Growing up between Ecuador and New York has taught Ariana Alvarez ’23 how to navigate between cultures, places, and languages. She says it contributed to her curiosity of exploring the world, her love of learning languages, and her motivation to create change through diplomacy.
Since her high school days, Alvarez had dreamed about visiting China. She studied Mandarin independently on top of her Italian lessons at school. “NYU Shanghai was the perfect way to make it to China while still getting an American degree,” she says. “My family was excited for me because they knew how much I wanted it.”
As an avid participant in her high school’s Model UN, she developed a passion for working on international issues. “Debating global issues, reading about them and writing resolutions for them really motivated me to try and be in this international arena to fight for causes that I care about, which translated to diplomacy,” she says. “I wanted to help.”
At NYU Shanghai, Alvarez found a community. She befriended classmates from all around the world, who like her, shared a mix of cultural identities. “As I moved around while growing up, I felt ‘too Latina’ to be American when I was in New York, and in Ecuador, I felt ‘too American’ to be Latina,” she says. “Coming to Shanghai and seeing how some people could have two or three identities-–I felt like I finally belonged somewhere.”
NYU Shanghai friends visiting Ariana in Ecuador.
She hit it off with her two first-year roommates–Claudia Zou Jia from Qingdao, China and Carol Zhang from Buffalo, NY, US. “I really hit the jackpot. They are two of my closest friends today,” she says. “I was the math nerd among the three of us, and I ended up doing computer science while they became great at business,” she says. Even while they were separated during the pandemic, they maintained their friendship with routine video chats.
1. With first-year roommates Carol and Claudia. 2. Trip to Chongming during the summer Chinese Immersion Program
Throughout her college experience, Alvarez always found time to be involved. She competed on the tennis and volleyball teams, and served as an international admissions ambassador, an orientation ambassador, and president of Model UN.
NYU Shanghai’s tennis team after their first tournament in 2019
A computer science major and social science minor, she learned how to balance her interests in technology with passion for social issues and international relations, taking classes including Bruno Abrahao’s AI for Business, Grace Haaf’s Statistics for Business and Economics and Ivan Rassmussen’s US China Relations class.
The Computational Social Science course she took with Bedoor AlShebli during her time studying away at NYU Abu Dhabi opened her eyes to how computational methods could be used to solve social questions. “Her class was just completely eye-opening, it showed me that there is this whole emerging field of computer scientists who are doing social science research.”
As a sophomore, Alvarez was awarded the 2021 United States Foreign Affairs Information Technology (FAIT) Fellowship, funded by the US Department of State. The FAIT Fellowship granted funds to support her undergraduate studies, two internships in Washington, DC and abroad, and a full-time job after graduation as a Foreign Service Information Management Specialist.
Alvarez completed her first internship in DC at the Foreign Service Institute last summer, where she conducted research in emerging technologies for the US Department of State. “It was an amazing experience that helped me gauge the diplomatic mission of the US and got me really excited to use my technical skills for a purpose,” she says. “I gained hands-on experience in the field and a lot of exposure to high-ranking officials which was quite inspiring.”
Alvarez at her internship at the US State Department in Washington DC. “I’ve always wanted to use my skill set to create an impact in the public sector. If emerging technologies are leveraged in the right way, they could benefit the world so much.”
After graduating, Alvarez will head to Croatia this summer for her second internship at the US Embassy in Zagreb, where she’ll be gaining more technical insight in her role as an Information Management Specialist before onboarding in DC. “In September I technically become a US diplomat-- it’s mini-me’s dream come true,” she says.
A self-proclaimed ‘big planner,’ Alvarez plans to apply to the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program and pursue her dream of going to law school after her five-year job appointment is up.
“NYU Shanghai has opened so many doors for me and has shown me that hard work pays off, but sometimes things happen and it’s okay,” she says. All those twists and turns have helped her develop as a person. “I started as one Ariana, and there is absolutely no way I’m leaving NYU Shanghai as the same one,” she says. “I’m an Ariana with more questions and even more curiosity, which I didn’t even know was possible!”
Spending the semester abroad at NYU Abu Dhabi, 2. Alvarez with friends in New York City as a Study Away student in 2022.