Li Xiang: Breaking Barriers

Recent graduate Li Xiang ‘18 spent her senior year studying the Syrian refugee crisis following a volunteer experience at a refugee camp in Berlin last year. Drawn by the complexity and severity of the global concern, the social science major decided to conduct a comparative analysis of refugee policies across different countries.

Her capstone project, “Crisis and Hope: Syrian Refugees Policy in Jordan and Germany and Implications for China,” was voted Most Popular Presentation at this year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium on May 12.

The Gazette spoke with Li Xiang about what motivated her project and the discovery of her passion for social science while immersed in NYU Shanghai’s liberal arts environment.

Q: What motivated you to conduct research on the refugee crisis?

My interest in this capstone topic started during my study-away semester in Berlin, where I  attended many academic panels on the Syrian refugee crisis and volunteered in a refugee camp in Kreuzberg.

With other dedicated staff, I was responsible for facilitating refugees’ accommodations, allocating donated resources, and playing sports with children. It was unexpected that German became the common language between the refugee children and me. Talking in German with Syrian and Iraqi children about their school days was so interesting, and their smiles always lit up my world.

However, I found that the complexity of work in the refugee camp was beyond my expectations. My capstone project allowed me to think of this concern from both a global and domestic point of view.

Q: What other overseas experiences have reinforced your understanding of global politics?

In August 2015, I studied at Tel Aviv University and I learned about the implications of the Arab Spring for social movements. While visiting Golan Heights, I saw cars and tanks burned down in the desert, blockhouses with bullet holes, and signs warning of mines all along the road. From a mountain top overlooking Syria, I realized it was my first time witnessing the cruelty of war.

During the fall 2016 semester, I studied in Washington DC as an NYU Global Leadership Scholar and interned at Congressman Jerrold Nadler's office. Strongly interested in US political and legal systems, I attended congressional briefings and hearings to write memos for the Legislative Director. I answered phone calls from constituents and presented their concerns to the Congressman.

It was not an experience like the television series House of Cards, but was unique enough for me, a Chinese student, to have first-hand experience of the US legislative process.

These overseas experiences have pushed me to think about what it means to be a global citizen.

Q: Tell us more about yourself. Did you have any impactful volunteer or campus club experiences?

As a former migrant child, I was keen to provide social aid for migrant children. Every weekend for two years, I volunteered to tutor English to migrant children, in addition to volunteering in Cambodia with the Dean's Service Scholars program.

I was also the vice president of the Breaking Barriers Initiative, an NYU Shanghai student club that promotes cross-cultural communication. We organized the World Bazaar for students to demonstrate their own cultures, and led campus-wide discussions on cultural identities, gender, race, feminism, and social justice. These are the experiences that have shaped me.

Q: How have you benefited from NYU Shanghai’s liberal arts curriculum?

NYU Shanghai’s liberal arts education nurtured my curiosity towards the world. During my first two years, I was able to explore my interests widely, taking courses in law, politics, journalism, neuroscience, computer science, music and arts.

I eventually discovered my interest in politics and changed my major to social science. Without a liberal arts education environment, I would not be encouraged to, or able to study what I am truly interested in.

Q: What are you doing now that you’ve graduated?

Interested in the rapidly growing internet business world, I will be working with a growing online shopping platform targeting the Southeast Asian market. I will work in Singapore for one year and then move to their office in Shenzhen.  

Thanks to my education at NYU Shanghai, I became very open to all kinds of opportunities and confident to face any challenges. NYU Shanghai has transformed me into a global citizen, and has empowered me to believe in all possibilities.



Check out more stories about our grads here or watch the Class of 2018 tribute video.