New York University has 14 locations worldwide, including NYU Shanghai, one of the three degree-granting campuses among them. NYU Shanghai requires students to spend at least one, up to three, semesters at one of NYU Global Sites during a four-year undergraduate career.
In the Spring 2020 semester, the Class of 2022 spent their Sophomore year at home either in China or elsewhere in the world due to campus closures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, expecting the “Study Away” program would commence as usual for the coming semester. This turned out to be infeasible.
“There are two restrictions; one was the travel restriction that was placed in terms of international students being able to enter the US,” said David Pe, Dean of Students at NYU Shanghai. “But at the same time, there was no study away program because of the fact that the campus was operating remotely.”
NYU Shanghai allowed Class of 2022 students to enroll in New York or other NYU sites’ online and blended modes courses that might fulfill their degree requirements and academic interests during their Junior year, Dean Pe said. However, the school’s unidirectional permission and approval did not guarantee feasibility.
“I successfully enrolled in a blended-mode Math course that satisfied my degree requirement,” said Ling’er Zhang, a Business and Finance student from NYU Shanghai Class of 2022. “But before the start of the semester, the professor emailed me that the class would be only available in-person, so I had to drop the course.”
At NYU Shanghai, students have to complete a year-long capstone project in their major subjects as a conclusion to the academic experience, and Zhang is one who gave up attending the “Study Away” program during her Senior year for her Honor Capstone project that requires “in-person participation.”
“We made the flexibility and accommodations for students who needed to finish their capstones remote if necessary or independent study,” said Dean Pe. “Most of the faculty members provided an online section, for example, to continue to advise them on their projects and assignments.”
However, Zhang only knew of the accommodations when approaching the start of the semester when her classmates who had already arrived at the “Study Away” sites were applying to attend the Honor Capstone project remotely.
“Nothing was announced explicitly. You would never be able to know the flexibility or accommodations by following the policies listed on the website,” said Zhang. “If you do not ask, then they do not exist on your side.”
While students who are not on campus may enjoy the flexibilities for the Capstone project, those who stay find it hard to collaborate with those who only exist on classroom monitors.
“My Capstone classmate who is currently studying away can only join us online. We are supposed to have discussions together, but the time difference and instruction mode make it impossible,” said Zeyu Lu, a Business and Finance major student from the Class of 2022. “We are in the same class, but we seldom see each other.”
Lu chose to stay in Shanghai because of parental pressure that did not support her involvement in the “Study Away” program, despite her unappeasable eagerness to immersively explore the academic world at NYU sites in other countries. In addition to that, the Capstone project forced her to decide to stay here.
“If you let me make a decision between Study Away and Capstone, Capstone goes first,” Lu said.
Dean Pe does not have an exact number of Class of 2022 students who did not attend the “Study Away” program during their Junior year but claimed that many of them were completing the requirement during the Senior year and attending All-University Commencement at the New York campus.
“We did not want to force someone who is necessarily uncomfortable going to the US at that point because there were a lot of uncertainties,” said Dean Pe. “At the same time, we have students who chose to stay because of the fact they wanted to prepare for their graduate school applications, or they wanted to apply for jobs.”
Zhang found it complicated to explain her lack of overseas academic experience during interviews for graduate school admission and internship applications, struggling with how to prove her international education experience and her competitiveness.
“It was disruptive. I had to tell interviewers that I took some online classes from New York and how I engaged with the professors in New York on Zoom,” said Zhang. “When my internship colleagues were talking about their abroad life experiences, all I had was silence and ignorance.”
According to the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange, China-based students earning their degrees awarded by a foreign institution, like students from NYU Shanghai, and spending over six months overseas to earn the degree, may certify their degrees as abroad-based students, like those from NYU New York, which may help with the recruitment process.
Neither Zhang nor Lu has any idea about the impact of lacking “Study Away” experience on their degree-certifying process and results, for which Dean Pe claimed that the bureau granted a waiver because of the pandemic.
“I would imagine that to my knowledge, there was no implication for students who did not study away during their time,” said Dean Pe. “In terms of the NYU Shanghai graduates, all of our courses and all of our requirements are accredited by the Administrative of Education.”
After NYU, Zhang will depart for Britain for graduate school, inaugurating her international academic experience, which would have come much earlier in normal circumstances.
“Although your classes are delivered from New York, and you are attending those classes, you are not physically standing on Broadway,” Zhang said.