(Cover photo source: NYU Shanghai)
Those with no study away record hoped the university could understand their difficulties and support them to remain in Shanghai and move smoothly to graduation.
But NYU Shanghai has been adamant in requiring the students to do their study away.
The students’ concerns ranged from Covid-related health risks to graduation arrangements.
Tianqi Zhan, a NYU Shanghai junior majoring in neuroscience, said she was held back from the idea of going to other NYU sites in her senior year by her academic development.
“The project that I had been working on in Shanghai is nearly ready for paper publication. If I go to New York now, the experiments won’t be completed, and I will lose this precious research achievement,” said Tianqi.
Considerations went further for Harry Lee, a junior majoring in data science. He said his main concern was “not having enough time” to apply to graduate school programs or make job applications.
Despite the diversity of the students’ individual concerns, one shared by them is the uncertainty and difficulty aligned with returning to China for graduation in Shanghai in Spring 2023.
Chuqing Zhang, a junior majoring in humanities, was worried about the huge cost of travel. “Flight tickets are very expensive, with high cancellation rates. The necessary PCR tests are also expensive in the US,” she said.
Tianqi Zhen was more focused on the policy barriers of returning. She heard from friends in the US that “returning would be extremely difficult if you were infected, and people may need to wait several months to be allowed to get back.”
The students submitted individual petitions to their academic advisors as well as a group petition to the chancellors of NYU Shanghai to ask for a study away requirement waiver. However, most if not all these petitions were rejected by the university.
Tianqi said that her personal petition was denied in four words, “lack of academic rationale,” and the group petition was rejected because “80% of class of 2023 Chinese students are in the process of study away, the difficulties seem to be not that horrible.”
Vice-Chancellor Lehman said these concerns about graduation and individual development were understood by the university. He said the administrators of NYU Shanghai have a unique regard for the study away program, and this prevented them from providing waivers as the students requested.
“Study away has been a core part of the academic design of the NYUSH degree since the very beginning,” he said. “It is made to be a graduation requirement because NYUSH is meant to be a university different from any other traditional universities of China and the US. It is not only a tradition,” he said.
In view of their concerns, the university has offered the affected students varying degrees of policy support.
Vice-Chancellor Lehman guaranteed that “we have been able to make sure that every student who takes the courses, and is able to graduate from NYUSH on time, will graduate, including some students who are not able to get back.”
He also said he had spoken with the US consulate general in Shanghai about the difficulties of students being able to get visas in the context of the city’s pandemic situation.
“He absolutely assured me that student visas are the most important thing. Students will be able to get visas to go study in the US,” Lehman said.
The university has also been working to ensure students will be able to return, the means of which are yet to be announced.
“We are now focusing on visas and I20s,” said Chloe Ma of the Student Mobility team. “As for the possibility of charter flights or helping students book flight tickets, this is a problem to be decided by the leadership.”
The Mobility team made it clear that it will provide full support for students’ I20 extension application if they need to lengthen their study abroad time due to returning difficulties.
Student Mobility will also be an emergency contact for students if they encounter any visa-related problems abroad. “If you have any problems, please contact us. We can help you find someone who can help you as soon as possible,” said Emily Gao, an outward officer of the team.
The students, however, are not feeling fully convinced or reassured about their next semesters studying abroad. Nevertheless, they need to decide between studying away in their senior year or wait for future updates at the cost of doing extra semesters. Either way, it is not an easy choice for them to make.
“I managed to change my mind over this issue,” said Tianqi. “I worked out something for my academic and research arrangements so that studying away won’t be a huge barrier. But I am still angry about the university’s tough attitude on pushing us abroad under the current pandemic circumstance,” she added.
Regardless of their worries, most of these students eventually decided to fulfill their study away requirement in the 2023 fall semester.
But they are not happy about the university administration’s attitude toward the initial individual and group requests.
The phrase “pass the buck” was commonly used by students to describe their conversations with the university.
“Chancellor Tong passed us to Academic Advisors. Academic Advisors passed us to John Robertson. It seemed that no one could really address the matter, and the school didn’t provide a sufficient response to our petitions,” said Chuqing Zhang.
In his meeting with several class of 2023 students about their petition, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, John Robertson, suggested: “Maybe you made a mistake by not going study away in earlier semesters.”
Vice-Chancellor Lehman said about the student petition: “Obviously, we all need to be paying attention to the world around us. But the goal is to find creative ways to fulfill requirements, not to throw them out.”
However, as there are still many uncertainties surrounding the fast-changing circumstances influencing these “creative ways,” it seems that the senior year for this specific group of students will be one of continuing challenges.