Emma Quong '19, Media, Culture and Communication Major

“My study away experience swept me off my feet.”

NYU Steinhardt student Emma Quong ‘19 studied away at NYU Shanghai during the fall semester of her sophomore year. Having set out to improve her Chinese language skills and learn about her heritage, the Media, Culture and Communication major soon found herself on a journey of self-discovery. She shares her favorite memories of Shanghai, from her dance and art classes, to a chance encounter in Shanghai’s art district.

I grew up hearing Chinese spoken around me, but when I asked for an English translation my curiosity was usually met with the response: “Don't worry about it; this only concerns the adults.” This conditioned me to ignore the language around me. I was so used to associating Chinese with ambient noise that when I first attempted to learn the language in the U.S., I could not process the patterns, pick up new words, or recognize tonal variations.

I came to Shanghai with the intention of retraining my brain and relearning Chinese with a more permanent foundation. I also wanted to understand what practices and aspects of me were Chinese.

My semester at NYU Shanghai was full of unique surprises and opportunities. Although I was apprehensive about having no predetermined structure for my semester, there was a certain thrill about having a liberated schedule. On the plane, I decided to let the study away experience sweep me off my feet.

This mentality proved to be truly rewarding.

When I landed in Shanghai, I signed up for the Choreography & Performance course on a whim. With the support of Professor Aly Rose, I ended up performing at the China Shanghai International Arts Festival and also at the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai (MOCA). I was also one of five students from NYU Shanghai invited to NYU Abu Dhabi to dance at the Body Voices Conference.

I also had the opportunity at NYU Shanghai to create my own works. Professors Barbara Edelstein and Jian-Jun Zhang convinced me to integrate dance into my final project for my Projects in Studio Art class, and helped me to draw upon my more in depth understanding of Chinese culture to create a fusion work of art.

I was hesitant about the concept, the supplies, the logistics, and my own abilities, but they supported me throughout, lending me the technology room to house my inky mess; coming to school during the Thanksgiving holiday to support the filming process; and checking up on me during those late nights in the studio as I edited the video.


But something truly magical happens when two NYU Shanghai students collaborate. One of my favorite memories is a spontaneous photoshoot I did with NYU Shanghai senior Nicole Chan, just before the end of the fall term. I still had a suitcase to pack and she had to start a final essay, but we made this collaboration a priority. We woke up early and took the metro to the West Bund, intending to shoot near the Long Museum. I got us lost and we ended up at the Artistic Center and decided to shoot there instead.

I was wearing thin, flowy costumes and could see my breath collect into frozen particles on this December day. We were taking photos in an open area in front of the center when a guard shooed us away--we made our way behind the building to another row of smaller ones. I danced barefoot in mud and on concrete, scaling brick walls and windows. When a man inside the building tapped on the glass and told us to be careful, we thought he was going to shoo us away just as the guard had done; we were surprised to discover he was the gallery-keeper.

He embraced our spirit and brought out a ladder so I could safely scale the walls. He opened the windows so I could better grip the frames. He brought out a cardboard box for me to stand on so my bare feet would not be torn by the cold concrete. He invited us into the gallery space, prepared hot tea, and set up a basin of warm water where I could wash my feet.

His unexpected kindness, the spontaneity of the morning, the great partnership between Nicole and I, as well as indulging in our artistic passions all led to this moment of creative confidence and culture comfort.  Though I could not find the right words to convey my gratitude, I was able to understand and participate in the general path of our conversation. Chinese was not just background noise anymore.

Although my Chinese had improved, I realized in that moment that interpersonal communication goes beyond sharing a common vocabulary. I came to Shanghai to learn how to speak Chinese, but what I also got out of this semester was how to express myself, react, and read mannerisms in this culture.

Through all of this, it was the moments with NYU Shanghai friends that made me fall so in love with this community. From basket-bike commutes (where one sits in the basket while the other pedals the bike), to the constant bubble tea trips, excursions to Japan and South Korea, shopping at underground markets, dancing in the library, and late night street food, I will forever look back on these memories fondly.

When people asked me if I was from NYU Shanghai, I said yes. Though my home campus is NYU in New York and I will be earning my degree from there, I was proud to be part of this global community. And what an honor it was, for even just one semester, to be an NYU Shanghai student.

Undergraduate students can study away in Shanghai for a January/summer term, a semester, or even a school year. We also have a summer Chinese language immersion program. To find out more about studying away in Shanghai, visit our website or contact the Global Affairs team at shanghai.globalaffairs@nyu.edu.

Read more stories:

Alexis Zerafa, Integrated Digital Media Major. Study Away Site: Shanghai -- “It’s surprising how similar New York and Shanghai are.”

Justin Scholar, Film/TV Production Major. Study Away Site: Shanghai --  

I didn't know how life-changing it would be.”