Usama Ahmed first attended school in a new country, with a diverse community in Belgium. After attending middle school and high school in Belgium, he returned to Pakistan. For college, he came to China.
“Hearing about an American school in China was exciting,” Ahmed said, when his high school counselor told him about NYU Shanghai. “I thought it would be a similar diverse community.” Before arriving to China, Ahmed heard a lot about the country – but mainly from people that had never been there. “I heard about bicycles and green tea, but when I arrived there were all the lights, bridges, huge avenues, and skyscrapers. It was different than what I had expected. It was modern, surprising and exciting.”
Ahmed took a chance on coming to a new institution. “If you think about it, even the class of 2017 didn’t know about the 268 area, we were all in a new place,” Ahmed remembered. He also recalled the family feel of the dorm life his freshman year. “Every weekend we would go to Puxi, and every Thursday or Friday everyone would gather at one place,” he said. “The bond that we had our freshman year was stronger than the lower classes now,” Ahmed said.
There were some consequences that came long with coming to a new institution, however. There was little choice in classes, Ahmed remembered, but he trusted the faculty members to build up the course options. Furthermore, it was difficult not knowing Chinese. “I would have to take out an application to talk to people, but now I hear the radio and I hear people on the streets and I get it,” he said.
This has been a common trend as Ahmed has grown use to life in Shanghai. “I am comfortable buying a jianbing now rather than just going to Family Mart during mornings” he said. “I know the logistics of the place and the city and have a grasp on the language.” Yet, Ahmed still appreciates his freshman year experience. “It was more fun having to figure out how to get home. It was like solving a puzzle,” he said.
Somewhat uniquely, Ahmed did not study away his whole junior year, but spent the fall of his senior year in New York. “It really changed my life,” he remembers. “And if NYU wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have been able to experience it all. I had to move locations and start over, find a new friend circle.” It was a bit difficult, as he had a group of close friends in the class of 2018 and the class of 2017.
However, Ahmed feels this experience is his biggest takeaway from NYU Shanghai. “NYU has given me this ability to move to places and settle there in just a month,” he said. “I don’t need to look at forums, I just settle in myself.”
Moving back to Shanghai this semester has been another transition period for him, but one with different weight. “It’s emotional,” Ahmed said. “This thing that we contributed to a lot is flourishing and growing.” At his Admitted Student’s Weekend there were not a lot of outlets for students, but Ahmed helped build the NYU Shanghai radio program and has seen other mediums grow. “We’re almost running at potential now with over 1000 students,” he said. “It’s gotten better every year.”
The one thing Ahmed would change about the school would be getting companies in the Free Trade Zone to hire NYU Shanghai international students. “If I’m getting a Chinese degree, I should be able to work in this space,” he said. “New York and Abu Dhabi have the upper hand in this case. I’ve interned in Shanghai and I know the market from interning here. Let’s just say it’s not pleasant.”
Notably, Ahmed feels that he’s had the unique opportunity to watch the city grow. “We actually saw Shanghai tower getting completed, that iconic part of the city growing with us,” he said. “We’ve seen the inception of Mobike and Ofo. We saw the switch from cash to WeChat and AliPay.”
Overall, Ahmed feels he’s learned a lot from NYU Shanghai. “Whoever I am today, NYU Shanghai has made me who I am,” Ahmed said. “The good, the bad, and the ugly, all of it. And I wouldn’t change a thing, because it made me who I am today.”
This article was written by Allison Chesky. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Usama Ahmed