After three years of averaging zero international study away students on campus, NYUSH’s post-Covid revitalization is starting to achieve record breaking numbers. Its study away department has been rebuilt from the ground up, creating new event programming and inbound student opportunities for the first time since 2016. 

“The study away program is a built-in opportunity for students to engage with the local community—whether that’s their study away peers, local students, or people outside the immediate NYU network,” said Milly Yin, the Study Away Program Specialist.

“You have all of these events and experiences planned and you don’t have to lift a finger. We manage the logistics so students can just show up and have fun.” 

As one of a small team at NYUSH’s Center for New Student Programs, Milly is responsible for all of the study away logistics on site. 

“I mainly support inbound students’ non-academic journey at NYUSH, especially the first couple of weeks after they arrive to facilitate their transition to a new campus and culture,” she said. “I’m their first and main point of contact to connect students with resources available in Shanghai, whether that’s the student mobility team, health center, or reslife.” 

The current programming model is designed to support students before arrival to their official day of departure. Study Away Orientation Ambassadors (SAOA) are student leaders who pick them up from the airport, lead tours around the residence halls, and even take students grocery shopping. 

There’s a separate team of student leaders (Study Away Program Ambassadors (SAPAs)) who provide support throughout the semester. 

“We’re generally a team of 4 to 6 and cycle between members to host weekly events exclusive to study away students,” said Evaine Sun, SAPA Fall 2023. “I took students to explore the city and held cultural workshops like tea art ceremonies and traditional hanfu try-ons.” 

Evaine is also a study away student who spent two semesters in Shanghai, one as New York’s direct Site Ambassador before becoming an SAPA last fall. “Every campus has a site ambassador. As the SA, I help bridge Shanghai with New York, my home campus, gathering information from peers who came with me,” she said.  “Things like what’s been working and what hasn’t, what we like and what we don’t like. And I funnel this feedback to Shanghai’s Study Away department because they’re the ones who determine what changes to make.” 

She has had a lot of experience as a study away student who was also a Site Ambassador (SA) and a Study Away Program Assistant. “I actually found out about SAPA during my time as an SA! I enjoyed both, but preferred the SAPA position more because I’m a study away student myself and I liked being able to directly plan and host events I know people will be interested in,” she said.

The program has also recently launched a newsletter. Weekly editions are sent out to students featuring upcoming events and other important reminders. The department also set up an official Instagram page with local takeovers. Students will vlog parts of their daily routine—going to class, grabbing lunch at the cafeteria, or club and sport commitments. 

“Additional Q&A sessions give prospective students a better idea of what’s going on here, the resources we have, things you might not otherwise know,” said Nancy Yu, the department’s intern who helps manage the instagram account behind the scenes. 

The program covers all expenses including transportation and food for specific events. Meals from the SAPA-led city explorations and the Farewell Dinner before students fly out are entirely covered by the department. In situations where this isn’t possible, it offers co-pay options, shouldering half the student’s cost of attendance. 

Numerous Abu Dhabi students have received stipends for their semester in Shanghai. Although students from New York have not reported similar access to funds, policies regarding these stipends may change and Milly advises that prospective students reach out to advisors from their home campus to see if arrangements can be made. 

Despite the solid financial and cultural incentives the campus now offers, NYUSH hasn’t always had a solid programming system in place. It was completely different before Covid, with limited events and opportunities for exploration. After the first couple of days, students were left to fend for themselves in an entirely new country. 

According to Milly, the apparent limited support may have contributed to lower study away numbers from 2016-2018, where the average was around 88 students per semester. As a direct result of Covid, this number dropped to zero international students for three subsequent years from 2020-2022.

It wasn’t until last spring that a cohort of 45 arrived with expectations of a culturally immersive experience abroad, only to find the new campus and dorm facilities still under construction. 

There were cables hanging out of the ceiling, people had to use flashlights to go to the bathroom, and parts of the building were walled off. The administration had to officially postpone in-person instruction for over a week due to parent and guardian complaints. 

It wasn’t until weeks after construction was officially completed that students and faculty reported greater satisfaction with the available facilities, spaces, and equipment at the new Qiantan campus. It was during this time that NYUSH’s study away program began to rebuild in attempts to boost the study away student population. 

“Even when we disregard the impact Covid had on our campus, it’s difficult getting students to come to Shanghai,” said Shelly Lu, Director of New Student Programs.

“The prevalence of digital payment isn’t foreigner friendly and international students struggle with the initial setup. Even buying basic necessities like food and water is challenging when you combine technology problems with the language barrier,” she said. 

“Starting from Spring 2024, the Chinese government has worked to improve digital payment and withdrawal processes for foreign visitors and students,” Shelley added.

There were reports of several students getting lost looking for a grocery store last semester. Despite school affiliated shuttle bus services provided to and from the location, some students missed the departure time and had difficulty returning to the residential center. Being new to the city, they weren’t sure how to call a taxi, couldn’t ask locals for directions, and didn’t feel safe walking back in the evening. 

Although not necessarily being stranded at the grocery store, other students have had similar settling in experiences in Shanghai. It’s the study away department’s role to make transitions smoother for future cohorts who will likely run into the same challenges. 

With the new event programming in place, NYUSH eventually saw a resurgence in study away numbers, from a low of 45 last spring to 119 this semester. At least 135 have confirmed for Fall 2024, a record high since Shanghai became a degree granting campus. 

As NYUSH prepares to welcome bigger student cohorts in upcoming semesters, to push capacities at the “bigger, better” campus, the university’s efforts in curating the best Shanghai experience continues. The future holds promising prospects and opportunities for students, but many factors will tell if the program can maintain its momentum.