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Illustration by Baraa Al Jorf

Coronavirus, Study aways and a Million Broken Dreams

The onset of COVID-19 derailed some students’ plans to study away in Shanghai.

Feb 29, 2020

Ayan Marwaha, Class of 2022, munched on a breakfast hashbrown as he unexpectedly found himself sitting in the East Campus Dining Hall. “Since they booked my flight to China [once] … and then rebooked my flight for a week later … I keep getting emails about the coronavirus statistics in China.” The latest one reads out the World Health Organisation updates on the number of confirmed cases: 74,675 in China, and 1,073 more in the rest of the [world] ( For Marwaha and other students who applied to have NYU Shanghai as their Spring 2020 study away, the weeks leading up to February were nerve-wracking.
Their difficulties began on Jan. 21 with an email from the Shanghai campus which detailed important measures that students could take to protect themselves against COVID-19, along with an update that the semester was due to start on time on Feb. 3, 2020. A few days later, another email informed them that the semester start date had been pushed back to Feb. 10, together with a summary of the spread of the virus and NYUSH measures to ensure students’ academic programs remain on track. As the start date approached, another email brought news of yet another pushback — to Feb.17 — based on the recommendation of the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, this time with a comprehensive plan for [online classes] ( NYU Abu Dhabi remained in constant contact with the students, reassuring them that they retained the option of canceling their study aways and returning to the Abu Dhabi campus. “[At the first delay] we were sort of apprehensive…it was already risky…for me, that sort of made the decision [to return to Abu Dhabi],” Marwaha shared.
Naeema Mohammed Sageer, Class of 2022, shared how the cancellation affected her academic path. “I had to make some pretty big decisions which I didn’t anticipate making so early…I would have taken Philosophy electives [in Shanghai] because I wanted to do a joint Capstone…but because of this I had to start thinking about which one I wanted to do my major [Capstone] in.” For both Marwaha and Sageer, rescheduling the Shanghai study away was not an option due to the advanced electives they would need to take in their junior year that wouldn’t be offered in Shanghai. Beyond academics, both of them shared a deep sense of loss for the kind of cultural exposure and experiences they were hoping to have in Shanghai. “I am fine in terms of requirements…[but] the kind of classes and the kind of experiences I was looking to have in Shanghai — I’m not gonna be able to replicate that in New York,” Marwaha shared.
Canceling the study away also entailed reintegrating into the Abu Dhabi campus after having missed a sizable number of classes. “I got into the classes I wanted through the waitlist … but, I actually missed the first week of classes. It took a while for them to sort housing out for me,” Sageer shared. Both of them emphasized how helpful GlobalEd was with the transition. “They were replying to emails late at night…within two hours of me making the decision [of cancelling my study away]. I already knew [that] I [had] a flight and [had] transportation from the airport and that I [would] be able to secure housing,” said Marwaha.
Once back on campus, two weeks of continually shifting plans and major decisions could finally be processed. Sageer spoke of the strange feeling of being back on a familiar campus at an unexpected time, while Marwaha said that not having any extracurricular commitments has given him “a lot of good time to focus on what’s important to [him] and not get distracted.” Sageer, who lives in Dubai, echoed this sentiment: “I grew up here, right, so basically that’s the first time I’m studying away…now I have a blank slate, and things weirdly fell into place.” Even though the disappointment of having lost out on a new experience stays, they are both looking forward to their semester in Saadiyat with a glint of optimism.
Angad Johar is Deputy Features Editor and staff photographer. Email him at
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