I don’t use clichés often. I like original metaphors and ideas. However, this cliché I cannot avoid: over the past year, my life has changed beyond my wildest dreams. Almost one year ago today, I made the decision to embark on this ridiculously exciting journey that was to be New York University Shanghai. From there, I moved halfway across the world, met some of the greatest people I’ve ever come across and have had more life experience (in terms of traveling and interacting with different cultures) than people in their 50’s.
Since I was young, I dreamed about going to NYU.– I had my sights set on Tisch; I was going to become famous. Then I wanted to go to law school and solve all the world’s problems and become Ban Ki Moon, Australian Edition. (That’s still the dream – I’m working on it.) Basically, I wanted to live and breathe New York; I really, really did. That’s basically Volume I of how I ended up at New York University. Volume II would probably be that I grew up to be this little excited-about-life travel bug, who wanted to see the entirety of the world, and nothing would ever stop me – that’s how I ended up in Shanghai.
I stumbled across the NYU Shanghai website back in 2011 or 2012. I didn’t think much of it, but one thing has always stuck with me – my mother telling me that I was for sure going to go to NYU Shanghai. Kids, listen to your mothers. They’re always right.
So, approximately 218 days ago, I ended up here. No one tells you that when you move halfway across the world, the first three months are the most exciting months of your life. 中国 (Zhōngguo, China) had become my home and I had no intention of changing that. I had cut out my friends from home and was beginning to tell people that I was totally Chinese (my grandmother actually hails from Guangdong (广东), but that doesn’t stop people from thinking I’m Eastern European). Maybe it was easier for me – I was constantly moving around as a kid, so my idea of home was not a picturesque house with a white picket-fence, and a childhood bedroom. Regardless, Shanghai was starting to become my home.
Then, something changed. Maybe it was midterms or the fact that my parents had started reading, but not replying to my messages – perhaps a combination of both. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the idea of being halfway across the world. The homesickness began to sting, and I couldn’t even tell you where home for me was. And, for the most part, this started to apply to everyone. More people started to isolate themselves within the cold, hospital-like corners of the Academic Building, only to find themselves doing the walk of shame back to their dorms at 8 in the morning. People started interacting less and I started to spend my weekends indoors. I looked sickly, I was pale and I just wanted to go home.
People started leeching onto things to complain about. Whether it was Calculus, the Cafeteria, the cold or crying about Chinese – the Facebook group exploded with snide comments, exemplifying the way that morale had deteriorated. Students looked to place the blame on the school: that this school isn’t what people made it out to be, or that it was flawed in too many ways. Last semester, I might have agreed with you. I would have told you that it was better to be cooped up in your room, whining about what little progress this school has made, and maybe it would’ve been easier to transfer.
But, friends, I do not agree. This time last year, I agreed to attend a school that did not yet have permanent dorms. We all accepted our place at a school that has merely 13 majors, and a not-so-permanent faculty. Only a select few students – the Shanghai-raised ones – knew where Century Avenue (世纪大道, Shìjì dàdào) was. We had seen glimpses of the Academic Building and had no idea what the eating situation was going to be. I pictured a lot of dumplings and noodles – little did I realise I was actually going to be eating oatmeal and salad every other day.
This time last year, we did not have an Academic Building. We did not have a permanent campus, or a dorm to hold six hundred individuals. Throughout last semester, we had issues with power outages, hot water, fridges – all issues completely and utterly unique to NYU Shanghai. People started saying that they didn’t sign up for this. But, let me remind you, my sweet classmates, you did. When you clicked that little box of acceptance, you agreed to participate in a school that was going to be flawed. Perfection takes time.
And we have proven that. We have finally fixed the hot water situation. In fact, at times my water is too hot – but I’m not complaining. We have communal fridges, and people have mastered the art of rice-cooking. I still long for the day when I can make a grilled cheese, but rice cooker Mac ’n’ Cheese will do just fine for now. The B1 cafeteria now serves toast, and I’m finally able to make vegemite sandwiches at school (I still have to provide my own vegemite, but I’m working on that). From halal and vegan options to traditional Hawaiian dishes – it’s all a work in progress. But it’s definitely improved from the limited options we started off with last semester.
As the year comes to a close, the Class of 201 increasingly realizes that it is possible for our ideas to manifest. A few weeks ago, the freshman class representatives came up with the school-wide WeChat group, that provides weekly updates to all subscribers – a completely student-run initiative. This semester, we have had a number of clubs – all examples of freshman leadership and determination.
The Class of 2017 did not come to this school to experience a smooth college experience. Neither did we, the Class of 2018. Students are coming here because they recognize the possibilities available to them. After Admitted Students’ Weekend last year, I didn’t care that I was going to have a temporary dorm room. I didn’t care what I was going to major in, because I knew that I was going to get a degree either way. By coming to NYU Shanghai, I knew I was going to get so much more than that. I was going to be 7977 kilometres away from home, in this amazing and vibrant city, and that genuinely was enough for me.
None of this is easy. Each and every one of us has worked to achieve what we want, or what we’re passionate about. But, unlike any other university in the world, if you want change, change will happen. Slowly, but it will. This school is young and growing – we still have to teach it to walk on its own two legs and to talk – but we’re expanding its vocabulary day by day.
Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo!, once said: “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.” NYU Shanghai was the breakthrough for many of us. There are days where I want things to be easy and for my water to be at the right temperature. But right now, I’m here, and I’ve never appreciated anything more.
This article was written by Bella Farr. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Zhang Zhan