Exploring Beyond Borders: The Vital Role of Study Away at NYU Shanghai

study away
Nov 3 2023

Study away is a core part of the NYU Shanghai experience. Every student is required to study away for at least one semester (and many choose to study away for two semesters) at one of NYU’s two other campuses or one of the 12 academic centers among NYU’s global network. 

That’s by design, says Vice Provost for Academic Affairs John Robertson. “The center of our mission is a cosmopolitan liberal education,” he explains. “Every student benefits from taking that a step further, spending semesters in another culture where they can have a deep dive experience.”

In this interconnected world, he says, the study away experience can offer students an opportunity to witness and begin to understand other ways of thinking and doing things. “We want them to push outside of their comfort zone, experience culture shock,” he says. “Experiencing culture shock is an important part of personal growth because that expands your boundaries.” 

Four students share their advice for how to make the most of studying away.


Name: Jessica Feng Jiaqi NYU ’24
Major: Economics and Psychology (double major)
Hometown:  Beijing, China
Study Away at: NYU Shanghai

How did you decide where you would study abroad? What was it that you hoped to get out of the experience?

I chose NYU Shanghai as my study away site, mainly because of internship opportunities. I was offered an internship position at a venture capital in Shanghai, and thanks to NYU global programs that offer great flexibility, I was able to work in Shanghai while continuing with my study. I also fell in love with the city. 

What was the best part of your study away experience? What was the most challenging? 

Both the best part and the most challenging part of my study away time was my experience as a Study Away Program Assistant (SAPA). It was an effort to push myself out of my comfort zone. It was definitely challenging because, as a student leader, I had to lead many programs such as cultural expeditions and language workshops, meaning I had to be social and stay connected with people, which were not my strengths. But by pushing myself, I made friends with lots of people who I otherwise would not have talked to. I improved my presentation skills and, more importantly, I got to explore the city and culture of Shanghai more.

What’s your advice for how students can get the most out of their study away experience?

Apart from the academic considerations, I would say choose the city that you are the most curious about. I think the essence of study away is about exploration and experience, meeting the people and culture [that are] totally different from your own. Remember to have fun! Stay tuned for events; don’t hesitate to make new friends and try out exciting things!


Name:  Michaella Blemur NYU ’24
Major: International Relations
Hometown: New York, USA
Study Away Site: NYU Shanghai

How did you choose your study away site?

I chose my major because I wanted the opportunity to study abroad. I was excited for a new experience. I do enjoy learning languages and had heard that Chinese was one of the hardest! If I was going to learn it eventually, it was best to build a foundation now. So I think these were prime motivators. I looked forward to being immersed in this environment and both studying and practicing Chinese on a daily basis. Here is an opportunity where I could be in an entirely different environment and not only explore but also study intensely in a classroom setting and really hear others' points of view. Being in class [and] encountering and learning [about] so many different perspectives has been so enlightening! Everything is so new.  

What was the best part of studying in Shanghai?

NYU Shanghai. I feel like just the community here has really marked it as a good experience. The study away trips, going to Suzhou, Chinese calligraphy, the events that they have here. And I can always do them with others rather than by myself. I'm always trying to be involved. I'm always trying to go to club meetings and my roommate is also [chef’s kiss] amazing. Bless her heart. I think being a part of the Shanghai Reality Show [was important] as well. I really leaned on my cast for the first few days to help me get the ball rolling. If not for them, I would have stayed in my comfort zone and hung out mainly with the other study away students rather than branch out.

I learned how to ride a bike as well! It was so embarrassing, but I did it for the challenge, and I know that bike riding is a very valuable skill. I'm always thinking about [how] today's pain is tomorrow's strength. So when I first went bike riding, I struggled quite a bit. I ended up getting injured three times but didn't give up! And now I can comfortably ride a bike. 

What has been the most challenging part of your experience?

I think my first day, the first week, was the hardest experience I've ever had. Everyone's like, 'It's so easy once you have [it all set up].' Everything's online through your phone–you have Taobao, you have Meituan, you have Wechat, you have Alipay. But none of those were working for me. My first day here, I just wanted some food and the whole day passed and I couldn't get anything, I couldn't use anything. I didn't know how to use the maps or which ones to download, and I didn't know where any convenience stores were located. It was just really, really difficult and I was overwhelmed. It wasn't until like the second or third week that I got Alipay to finally work. 

I didn't come in with any strong expectations other than that I would be treated differently as a foreigner and that this would be pretty uncomfortable. Even when I go bike riding to school or take the train, I’m always getting looks. Some of them are with a smile and some of them are... just like neutral, but they don't look away, right? I guess interacting with kids is the best because they try to speak English with me and it's very cute. The school community here has really marked it as a good experience. Otherwise I feel like I would have really focused on how I'm treated when I go outside and that [would have been] unfortunate.

