Skyping in from his parents’ home in Honduras, 26-year-old Omer Cohen was clearly more relaxed than during his days studying FoS at NYU Shanghai. Cohen completed all of his credits early and graduated this past December.
Cohen came to NYU Shanghai after serving in the Israeli army for three years, having applied to NYU for the scholarships it gives to international students. “A year after the army, I was at work at midnight and got an email that I got in and that they would pay for me to go to New York. I didn’t think I’d attend NYUSH, but I wasn’t going to give up a free vacation in New York,” he remembered. “I learned that going to China meant great people, great financial aid, the opportunity for me to learn a new language which I always appreciate, a new culture and a new experience. Looking at all the huge NYU flags around me, I realized I’d have to be an idiot to give up this opportunity.” So, Cohen took the chance.
“I arrived and told myself that I was gonna take advantage of all of it. I remember seeing all of our names on the stars all over the floor,” Cohen said, referencing the stars on B1 during the freshman orientation. “I decided to try to be a part of everything and ‘eat from every dish’ of the buffet that is NYU Shanghai.”
As a vegan, Cohen spent his first few weeks in Shanghai learning Mandarin through explaining his dietary restrictions to food vendors. “Early on, before the first day of classes, I formed a relationship with the street food lady outside of 268. She forced me to learn how to say the names of all of the dishes, not just the vegan ones. I came into the Elementary I with a pretty solid vocab. Speaking with her every night was the best practice I had all year.”
Cohen began the strenuous FoS curriculum as a freshman. “If I can get through that, I can get through everything. Forget the army, forget the Honduras, one of the most dangerous countries in the world, that was fucking hard,” Cohen chuckled. Having taken five years off from school after high school, Cohen did not expect to be one of the students that made it through.
Furthermore, Cohen did get heavily involved in campus life, running for class representative, getting involved with existing clubs and starting new ones, playing football and doing behind the scenes work on cafeteria food options. “I came to NYUSH with ideas and we had talks about clubs during orientation. The system was pretty limiting, but I still started several clubs that are running today, despite technically being allowed to start just one,” Cohen said. “It’s solid proof that if there’s anything you want to do, you can do. Anything you want to change, you can change.”
Cohen thoroughly enjoyed the community he became a part of at NYU Shanghai. “FoS literally with every passing week got smaller. We got more attention from professors and got into different programs because of all the different opportunities,” he said, referencing the research he did by himself and with professors.
FoS was still extremely difficult. “I spent every Saturday with Richard and Defne working on Chemistry homework for eight hours,” Cohen remembered, referring to two of his peers. “I’m happy to have been in it, that shitty situation shaped me to what I have become. A lot of people were frustrated FoS, but we were lucky to have been in that arrangement.” Cohen also made fast friends with his freshman year music floor community. “I would mostly interact with people from FoS, not because I’m a snob, but because FoS was so time-consuming, and you took 90% of your classes with the same group of people” Cohen said. “However, I formed the best relationships with the people on my floor and they’re still my best friends today.”
Cohen has since realized that all of his hard work paid off. “When I studied abroad in New York, it really prepared me for the higher level classes there,” Cohen said. “We definitely received more preparation than what the NYC program offers and as a result, the higher-level chem courses were probably easier for us.”
As an Israeli Chemistry major, Cohen was limited to only studying abroad in New York and had to spend two semesters there in order to fulfill his major requirements. “It was nice being there and doing my own thing, and I enjoyed being with myself for awhile,” he said. “New York is great, but the NYU New York community doesn’t compare to NYU Shanghai. I would see even my best friends only once a month, because of how busy and far everyone was.”
Cohen spent his final semester at NYU Shanghai last fall, as he graduated in December. “I went from FoS with over 26 weekly hours of classes and 20 credits to doing an independent study and only three days of classes a week, which was completely foreign to me,” he said. “I worked as an LA for FoS Chemistry and had so much fun. I was able to discover my passion for teaching.”
Cohen enjoyed living off campus and the freedom it gave him to enjoy his last months in Shanghai. “Honestly, it was the first semester I had time to play the PlayStation I had been lugging around since freshman year,” he said, laughing. Last semester, Cohen and his friends went to find the street food lady from 268, even though they hadn’t seen her in a couple of years or so. “She was really happy to see us and she didn’t let us take any food to go so that we would sit there and eat with her,” he remembered fondly.
Looking back at his time, Cohen couldn’t help but acknowledge how wonderful his experience at NYU Shanghai was. “NYU Shanghai has all of its crazy problems and insanities, but coming to NYU Shanghai to study chemistry was the best decision I have ever made. I’m so happy for the privilege of having that opportunity.”
This article was written by Allison Chesky. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Omer Cohen