Katie Chen, the current senior class representative, actually did not plan to attend NYU Shanghai. She wanted a degree from the US and with a rather spontaneous decision she checked the box to share her application and wrote two more essays.
“All the things together played in this direction and I decided to give it a try,” Chen said, noting the financial aid as well as the wonderful members of the Class of 2017 that she met during Candidate Weekend.
Chen has since realized the unique benefits that NYU Shanghai provides. “It’s quite exciting to be in a place without set rules. I don’t like being told what to do, and you can sort of find your way around things or make a difference here – except perhaps with the cafeteria,” Chen said, laughing. “Part of the excitement is not knowing what lies ahead for the school 10 years down the road or if it will be the same as it is now.”
Chen is an IMA major and feels that she still isn’t even sure how to explain her major – even to other students in IMA. “It could either be a conversation terminator or starter,” she said. “I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do. It’s been three years and I still don’t know and we’re only three months away from graduation, but at least I have ruled out the ones I don’t enjoy doing” However, Chen does feel that she’s more professional and more confined to one field than when she started.
Chen spent her first years taking a variety of different classes, including the Gallatin summer course on the Italian Renaissance. “If you plan on taking a summer class, take it Pass/Fail or do not have it count towards your GPA. I learned that lesson the hard way.” Chen explained.
Through exploring, Chen feels that every year she learned a lesson – and she’s catalogued these lessons by making 3-5 New Year’s Resolutions at the end of every year ranging from vague to specific. “It might be that this year I’m going to learn Spanish or I’m going to be a better friend.” This has helped her see her evolution throughout her time at NYU Shanghai. “My freshman year, I was adjusting to the school as a multicultural American university, balancing my social life – all of the typical things,” Chen explained. “My sophomore year was academic exploring and I took so many crazy classes. Junior year was really being in the global network with study away and traveling. I loved New York, but also went to other places in the American continent. But senior year has really been my involvement year.”
This has helped Chen realize how different every year is at NYU Shanghai. “Every year has different people, and feel likes having a different friend group every year. It really seems to highlight the different lessons that you learn.” The structure of NYU Shanghai’s education, with the study away requirement, all contributed towards this.
Chen has also realized this can make it challenging for Student Government to implement certain plans. “Student Government has great visions and blueprints, but since a lot of things are long-term and the structure of Student Government changes every year, it’s very hard to continue the vision,” she said. “There are great programs proposed at the beginning of the year, but is a year enough? And then what happens with the transition and new people have their own vision?”
Working in Student Government has also forced Chen to reckon with prioritization. “What do you prioritize when it’s a school thing versus your own thing and they both have close deadlines?” Furthermore, she has to balance other students’ obligations. “I’m always trying to reach more people across different social circles and ask them what they’re doing, partly out of curiosity, partly to make sure that the scheduling of commencement events can be as accommodating as possible,” Chen explained.
The other question that Chen ruminates on relates to NYU Shanghai’s diverse community. “As much as we push for multicultural and class integration, it’s a slow and painful process,” Chen noted. “The integration question is something that’s always going to continue, but it is also a challenge and a pride that we take in defining NYU Shanghai. It’s always going to be a bittersweet struggle that we have.”
As Chen reflected on the remaining unanswered questions, she did come to one conclusion. “Over the past four years at NYU Shanghai, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you can find something you can appreciate in every person, friends or foe.”
This article was written by Allison Chesky. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Katie Chen