The Zoom Freshman of NYU Shanghai – Class of 2024

“The day I received my admission letter, I was beyond happy because I have dreamt about this moment since I was young. Everyone talks about Freshman year, yet I cannot believe I’m starting my new journey remotely,” said Shreesh Tripathi, a Nepali freshman. 

The fall in Shanghai comes in with a light breeze, rustling leaves and also marks the start of Freshman year and introduces a melange of emotions.

At midnight on March 31, New York University Shanghai, sent admission letters to a total of 1,553 students who were selected from a competitive pool of over 13,000 applicants. Out of those who received the admission letter, 859 students were admitted to NYU Shanghai’s class of 2024. 

There’s a lot to be done, from getting visas, packing, bidding goodbyes, and adjusting to a foreign environment. The Freshman year offers a complete package filled with anxiety, excitement, and homesickness. 

Nonetheless, for many, the scariest aspect of being a freshman is also the factor that ignites excitement. 

“Exploring new traditions and customs, making new relationships and the feeling of being independent is what adds to the excitement of being a freshman,” said Katrina Woo coming in from Australia.

However, the COVID-19 outbreak and travel restrictions have hindered the ability of the newly admitted international freshmen to get to China. 

This hindrance was solved rather quickly as NYU Shanghai received the approval from the Shanghai Foreign Affairs Office, Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, and the Shanghai Exit-Entry Administration Bureau to allow students abroad to apply for the Chinese student visa (X1 visa) under the normal student visa process. 

With the clock ticking, unleashing anxiety amongst students, and freshmen dropout rates skyrocketing all over the world due to the online commencement of Fall 2020, instead of dropping out or deferring their admission, many freshmen have decided to wait patiently for their letters of invitation to arrive. 

This letter indicates that NYU Shanghai has received the approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education of China. The students are required to submit it to the embassy to apply for the X1 student visa.

While the community back in Shanghai is waiting for the building to come back to life, to ensure a stable function of the fall semester, NYU Shanghai resorted to a mix-mode system, i.e. in-person classes for students in Shanghai and online classes on Zoom for students out of China. 

This class of 2024 has students coming in from 96 countries worldwide and 44 U.S. states, making it the most diverse in the history of NYU Shanghai. However, it also makes it difficult to take classes remotely, requiring students to become night owls due to time zone differences with Shanghai. 

“Shanghai is 16 hours ahead of Washington. Is this what I signed up for? I do wonder how in-class sessions would be like, but we all need to learn to make adjustments for temporary issues,” said freshman Celia Foster. 

Although the mix-mode system does help replicate the interactive in-class experience, issues relating to technology, the adaptation to Zoom, and time zones have restricted the students’ full capacity engagement. 

With distractions at home and some who have never used Zoom, students find it hard to focus and actively engage in class. 

“Interacting with the teacher in class via audio and video will disturb the class taking place physically, which pushes me to send in my queries via chat,” said Shreesh Tripathi. “But in most cases, the teacher does not look at the chat and I have to wait for the next virtual office hours to get my query solved.”

The mix-mode system cannot replicate the diversity experience, which is one of the distinguishing features of NYU Shanghai. Diversity attracts new ideas, cooperation, exchange of experiences, and most importantly allows exposure to new cultures and traditions. However, that might be compensated by the lively city of Shanghai.

With the bustling East Nanjing road, the serene Bund, or the local restaurants behind the Jinqiao dorms serving mouth-watering xiao long bao, Shanghai offers a wide range of services. Food, shopping, historical sites, tourist attractions, you name it, it’s there. Therefore, many choose to come to Shanghai to gain a true international experience.             

Marian Chen, a freshman from Connecticut who is eagerly waiting to return to Shanghai, said she always wanted to live in a city that offers such diverse opportunities. 

“I’m sad that we’re not in Shanghai for our first semester, but that’s ok, the vibrant city of Shanghai will balance the time we lost,” she said, optimistically. 

They say that patience yields a sweeter fruit, thus the week of October 15 was filled with happiness and joy as many students who wished to return to Shanghai as soon as possible received their letters of invitation. 

With planning for returning to NYU Shanghai in full swing, feelings of anxiety, fear and exhilaration have resurfaced. Making friends, speaking Chinese and isolation were some of the key concerns of the returning freshmen. 

“My main challenge has been the social disconnect I have been experiencing. You can call it FOMO, i.e. fear of missing out, since it is really hard to gauge how other freshmen have formed their relationships,” said Elizabeth Daves, an incomer from Texas..

Relationships are hard to form remotely. So there’s a sense of unease about meeting people you’ve only seen on screen for a few hours. 

Thus, from planning out their day, listening to anti-stress music, to a pleasant stroll in the park, many students have used coping mechanisms to decrease stress levels associated with returning to campus. Some have accepted the idea that transition will be difficult.

“I have tried to reach out to other people taking similar classes. Hopefully, that will make my transition a bit more comfortable,” Celia Foster said. 

Fall 2020 coupled with COVID-19 might not be an ideal start for a Freshman year. Nonetheless, the whole NYU Shanghai community cannot wait to welcome and help the incoming class of 2024 to experience a smooth transition into university life. 

Photos: NYU Shanghai website, Class of 2024 Move-in day

This article was written by Riya Shrestha currently based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Please send an email to rs6085@nyu.edu or contact on Instagram @riya_shresthaa to get in touch.

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