Sam Ong, from Singapore, came to China alone four years ago and recently graduated with a bachelor' degree in social science. He plans to stay in Shanghai, working in the operations team at one of the biggest Internet companies in China.

"I want to be a culture translator who helps to facilitate different business transactions under various culture backgrounds," said Ong.

That's also exactly why he applied for NYU Shanghai four years ago.

He had thought about colleges in Singapore and the US.

But on NYU's website, he found students can have a liberal arts education in China, which would help accelerate his future career, because understanding both Chinese and US perspectives is very crucial to navigate the global workplace.

The solo flight to China catalyzed Ong's journey toward greater responsibility and individuality.

"When I first arrived in Shanghai, I was pretty overwhelmed because almost everything in China is automated on phones and everything, including my Chinese proficiency, was a learning process," he said.

Despite uncertainties amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ong learnt to step into the unknown with fortitude and determination.

"The lockdown seemed not so tough thanks to the school providing meal boxes and friends around me," he said.

During his undergraduate journey, he used to plan every single aspect of his life and was wary of the unknown.

"NYU Shanghai taught me how to be resilient in the face of challenges," he said. "I don't know where life will take me, but one of the biggest things I've learned is to really just trust the process."

Another NYU graduate Chen Nuo, who studied business and finance, will leave Shanghai for France for her postgraduate study. She is looking forward to experiencing French culture.

A graduate of Gezhi High School, she had a French roommate and was not used to her lifestyle at the beginning.

"Whenever she asked me to hang out, I always thought twice because in my opinion I should go to the library instead of parties," said Chen.

But soon she realized she should be open-minded and willing to embrace diversity.

"I realized that hanging out with her and other international students is actually a way to get to know each other," she said. "I found there were a lot of similarities between different individuals, and art is always the global language."

NYU Shanghai gave her lots of flexibility to experience different courses that she was interested in.

"Besides major courses, I took art courses to balance my life, such as ballet, piano, guqin (Chinese zither), musical and theater," she said. "My mom even joked that I went to an art school instead of NYU Shanghai."

During her years at NYU Shanghai, Chen also helped her international peers better learn Chinese culture.

She helped plan a lecture by Zhang Jun, known as "the prince of Kunqu Opera," and served as an interpreter throughout the event. She had also performed Yueju Opera with an actress when a Yueju movie played at the university.

In her interactions with international students, she found they were curious about Chinese culture. She and an African friend went to a tea ceremony in the Pudong New Area.

"It was so meaningful that we exchanged our culture backgrounds and opinions toward different cultures," said Chen.

Every year, Shanghai introduces numerous foreign musicals and operas into the domestic market.

"Since foreigners now are more interested in Chinese shows and we have good domestic resources, it's a golden chance to export Chinese shows to other countries," she said. "I want to seek a job in the culture industry and make contributions to cultural exchanges in the future."

Cai Jingyuan, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in finance and social science, also aims to be a bridge between cultures.

An assignment of Professor Emily Tsiang's Life Design class asked students to write down three interests and then go and seek out people who could tell them more about those potential paths.

"My first thought was, 'I want to become a bridge, sort of like an intermediary person,' and the first person that came to my mind was our vice chancellor Jeff Lehman," he said. "So I wrote him an e-mail asking if he would like to have this conversation with me, and he replied within five minutes!"

In the conversation, Lehman gave him a copy of his book "An Optimistic Heart," talked about his feelings in establishing NYU Shanghai, and gave him the advice to try to go through life by engaging with empathy, that is to understand what everyone else's position is and try to look at their perspective in their shoes.

"Facing the challenges of the pandemic, I've adapted with resilience, continuing to strive, to grow, and to achieve," he said. "As a small individual, I learn to control what I can control and not be worried about the unknown."

Amid the pandemic, he helped international students look up COVID-19 prevention and control policies and sent them daily necessities to make their lockdown life easier.

Cai will pursue a master's degree at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, wishing to building cultural bridges between China and the US.

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