Frustration mounts as NYU students cancel Shanghai study abroad plans

NYU students who originally planned on studying abroad in Shanghai are changing their plans, but not without complications.


Tony Wu

Shanghai is a popular study abroad destination among NYU students. (Photo by Tony Wu)

Amid apprehension surrounding the coronavirus, NYU students previously expected to study in Shanghai have called off their plans, spurring anxiety over housing and class reassignment.

Among changes to address the rapid spread of the coronavirus, including two separate spring class delays, the cancellation of spring break, and the enactment of online classes for all students at NYU Shanghai, students expressed frustration with uncertainty surrounding their study abroad plans.

Following the most recent class delay — announced on Jan. 28 — students planning to spend the spring semester at NYU Shanghai said they were given the option to take classes at NYU Shanghai remotely, to remain in New York or study at a different global site. 

“The United States Centers for Disease Control have now issued a new warning, recommending that travelers avoid all ‘nonessential’ travel to China,” an email sent to prospective NYU Shanghai students from vice chancellor of NYUSH Jeffrey Lehman read. “In light of that warning, we have explored two alternatives to on-site classes: online learning and study at another NYU campus or site.”

It is unclear when the site will revert back to in-person classes, although President Andrew Hamilton and Vice President for Student Health Carlo Ciotoli addressed this issue in a Jan. 31 statement regarding NYU’s response to the coronavirus.

“The university is in constant contact with health authorities and will look to resume in-person classes as soon as practicable and appropriate,” the statement reads. “We have also sought to keep the broader NYU community up-to-date by: 1) sending University-wide communications, such as this and the earlier one from Dr. Ciotoli, 2) establishing, as we noted earlier, a page with information about the virus, and 3) posting public statements.

While the university has communication protocol in place for students who still intend to go to Shanghai, some students noted a lack of transparency in NYU’s communication surrounding relocation to Shanghai for study abroad.

CAS sophomore Adam Moritz, who was set to study at Shanghai for the spring semester, was one of these students.

“At first, they did try to downplay the issue,” Moritz said. “The first email they sent basically compared the virus to the flu and delayed classes. I was annoyed, but was still planning to go.”

Moritz then received an email directed to study abroad students suggesting that arriving at NYU Shanghai later would be beneficial and that orientation would be cancelled. 

“I started to get more nervous,” Moritz said. “I don’t speak Mandarin, I have never been to China. The idea of no orientation and figuring out on my own did not sound appealing.” 

That Friday, Moritz decided the possibility of the cancellation of classes would jeopardize his graduation plan. He sent in a cancellation form, rescheduled his classes and spoke with the Office of Global Studies.

“They weren’t very helpful honestly,” Moritz said. “They told me they cannot do anything until the cancellation form goes through. In the meantime, I texted friends to stay with them for a couple of days while waiting for NYU housing.”

In part due to this confusion, a large majority of students intending to study abroad in Shanghai made the decision, like Moritz, to remain in New York. 

These decisions led to an influx of students moving back into New York campus housing and having to re-register for classes, many of which were already filled. Liberal Studies sophomore Edie Arteaga, who was driven to study at Shanghai by her interest in the courses offered at the site, expressed this frustration. 

“I was couch hopping at my friends’ places because I had nowhere to go, virtually homeless,” Arteaga said. “I was afraid I wouldn’t find housing or get my classes. They were all waitlisted and filled. They told me that I had to fill out an application for housing like everyone else, making no accommodations.”

Arteaga, out of frustration and fear, went to the Office of Residential Life and Housing Services, asking to speak to a housing officer face to face. She was then told she would receive an assignment that same day. 

“I was surprised because if they had this power the entire time why were they not doing that before?” Arteaga asked. “My roommate attempted to do the same thing an hour later and housing said they made too many accommodations.”

Arteaga fought similarly to be enrolled in her previously waitlisted classes. She credits this to her own determination. 

Unlike Arteaga, CAS sophomore Gary Zhang, felt that NYU housing was timely and responsive. 

“As soon as I went through the process of coming back to New York, it went pretty smooth and quick,” Zhang said. “I started looking for housing on the 28th and I sent [housing] an email that I was just going to show up on the 31st. They gave me an assignment immediately afterwards.”

However, Zhang suggested that his own experience might have been better, as his choice to stay in New York was easier to accommodate and he was very insistent.

“I did send emails that were pretty threatening to pursue and pressure them,” Zhang said. “That definitely could have affected their attention towards me.”

In an email to WSN, NYU spokesperson John Beckman suggested that NYU communicated with study abroad students effectively. 

“Many of the roughly 100 students from the NY campus who were stated to study in Shanghai started getting in touch with Global about reassignment given developments in China,” Beckman told WSN. “I believe all of the students from the NY campus who were originally scheduled to study away in Shanghai were, as of last week, reassigned, either to NY or other global sites.”

Regardless, students who were brought to cancel their study abroad plans in Shanghai are left without the experience and lament the complicated communication process.

“If I were a full-time NYU Shanghai student, the communication would be adequate because they have no choice but to be at the whim of the Chinese government,” Moritz said. “NYU New York is not in the same position, they should have been better prepared to handle the situation.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, February 3, 2020, print edition. Email Lisa Cochran and Mina Mohammadi at [email protected]