What advice would you give other students about how to make the most out of their study away experience?

Maximize your opportunities. Even if it might be scary or sometimes it might seem intimidating, what helps to know is that you're not alone. There are other people who have similar experiences to you. You can find a community. Additionally, you have a limited time here, [so] if it's not too crazy, I just recommend you just go do it! Try to be active, because that will really help you enjoy the experience rather than staying to yourself.

I think if you take every day as a new blessing, a new opportunity to have new interactions, you can really make the study away time very memorable. It'll take a little bit of sacrifice. But this is the time to maximize your personal growth, because most likely no one here is going to know you,your past, or your background. You can start fresh and bring anything to the table. Be as extra as need be!


Name: Ambra Liu ’25
Major: Interactive Media Art, minor in Humanities
Hometown: Chongqing, China
Study Away at: Berlin

How did you decide where you would study abroad? What was it that you hoped to get out of the experience? 

I found [that] what I really wanted to get from studying away is to learn more about myself and the world and feel my own growth through this experience. I wanted to put myself in a really different cultural environment, with an unknown language, unfamiliar culture, and only with a few people I know. To be honest, I always planned to study away at the New York and Abu Dhabi sites, but I changed my mind just about 10 days before the deadline. After I checked the information and requirements for each site in Europe, I found Berlin had some classes that also can work for my academic plan.

What has been the best part of your study away experience?

The city of Berlin itself is the best part of my study away experience. To experience the city where you live and study with all your heart is part of that learning, I really felt this. In our courses, we will learn a lot about the city of Berlin, such as history, culture, art, the past and the present. We went to a lot of museums and exhibitions, and especially in German class, we learned lots of local culture. It made me feel I am really living here, not just a visitor. 

What has been the most challenging part of your study away experience?

Balancing studies, travel, and life in Berlin was the most challenging part of my experience. I mainly schedule my courses in the middle of the week. It’s very compact, but more conducive to my weekend travel. However, traveling is always accompanied by a lot of unexpected situations. The biggest challenge of my experience has been balancing academic pressures [while] exploring Berlin and solving all the problems I encounter. But I'm happy to accept the challenges and enjoy the experience.

What advice would you give to fellow students about how to select a study away program and how to make the most of it?

The first must be: Don’t think too much, just do it. This may sound casual as advice, since study away programs are important. It is because it is so important that there should be no regrets. After meeting the basic academic requirements and planning, just follow your heart and choose a site that truly interests you. 

Don’t set your expectations too high. [With] no high expectations, you can be more peaceful and allow everything to happen in this experience. Happy moments will become happier, and when you meet difficulties, [you] will not ask ‘why did this happen?,’ which will also help you to enjoy the experience better. Study away is a really good opportunity;use [it]to explore the world and enjoy a new journey in your life. 


Name: Charles Bingaman ’24
Major: Finance
Hometown: California, USA
Study Away Site: NYU Abu Dhabi

How did you choose your study away site?

I saw a really interesting business future there. I wanted to be in the Middle East, it seemed very central to the world. It just fit what I was looking for.

I think it's a phenomenal school. It gives you really good opportunities to do things that you wouldn't at other schools, mainly around research and funding for your individual projects. The school really supports visiting students and really wants them to see the UAE and the region. They constantly sponsor so many events to help students see the culture in Abu Dhabi, visit Dubai, go on trips to Oman to see the desert, and get to know as much culture as you can around there.

I was afraid that the classes would be so difficult that they’d take away the opportunity to go on weekend excursions. My Intro to Psychology class was really difficult in terms of the amount of reading we had to do. It was definitely a ton of work all the time, but it still worked with the schedule. It was very satisfying to do well in classes in Abu Dhabi, mainly because the whole environment is really about success. 

What’s your advice for students to get the most out of your study away experience? 

I think you shouldn't try to go to both New York and Abu Dhabi. Obviously, it's fun to see the main campuses, but I think you should pick a lane. Do you wanna be America focused? Do you want to be America/Europe focused? Or do you want to be Europe/Asia/Middle East focused? I don't think it makes sense to go to two very separate macro regions, because then you're not getting really deep into [either] one. 

It's really important when you do study abroad that you surround yourself with people who are from those campuses. It opens the location up in so many unique ways. [It’s] the smarter way to adapt. You have to make local friends. You have to try to interact with the local culture, even if that means going out and walking around the city. Looking for food without directions, you really have to push yourself beyond the envelope of the school, because the school tries its hardest to create a full experience, [but] that is not gonna be reflective of what the city has to offer.