Spotify link to the episode:

*Intro Music*

Shauna: Hello listeners my name is Shauna Stewart. I am going to be your host again this week for the Magnolia on Mic Podcast and today we have a very special guest joining us. I will allow them to introduce themselves to our listeners. 

Marcel:Wonderful. Thank you very much. My name is Marcel Daniels. I am a lecturer here in the department of English for Academic Purposes. I’m also the co-area head and I’ve been working here at NYU Shanghai since fall of 2015.

Shauna: Oh wow

Marcel: Yeah.

Shauna: I’m wondering how is your experience so far since you said you’ve been here since 2015, how’s your experience been with NYU Shanghai I guess in general?

Marcel: It’s… I’m really happy to be here in Shanghai and in this university. I think as in any situation if you’re here for seven plus years you’re gonna see a lot of changes, a lot of growth, a lot of expansion. Especially in a city like Shanghai, in a country like China, where we know growth and expansion happen at very accelerated rates…

Shauna: Yeah

Marcel: …that I think we’re gonna talk about a little bit later. So seeing the way the student population has changed and regressed a little bit because of COVID and then came back with a fury now, is really inspiring and then seeing the long term plans of NYU Shanghai come into fruition is also really inspiring as someone who is… has a little bit of input in terms of the direction of some parts of the university. Yeah.

Shauna: Oh, that’s really cool ‘cause I’ve met some professors this week who they’re like “Oh this is my first year here.” “This is my second year here” so hearing kind of their takes on they just got used to the old campus now they’re learning everything new with this campus. I think you can offer some valuable insight as someone who’s been here for such a long stretch of time. 

Marcel: Well I think the number one thing that gives me- makes me happy about this institution is that the temperature with the colleagues is just so collegiate. Doesn’t matter whether which department, I find just great help and insight from people just because we’re all under the same roof. And so I think for those who are just arriving, and I think this- you can say better to me, but this goes the same for students, but if you’re here it’s that solidarity of for those who are not mainland Chinese students their first time as an expat or maybe a first experience here so not only do you need to know the ropes of being someone who’s at this university but also being in this different city maybe some of the language or cultural aspects. And we’ve all seen this, we’ve all been there, we’re all very helpful in terms of offering some advice. 

Shauna: Yeah. From the perspective of a student I’ve been here for the past three semesters. So I came, what was that 2020 of end of January and I agree that there is a very big community here. It’s almost like trauma bonding but not quite. And the student are so kind and so welcoming, like I know my first semester here since there weren’t alot of international students here yet there was a bit of a worry if there’s a split between the international students and the national students, but I found as more students started being able to come to China that split basically disappeared. And I think it also has to do with the fact that some of the freshman courses are a bit separated whereas the international students might be taking GPS- or not GPS but an English writing course where the Chinese nationals might be taking EAP and sometime you feel that division but once you start taking classes towards your electives or your major it really seems to disappear and you start connecting other people based purely on academic interest and it makes it so much more rewarding I think.

Marcel: And I think that’s a big promise this university and I mean the greater university with the world being our major and it’s something that leadership is very aware of and is making steps towards remedying. There is need for the international students to take Chinese language… that’s absolutely essential. Then for our fellow Chinese students to get a little bit of boost in academic language, research, or maybe even just some of the parts of being in a liberal arts university and the culture that comes along with it. And I think a big part of that is kind of being addressed in this university in our new campus right here. In the way there’s a flow, in the way that we see each other a little bit more often, in the way of not being in this vertical sardine can that was the previous campus. And even on a faculty level we had quads before where it was great for our department but a little bit less communal in terms of communicating with others and now I’m seeing people from creative arts, IMA, writing all in the same long hallway, here on these top floors. 

Shauna: Yeah I noticed that as I was walking by because my friend and I, we were touring the school and we were looking at the names on the teachers’ offices and I was like “I wonder if these are separated by department?” ‘cause I was seeing my Chinese teacher next to a history teacher that I took a class with and I was like “this is very interesting.”

Marcel: So we really do want to have everybody together as much as possible. And yeah COVID was a big setback and I totally understood the concerns of the Chinese students were promised a kind of international experience in a English medium university set right here in their own country. SO it’s a little bit disappointing for them to have that experience on pause. But here now with-what is this spring? Yeah spring 23 really excited about the promise of the university moving forward.

Shauna: Speaking of moving forward and our new campus, I guess my question is what were your initial thoughts when you first, I guess, settled into the new campus?

