My name is Michelle Huang, I was born in Fuzhou, China, and my family immigrated to New Zealand when I was around the age of two. As a first generation immigrant, the desire to fit in can be quite overwhelming, and growing up in New Zealand, it was very easy for me to lose touch with my Chinese roots. I remember always answering the question: “Where do you originally come from?” with the answer: “I do not know, I was never told”, despite the obvious Chinese-ness of my surname. Just like the young boy on the new TV series Fresh off the Boat, I refused to eat my mum’s fried rice or chow mien at school, requesting only “white people food”. Thinking back, the extent to which I tried to fit in was quite bizarre. Despite my sorry attempts, it was apparent to everyone that I was Chinese, whether I wanted to admit it or not.
Luckily for me, I soon realised that there was no point=xingxilanding to be someone I was not—or rather, pretending not to be someone I was. That was when I became interested in learning about China. This happened as a result of watching a Chinese television series which made me curious about themes and trends in China. I became more interested in other aspects of China, specifically to do with Chinese history and traditions. Before I knew it, I was fully absorbed in this culture I had shunned for most of my early life. In my final years of high school, I ended up collaborating with other students to establish a Chinese cultural appreciation night at our school, which showcased performances and performers from around China. I spoke on our national Chinese news station, and addressed New Zealand ministers and members of parliament on the topic of being a Chinese-New Zealander.
When it came time for me to choose a University, I immediately thought: Asia. I had not planned to attend school in China because I lacked language proficiency and wanted to learn other subjects besides mandarin, such as the social sciences or performing arts. I planned to attend school either in Hong Kong or Singapore. However, as soon as I found out that NYU had opened a new campus in Shanghai, I knew it was the place for me. It may sound incredible, but as a devout Buddhist, I truly believe fate was guiding me. Just a week before finding out about NYU Shanghai, I had told my parents about how much I really wanted to attend school in China (specifically Shanghai), and how I wished there was a school there which taught its courses primarily in English. I had even prayed for some miracle to happen. NYU Shanghai is that miracle.
Prior to coming here, I had preconceived notions of what the school and life in Shanghai would be like. Now, all of those notions have been turned on their heads. NYU Shanghai has proven to be much more than what I dreamt it would be. Here, I have met people from around the world, been giving amazing opportunities, and been challenged academically. I have experienced the rapid pace of this city, and become fully engrossed in my life here. I cannot imagine being anywhere else.
In my first year, I was given the opportunity to plan the NYU Shanghai Spring Formal – a formal dance for all classes and study away students. I had the good fortune to co-found my own club, which went on to receive the Best Newcomer Award at the End of Year Clubs Gala. I developed close friendships with many of my professors and the staff here at NYU Shanghai. I could not have achieved any of this anywhere else. As a new school, NYU Shanghai has given us a lot of power to influence the trajectory of the school’s growth. Our views and voices are respected.
Of course, my story is merely one of many at this school. Though we are small, we are a diverse community. I have made friends who came here to learn Chinese or get a head start in one of the world’s international hubs. Others see coming here as a step out of their comfort zones, and a way to push their boundaries. I also have friends who wanted to experience an American university, and make friends with English speakers from around the world. Within this diversity, there is a universal characteristic that unites us – all of us were willing to take the risk. NYU Shanghai is not for those who seek a traditional, comfortable college experience. If you come here, you will experience college like no one else ever has. If you are willing to open up your mind and see the world from a brand new perspective, you will love it here.
I am constantly looking forward to the future. This summer, I will be travelling to New York with 11 other classmates to participate in creating next year’s NYU Shanghai Reality Show—an annual musical production showcasing life as a student at NYU Shanghai. Though I’ve always enjoyed theatre, I was convinced that college would be the end of performing for me, but yet again, NYU Shanghai has surprised me. This school has shown me it will give me full support in all of my interests.
The school has given me ample opportunities for leadership. In the fall, I will be taking on the role of Student Body President at NYU Shanghai. I am honored to serve this amazing student body. As president, I hope to continue many of the traditions set up by the inaugural class of 2017. I also want to encourage further integration of international and Chinese students with school-wide events and initiatives. Integration has and will continue to be a difficult journey, but I know how worthwhile it is to set strong foundations at the beginning so that it becomes more natural in the future. I will also be working alongside the elected directors to ensure our students’ residential and school lives are rewarding.
I know that the 2015-2016 will be full of challenges and worthwhile experiences. I have already experienced so much in my first year that I cannot begin to imagine what will happen next year. This is the beauty of attending a unique institution like NYU Shanghai – an opportunity you never imagined is always knocking on your door. I have come to accept that I will never know what wonderful thing is just around the corner at this school. The wonderful ambiguity, the embracing of the unknown – this is what being an NYU Shanghai student is all about.