Haider Ali, an NYU Shanghai senior from Islamabad, Pakistan, originally planned on going to university in Germany. Three days before NYU Shanghai’s first early decision deadline, he decided to apply.
“It wasn’t Shanghai, but the brand name of NYU stood out to me,” Ali said. He received his acceptance letter, notifying him that he had received a full scholarship – a particular relief to his single parent household. Now, four years later, he’s happy with the decision he made.
“For me personally, NYU Shanghai has changed me a lot. I used to just have a one-sided perspective. NYU Shanghai has helped me broaden my horizon and shape my perspectives,” noting that he now questions everything.
“I’ve learned the most from the people who are different from me, from the conversations I had with the same people, who asked me questions for which I didn’t have an answer. Being in such a diverse community helps you get out of your comfort zone. It helps you see that there is much more to Pakistan, to China, to America,” Ali said. “Learning is a never-ending process, and NYU Shanghai has played a pivotal role in my personal and professional development.”
However, he didn’t reach that conclusion right away. The next step was Admitted Students Weekend. “It was a such a huge culture shock, especially with the food,” Ali said. “It was family-style, without a lot of halal food and all of the halal food was bland. Also, I had lost my luggage in Beijing.” Returning home to Pakistan, Ali was nervous from the culture shock about what he had just agreed to.
“When I came to orientation, I was homesick, and I had a hard time initiating conversations with people from all over the globe,” Ali said. Chinese would become the fifth language Ali learned, having already studied German, English, Punjabi and Urdu. “Yet, I made amazing friends from places I’d only heard about on TV and I started figuring out halal restaurants here and there.”
While adjusting to the new culture, Ali got involved in clubs at the advice of friends from the class of 2017. Ali became a member of the executive board for both the Green Shanghai and Food & Festival clubs on campus. “We tried to continue the legacy from the previous year. Two Food & Festival events got 120-150 students which was one of the highest attendance rates we’d had,” Ali said.
Sophomore year, Ali joined the Honor Council, a committee started by the class of 2017 to work with Academic Affairs and Assistant Provost for Academic Affairs John Robertson to give students charged with plagiarism a student representative on the case. He also joined the Elections Board and took part in the Deans’ Service Scholars trip his freshman and sophomore year. “During my sophomore year, I was involved with a lot of different clubs, took 18 credits, and also had an off-campus internship,” Ali said. “I learned a lot and had the opportunity to step up and empower other students, inculcate in them a sense of direction the same way that the members of class of 2017 did for me.”
Ali’s junior year began in Shanghai, since he had switched majors from Business & Finance to Social Sciences (with a focus in Political Science) and he continued interning in Shanghai. “When we look at NYU Shanghai from our freshman year compared to now where it stands, we can witness a lot of new things; we have a Social Sciences department, a Creative Writing minor, online Chinese classes, and more faculty,” Ali said. “Change doesn’t happen overnight, we need to give it time and be optimistic that things will get even better.” However, he stepped away from being involved in clubs on campus to give other students the chance to step up.
For his junior spring, Ali went to Prague and loved it. “I traveled every week, went to ten different countries and all around the Czech Republic and interned there. Last semester, Ali was a Global Leadership Scholar at the NYU DC campus. However, it was Ali’s first time in the United States, and he enjoyed being around mostly Political Science and International Relations majors and hearing their perspectives. “We were a 10 minute walk from the White House, I got to witness protests. It changed my perception of the US – it’s not just Trump, and I got to experience all of that.”
This semester, Ali is focusing on completing Advanced II Chinese and his capstone. For after graduation, he plans on working in a global firm focusing on risk consulting or corporate business development.
Returning back to Shanghai, Ali has noticed the changes that have been made to the school as he’s studied away. “There are small things that are making it feel more ‘campus-y’, there’s the new lounge on the 6th floor and ‘The Box’. Slowly and slowly, the school is working externally and internally. We should appreciate the small initiatives the university is taking,” he said.
Ali is still trying to answer questions that confront NYU Shanghai, however. “We’re expanding and it’s hard for Student Life to mobilize everyone – people are living off campus, there are freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and 180 study aways this semester. We need to create events to mobilize people in order to forge a sense of community on which NYU Shanghai prides itself on,” Ali said.
“The study away requirement shouldn’t be mandatory, because a lot of people want to stay in Shanghai because they cannot afford to study away or they want to capitalize on the connections they have already made in the form of internships, or even full-time jobs.” Ali noted. “Shanghai is the cheapest of all the study away sites we have, so it’s hard for some students, they shouldn’t have to study away.”
Other problems stem from the diverse makeup of NYU Shanghai. “There’s a divide in the student body which stems from us being raised in different cultures and different norms,” Ali said. “For some people it’s easy to break down those barriers, for some it isn’t and takes an ample amount of time, but we can still witness people in their own specific bubble. We need more avenues in order to engage and integrate the diverse student body of NYU Shanghai.”
This article was written by Allison Chesky. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Haider Ali