Marcel: I see. So my first trip- visit here was maybe five or six days before the opening of the semester and upon leaving the metro station first of all might be one of the bougiest malls that I’ve seen in Shanghai and Shanghai does have some bougie areas. But walking up and then seeing it from the corner is just very impressive. Just seeing the layout, and design, the architecture is beautiful. We all understood that this was a work in progress, so coming inside and seeing the layout of the courtyard, and seeing the interior architecture was also really breathtaking but then coming inside and seeing that there’s still some work to do required- let’s see a good way to say this- it required a fair amount of maybe imagination to kinda fill in some of the gaps of the promise of what this building will be but I see it. I see where they’re going with it, I see why this is a big deal, I see the big leap from Century Avenue in terms of location, in terms of the way it’s spread out but, yeah I think my first thought was “okay, alright”

Shauna: Yeah, from the students that I’ve spoken to the more positive side of things is it’s bigger, we have more just kind of like roaming space if that makes sense. It’s a lot more open than the Century Avenue campus was. And a lot of the students after being here for two days now, they’re like “okay, I see the vision, I see what we’re going for.” But then the more negative side of things is could this be dangerous, could this prevent our studying. I’ve even heard people talking about tuition reimbursements so there’s two I guess sides of the spectrum. But I think in general a lot of the students are- have mostly positive thoughts about the campus. We just- I think a lot of us didn’t expect to- it to be at the stage that it’s at. I think some people were a little bit more optimistic and thought it would be a bit further along than it is. 

Marcel: I think that’s a- that’s a pretty fair observation and fair complaint. As the students, we serve you and we need to make sure that you are in the best circumstances to learn, to interact, to be comfortable and I think leadership was thinking about what are the alternatives in terms of Century Avenue is done. We did a lot of packing and we’re not going back there. And I imagine, and this has nothing to do with my choices or my decision also way beyond my pay-grade but,  maybe just analyzing all of the options seeing that this may be the best one out of everything and the pace in which the workers and facility and other staff are getting things done is remarkable. From coming, as I mentioned, maybe five days ago and then when I visited again two or three days later I could notice some very remarkable changes between those two or three days. And now that Spring Festival is over and more workers are here, I see the accelerated pace in which they’re working and we’re getting there. But what I also think is really interesting is that this is going to be something that almost defines these few years of NYU Shanghai, in particular the students. Seeing as you’ve gone through lockdowns and teaching and learning online for a whole semester learning remotely and in hybrid classes, I can just see looking back a month from now, three-months from now even in the spring- fall semester pardon me, looking at what we’ve gone through, how well we did in spite of the circumstances and how that kind of, that resilience defines us and allows us to maybe thrive and be able to negotiate different situations a lot better than those who haven’t encountered other kinds of challenges. At the same time I do understand that it is tricky and when we expect one thing and get something different it is maybe can be disappointing but I’m a bit of an optimist. I’m a bit of a glass half-full type person and I- again I think the culture of the university is how can we help each other and get through and get beyond and I’m seeing that already in these two, three days that we’ve been on campus. 

Shauna: Yeah. I honestly- I appreciate the kind of community that’s in this school. I feel like before I didn’t really notice it but because we’re all moved into a new space including staff and professors everyone’s kinda going through this transition period together so it makes things feel a lot better,

Marcel: I think so absolutely and even with just going to our makeshift canteen right now and the way they have everything set up, I’m really humbled at how hard people are working to fill in all of the little gaps and it’s very character building to think about we’re- we’re all coming from all parts of the world, different socio-economic statuses, and for some people they may look at this and say “oh well this isn’t bad. I’ve grown up and endured much harder things” and for others this may be among the more challenging parts but we are learning more about each other and what it means to be resilient and to understand each other because with some complaints and some things that people are going through I’m understanding oh okay you grew up here and maybe this is a challenge for you. How can you understand where I’m coming from and you see how I’m solving a problem here and I’m seeing how you’re identifying other things that maybe I didn’t even realize were problematic and now I understand. And so it’s just a big experiment of understanding and patience and empathy while also getting our work done, studying, planning, supporting the students so yeah, here we are.

Shauna: And I think as a student I can kinda- I appreciate the work that everyone else is putting in even our professors they’re like “Oh my goodness. I can’t find the room. I don’t know where I’m going” and I’m like “I understand. I completely understand” and the extra work that they have been putting in to make sure that we’re comfortable. I know one of my classes, it’s my Chinese class, it has quite a few students but we’re in one of the smaller classrooms so our professor is trying to see if she can get one of the other ones. So just trying to, while also being patient, being understanding. I think that is a big thing even as someone whose- I spent my first semester in New York and then I was able to come to Shanghai thank- come to Shanghai thankfully but just kind of navigating I guess all of those things has taught me to be more patient and more understanding of other people. And I think that’s something that we all basically gained in this new move so I’m appreciative of that.  

Marcel:Absolutely and that’s the university experience. It’s beyond the classroom. It’s these soft skills that help us in interpersonal situations and work situations and problem solving and stress management. All of that is certainly defining this experience right here. But at the same time when all of this is done and we get to roam these long hallways and all of these secret rooms, I’m so looking forward to discovering everything. Because even in our old campus [unintelligible] a lot of students had their little preferred study area or corner that they like for one reason or another. And it’s gonna be to the point where everyone can do this almost on an individual level. Oh I have north building, ninth floor, just on the cusp of the east side and that’s my little pocket where I go and all this. And so yeah I think this spring is going to be really exciting in terms of discovery of the space, discovery of ourselves and discovery of each other.