12 November 2014: 51 hours in Shanghai

Words and images by Joyan Tan (Class of 2017)

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“It’s so cold.”

The moment I stepped outside Pudong International Airport on Friday morning, 31 October, a gust of cold wind hit my face. We had been preparing for this exchange trip to NYU-Shanghai for the past three to four weeks, but it was only with the welcome breeze that it hit me – we were finally here.

The next 51 hours was a whirlwind of activity as we endeavoured to make the most out of our limited time in Shanghai. The 16 Yale-NUS students split up into our respective student organisation groups for the most part of the trip, and engaged in different activities with our NYU-Shanghai counterparts.

As one of the representatives of Panopt (panopt.org), a student-run publication in Yale-NUS, I sat in on editorial meetings held by On Century Avenue (OCA), the NYU-Shanghai student publication; interviewed students on student life and experiences; participated in a round-table discussion with a member of OCA’s advisory board, Professor Amy Becker; and discussed similarities and differences between Panopt and OCA. In between, we also found time to be tourists along The Bund and let ourselves be scared by the Haunted House set up on the NYU-Shanghai campus.

Over the course of the trip, I particularly enjoyed speaking to our peers about the similarities and differences between our respective colleges. NYU-Shanghai is about the same age as Yale-NUS, and both sophomore classes are the inaugural class. This is a privilege that also comes with its own set of challenges. As we bonded over the various challenges in both sets of common curricula and policy changes, it was also comforting to know that these are issues shared by all start-up universities.

At the same time, we also understood the exhilaration and anticipation of being movers and shakers in a university where very little is set in stone. Over dinner on the first night, we took turns to ask the famous question “What made you choose to come to Yale-NUS/NYU-Shanghai?” One recurring answer to the question was the fact that we have the chance to build our colleges from scratch. Ultimately, many of us agreed: “this is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life”.

While we were quick to make friends with our NYU-Shanghai counterparts, the last night we had in Shanghai saw us turn into staunch competitors. As we entered the 2000-seater stadium where the NYU-Shanghai and Yale-NUS basketball match would be held, school spirit was in the air. The NYU-Shanghai students were dressed in their bright purple school apparel and were painting their faces and backs to support their team. In a bid to match them, a few of us ran around the streets to find materials to create banners to cheer our team on.

The next hour or so saw us on the edge of our seats as our team matched the other point for point. We had nine supporters on our side compared to a few hundred supporters for the NYU-Shanghai team, and many of us ended up with sore throats after the match. Interestingly enough, I think we were determined to win in part because of how similar our colleges are. For once, neither school had the unique excuse of being a new college; we could not get away with claiming that we just hadn’t had enough time to build up our student organisations.

After an intense hour, the basketball match ended with a heart-stopping foul that could have cost Yale-NUS the game. But our team pulled through and we triumphed with a final score of 71-69. As our basketball team was presented with their trophy, I felt a strong surge of college pride and was proud to be representing Yale-NUS in Shanghai.

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At the end of the 51 hours, we stepped out of the chilly Shanghai wind back into the comfortably enclosed Pudong International Airport. Compared to the person who had first arrived two days ago, I left Shanghai with a greater sense of purpose and direction. Talking to our peers in NYU-Shanghai had reminded me of the reasons I chose to come to Yale-NUS, and also re-ignited a desire to build our college up into one that we can and will all be proud of. The road ahead is extremely long, but at least it is one that we are all taking together.