Jimmy Mac Hale had a decision to make four years ago: to attend UC Berkeley, which was close to his hometown of Cupertino, California or to attend NYU Shanghai. He saw it as a choice between a safe, traditional option or a rogue option.
“UC Berkeley was cheaper, close to home, and well-accepted,” Mac Hale said. He came from a family that fully expected him to attend a top university. Yet, he did not feel as comfortable as he would have hoped with his UC Berkeley application. “I wasn’t very proud of my piano supplements, I was swamped and didn’t have time to prepare. It was a typical Tiger mom-Asian kid dynamic, with Irish background, to boot.” Mac Hale had realized that he didn’t want to play piano for eight hours a day every day. “Peer regard for excellence was my definition of success,” Mac Hale explained. “I didn’t have my own definition.”
That led him to consider his other option. “NYU Shanghai was something completely different. I had never lived in another country and I was used to my suburban life, but Shanghai is a megacity.” Mac Hale is half Chinese and had been to Beijing for a few summers with family, but knew that NYU Shanghai would be a huge independent lifestyle change.
Attending the Admitted Students’ Weekend in Shanghai, Mac Hale noticed that he had been very sheltered and very protected in his suburban life. “I did 10 things that I never thought I would do during ASW,” Mac Hale said. “It’s not that I wanted something different, but I didn’t know what I wanted. I figured it was better to find out something that I hate rather than not find out anything at all.”
NYU Shanghai, however, was not without challenges. “Motel 268 wasn’t a very good first impression,” Mac Hale said. “It was a struggle, but it felt okay, because everyone was going through it together.” Mac Hale had to learn to room with people besides his two brothers. “I lived with two other people from completely different backgrounds with different values and different perspectives. We had to cooperate and find harmony, especially in that personal context.”
Mac Hale’s other passion growing up besides music, was rugby and finding a way to integrate that into his lifestyle in Shanghai was very important to him. Last semester, though, Mac Hale started playing in a men’s club here and they travel to other cities to play games. “It gave me room, I didn’t feel like I was just limited to NYU Shanghai. Some people might feel those constraints, but it’s the same thing with a job – you have to socialize outside of the workplace.” Rugby has been Mac Hale’s passion since his senior year of high school, when he was the varsity team’s captain. “It has made me learn about teamwork, leadership, how to be a follower on a team, and just how to be successful as a team. In rugby, you really have to trust your teammates.”
Mac Hale became heavily involved in NYU Shanghai’s flag football team and was captain his sophomore and senior year. “When I started, it was a very non-traditional system. Soccer and basketball teams had a league and structure, but we were just associated with the NFL China games. Freshman year, we had a tournament structure and setup and could get fans, but sophomore year it was pretty disorganized again.” Either way, Mac Hale enjoyed it. “It’s a great experience still being on a team and having fun together.”
This year, Mac Hale took part in the community through another avenue, as an Orientation Ambassador, assisting the freshman with their adjustment to college life. “It gave me a chance to learn more about my leadership and management style and reflect on my own experiences and ambitions at NYU Shanghai,” Mac Hale said. “Happiness and success are very subjective. Collectively, my experiences here have made me mature immensely and find out what my ambitions really are.”
“It also gave me a chance to serve as an upperclassman and mentor, contributing to the community in a direct way and further exploring the range of optimism and diversity of backgrounds and perspectives from the incoming freshman class of 2021,” Mac Hale added. “I did not forecast that I would become friends with half of the sophomore class, just from meeting all of the sophomore OAs.” He also got to form close relationships with freshman students, helping them with academic and personal issues. “I appreciated being close enough to do that for them, being their upperclassman guide.”
The experience enabled Mac Hale to also reflect on where our university is headed. “I compare NYU Shanghai to a startup company,” Mac Hale said. “It doesn’t always have the most funding, there’s a lot of kinks and mistakes to work through, but there’s immense opportunity, growth, and potential.” He noted that NYU Shanghai does “not a bad job” of listening to student input, but that the school could do a better job of explaining to students why their suggestions are not practical. “We need to know we’re not just throwing out random comments and no one is listening. The cafeteria committee did a great job with that.”
Mac Hale is optimistic about how NYU Shanghai has grown and where it is headed. “Over the past four years, I’ve seen the cogs turn and NYU Shanghai is getting ready to embark on a world-altering journey, and I’m so proud to have played a part,” Mac Hale said. “NYU Shanghai’s future and legacy is going to be decided in the next few years and I’m excited to see how the institution will function and how its graduates will influence the world.”
Mac Hale emphasized that NYU Shanghai as given him wonderful opportunities. “Coming here has given me a chance to explore and connect directly with people from all over the world. I don’t want to pull the basic Appiah GPS stuff, but I feel NYU Shanghai has really made me a global citizen. Talking to people with different backgrounds and perspectives has made me learn what the world is and how much is out there, beyond the spotlight of the media of which I am familiar.”
Mac Hale feels like he has an understanding that other universities would not have given him. “You can travel all you want, but understanding and adapting values from foreign cultures has proved to me to be the most meaningful in my development. It’s honestly about being able to understand the opposite side. One example is that most people that enjoy first world privilege don’t know what it’s like to live in extreme poverty in third-world countries,” he said. “It’s important to stay humble, know that you can’t know everything, but also stay true to yourself, be able to switch lenses and identify opportunities, and define your own passion and drive in life.”
This article was written by Allison Chesky. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jimmy Mac Hale