Many members of the classes of ‘22 and ‘23 were heavily impacted by China’s visa restrictions, making it difficult for them to return to China for prolonged periods. Combined with the continuous back-and-forth movement between one’s home country, Go Local locations, and China, the ‘22 and ‘23 super seniors had unique experiences with changing friend groups and campus culture.

In a way, the super seniors are almost zombie-like. On the outside, they are seen roaming the campus and attending classes like any other student. Yet, when we dig deeper, it’s apparent that they have been affected in ways different from the other classes; such experiences are deserving of recognition and acknowledgment.

Navigating Changing Friendships and Campus Culture

Since freshmen year, 81.8% of mini survey respondents have changed friend groups. Alexandra Kogler said that fostering friendships with different classes isn’t as easy as it seems. “We’ll come back one year, there’s a new group of people. We’ll come back another year, they’ll be a whole different group of people,” she explained.

Hugo Wang’s experience resonated with this. “I find myself hanging around with different people every semester. I make new friends and I stick with them for the semester. Then, they have a change of plans. They leave and my old friends come back, and I can just hang out with them, and that’s just an interesting dynamic,” he said.

Especially when one’s campus location and one’s ability to return to China largely dictates friendships, constantly changing friend groups can place a strain on students. Most of Bisera Alchevska’s friends are from the classes of ‘23 and ‘24, making them at least two years younger than her. “I do think there is a difference,” she reflected. “I started off with people that were of the same age, going into this [college] together, having this experience of ‘we don’t know what’s going to happen’ but we’ll figure it out together. Now, you have to fit in with these people who are on their original path, but you’re left over.”

For many super seniors, it can be difficult to relate to the experiences of the other classes. “It’s really hard for me to connect with people outside of that [super senior experiences] because they’re coming back from study away. I came back from academic suspension, where I was really just trying to get my life together and to find a reason for them [NYU Shanghai] to let me back in,” Alexandra said. “I wasn’t having fun, enjoying myself, or taking classes. I was in an entirely different situation.”

Navigating changing friendships and campus culture for Rosalie followed a similar theme. Before 2023, Rosalie Grubb thought it was easy to make new friends and maintain relationships. “There was this feeling of solidarity in, hey, you made it to China too,” she remembered. This study year 2023, however, was a completely different experience for Rosalie. “Knowing that our class had graduated, and we had to introduce ourselves as super seniors, I already felt isolated in that way,” she explained.

Additional Time in College and Sense of Belonging

When asked whether the additional time in college contributed to a stronger sense of community or belonging to NYU Shanghai, 81.8% of respondents said no. Rosalie offered some insights into why many super seniors felt disconnected from the NYU Shanghai community.

For many super seniors, their last memory of NYU Shanghai was the lockdown. “This year (2023), knowing that the city was open, I did have some high expectations and I was really excited,” Rosalie said, “But coming here, while I have my friends and boyfriend, it’s just not the same, knowing that I’m like a ghost roaming this unfamiliar place. I just don’t feel as welcome on the new campus.”

Rosalie noted that in comparison to other groups of students arriving at NYU Shanghai for the first time, specifically the study-away students, the super seniors did not receive the same warm welcome.

“Definitely not [welcomed]. It’s the opposite. It feels like we don’t belong here. It feels we’re like visiting students,” Bisera said. Hugo mirrored the sentiment and elaborated further. “I do feel like we’re even less than the visiting students because they have their own activities, their own events, their own groups,” Hugo reflected.

Comparison with Support for Other Student Groups

This comparison between super seniors and study-away students is one that continuously permeated each interview. Both study-away students and super seniors are on the Shanghai campus for a limited time. Study-away students opt to stay for either one semester or a full year in the same way that most super seniors have extended their studies for one semester or a full year. Some study-away students have never been to China, and many super seniors had not returned to China since their freshman fall semester.

Despite the similarities, study-away students have their own events/programming and field trips. All survey respondents said “no” when asked if there had been any events/programs they have been aware of or participated in that catered specifically for super seniors. Moreover, 90.9% of respondents said they would want events/programs specific to super seniors.

“If you’re a study away student, you come to Shanghai for a special experience. I think the school wants to cater to that,” Hugo said. In the previous article, Hugo said that study-away students have “their own groups,” which points to the fact that they are a cohesive unit.

In comparison, Hugo noted that super seniors are on many different tracks. “There are people who are on their sixth year, they’re coming back from the military. There are people who only have one semester left or are taking four credits. Even if you group them as super seniors, they are still different,” he explained. “We’re not a large enough community, so it’s going to be hard to organize specialized events.”

This is something that Dean Pe elaborated on. “We have cases where students are finishing, actually, earlier in 3½ semesters. We have cases in which students are extending by another semester, two semesters, three semesters, and more,” he clarified. In relation to building programs for super seniors, he said, “I think it really is back to where people are in their situation, and what they need. The university would be in support of whatever decisions they made in regard to that.”

So, what are the needs of super seniors? What type of programs are they interested in?

Part 3- “Reimagining Support: Crafting a Better Campus Experience for Super Seniors”