Nostalgia Grows Among People at NYU Shanghai Amid Global Pandemic

The announcement of reopening campus was sent out on April 21th. However, what had preceded this announcement was sense of nostalgia, which has been rapidly growing among people at NYU Shanghai amid the global pandemic. Social media has been filled with countless nice memories of the old days, bringing us back to the "wonderland" on Century Avenue, where we once shared laughter and tears. People from different angles at the NYU Shanghai community, including students, faculty, and staff have shared their nostalgic feeling during the past several months.

To some, NYU Shanghai is a supportive home where they can feel free to be themselves. To some, NYU Shanghai is a diverse environment where human interaction between people from different cultures makes them feel part of a truly international community. To others, a campus located in the heart of Shanghai means endless opportunities for city exploration.

But now, all of these former realities are nothing more than memories in the back of our collective minds, as the COVID-19 outbreak ceaselessly escalates around the world, with the number of infections surpassing two million globally. 

The announcement of reopening campus was sent out on April 21th. However, what had preceded this announcement was a sense of nostalgia, which has been rapidly growing among people at NYU Shanghai amid the global pandemic. Social media has been filled with countless nice memories of the old days, bringing us back to the “wonderland” on Century Avenue, where we once shared laughter and tears. 

The Inclusive Atmosphere 

“I miss the close and diverse community of NYU Shanghai which has always been supportive, as well as the environment in which I feel safe to be myself.”, said Kenneth, a junior who was studying away at the NYU New York campus this semester. 

As a bisexual person, Kenneth had grown up always feeling pressured in his hometown, an inner city in China where conservative opinions such as homophobia prevail. Doubled by the fact of being alone in New York under the lockdown, his nostalgia for the NYU Shanghai community has deepened. 

“NYU Shanghai has always been an inclusive, respectful, and open community for members of LGBTQ+”, said Kenan, a sophomore who described his parallel life in China as a LGBT in an article published on OCA,  “However, outside of this campus, there may be a parallel life for Chinese nationals like me, who experience long-time silence, misinterpretation, and anxiety.” 

Currently Living in his hometown, Kenan is also missing the NYU Shanghai community and is looking forward to returning to his NYU Shanghai “home” soon.

Human Interaction in a Diverse Environment

Although most of the classes and events have been successfully moved to the online platform, vivid interaction between people, as believed by many, are irreplaceable. 

“The first thing I miss the most is the human interaction between both students and faculty”, said Professor Ivan Rasmussen, a Social Science Professor at NYU Shanghai, “I haven’t been able to catch up with them during past months.” Professor Rasmussen once introduced during his lecture that when he first joined NYU Shanghai a few years ago, he was amazed by the fact that there were students from 15 different countries in his class of “Introduction to International Politics”, which brought more dynamics into the classroom.  

Yihan Xu, a sophomore majoring in Economics, said that “the first thing I miss is the opportunity to discuss with my professor and my classmates about the class materials.” He added that “the environment of the library and study room is very conducive to my learning while at home it is not.” 

“Online communication is not the same context”, said Professor Magali Kerbellec, who teaches French classes at NYU Shanghai, “It is very different.” Professor Kerbellec indicated that she missed the fun time with her students in the classroom and the chilling afternoon tea with her colleagues in the old days. These were part of her daily life but now they are all gone. 

“I do feel isolated”, said Adam, a sophomore who is in Poland now, “My isolation started earlier because the Florence campus was evacuated. And I’m disappointed in the fact that I cannot see my friends in person.” Shortly after Adam had gone through 14 days of quarantine in Poland, the whole country went on lock down. 

A Campus Closely Engaged with the City 

Micah Snow, a sophomore majoring in Economics, told OCA that she missed the experience of being in China. “I love the city and the places that I got to explore. I got used to speaking a new language and interacting with people and friends.”, Micah was recalling the time she spent in Shanghai, “I missed the food a lot and the independence of walking around the city, where there is always something new to discover.” 

Located in the central business area, NYU Shanghai has one of its biggest advantages: engagement with the city. This makes it extremely convenient for people to commute to many different places in Shanghai. To many, exploring the city would have remained being part of their daily life hadn’t there been the outbreak of COVID-19. 

“I miss my gym room”, Miss Yan Liang, Assistant Director of Chinese Admissions, laughed out when she was answering questions to OCA, “I’m an outgoing person and I like going out with my friends.” 

Patty Xu, Assistant Director at the Student Involvement office, recalled the time when there were usually crowds of people passing by the streets. “As a Shanghai local, I believe that the hustle and bustle is an essential symbol of the city.”, Patty has been working at home for two months and barely going out, “This has disappeared ever since the COVID-19 broke out.”

“I like the vibrance of the city, especially the cultural places”, said Professor Rasmussen, a social science professor at NYU Shanghai, “I miss the beautiful parks, the museums, the cafes, the French concession, and the feeling of walking around in Puxi.” Professor Rasmussen has never left Shanghai since the COVID-19 first broke out in China. He has stayed at his apartment in Shanghai since he was optimistic that the crisis would be eased and hopefully we would return to in-person teaching. 

Despite the nostalgic feeling fueled by the self-isolation during the global pandemic, however, there are still many positive aspects in this challenging situation. 

Both Professor Rasmussen and Professor Kerbellec said that they were inspired by the efforts that the students have put to the classes. Yihan believed that if the professors are trying their best to make things work, he should also make things work. 

Liang said that working at home gives her more opportunities to focus on herself without having to worry about how to deal with people. As for the effectiveness of working at home, she has always been trying to intentionally keep herself concentrated.

Micah and Adam expressed that they felt inspired by the doctors and nurses who are combatting the virus in the front lines. Micah shared a story that people in her hometown are voluntarily helping out the local medical workers. 

The COVID-19 outbreak has claimed over 150,000 deaths around the world. Among the most-hit countries, the United States now has the highest known number of infections and deaths. Italy, Britain, and Spain remain the top three most-hit countries in Europe. On April 18th, Singapore suddenly recorded over 900 cases, increasing the total number of infections to about6,000. Wuhan City, once the epicenter of China, just doubled the confirmed number of deaths to 3,869 due to miscalculation. 

It is certain that the sense of nostalgia will continue to grow among the NYU Shanghai community, given that the global pandemic doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon. The increasing severity of the outbreak has left many wondering whether they are able to pursue their study away in Fall 2020. In fact, a lot of students, from all four classes, are considering staying in Shanghai for the next semester. 

Although it is hard to anticipate when people can reunite in Shanghai, this nostalgic feeling keeps reminding us of the uniqueness of NYU Shanghai: an inclusive atmosphere, a truly diverse environment, and a campus closely engaged with the city of Shanghai. It is a place where we choose to be. It is our home. It is a community that gives us strength no matter where we are and what the situation is. 

This article was written by Sicheng Fan. Contact via email at
Photo Credit: Photo from NYU Shanghai website and edited by Alan Lecheng Chao

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