Global: A conversation with Nishant Mohanchandra

This article comes from the Global Desk, a collaboration between The Gazelle, WSN and On Century Avenue. Read more by searching ‘global.’ Alumnus ...

Nov 15, 2014

Photo by Lathika Mouli
This article comes from the Global Desk, a collaboration between The Gazelle, WSN and On Century Avenue. Read more by searching ‘global.’
Alumnus Nishant Mohanchandra, a Global Academic Fellow at NYU Shanghai, recently graduated as a member of the inaugural class of NYU Abu Dhabi. At NYUAD, he was deeply involved in student affairs, working as a Residential Assistant and a Student Interest Group leader, and graduated with a Computer Science major.
I spoke with Mohanchandra and asked him about graduating from NYUAD and coming to NYUSH:
What did it feel like to be the inaugural class of NYUAD and to be one of the first students of an NYU portal campus?
Honestly, at the time, it didn’t feel like much. I had applied to a range of colleges and NYU Abu Dhabi was just another college I was applying to at the time. Then I went to their Candidates’ Weekend and I saw what they were trying to do and what their ideas were, and it was very different from everything else I had been exposed to. When the time came to finally get admitted and start my first day of school, it was a little terrifying because my class was the first one on campus, there was no prior record or experience, everything was from scratch … it was frightening, but in a good way. It was an adventure.
What was the relationship like between New York and Abu Dhabi when the school was initially created? How would you describe them now?
The first year was interesting … in the beginning, relations with New York were quite a challenge, especially because they didn’t know a lot about us and we didn’t know a lot about them and that led to a lot of misconceptions. It might also have been because of a general symptom of initial perceptions of the Middle East. There was also a widespread perception that NYU tuition money was being used to fund all of our scholarships, but that actually isn’t true. So there were definitely complications in the beginning: We weren’t sure what to think of them, they weren’t sure what to think of another NYU campus more than 5,000 miles away from Washington Square. However, as the campuses and students got to know each other more, misconceptions and miscommunications ironed themselves out to a certain degree and our relations are much better now.
What did it feel like when four years later, you looked back and saw how much your school had grown?
Relief magnified. When the second class came in, we thought, “Yes, we are a real thing now because at least we have sophomores and freshmen.” Looking back four years later, this feeling became stronger because we went from having only one class of 150 students to four classes of [a total of] 600. The best part is that we have alumni now, so you can already see the permanence of the institution coming up and the impact we have made, even in the subtle things like keeping the next-door supermarket running 24/7.
Are there any parallels you see between your class and the inaugural class of NYUSH?
There are tons of similarities between the inaugural classes. Just like us, you guys came to something that didn’t exist until you got here, and I anticipate a lot of similar start-up challenges NYU Abu Dhabi also faced. But you also have to consider location, which plays a big part in how different our experiences will be. Abu Dhabi and Shanghai are two completely different areas with completely different geo-political landscapes. NYU New York’s perceptions of Abu Dhabi are colored by the location and since China is very different from the [UAE], several things will be different like certain challenges you’ll face and how you can tackle them. One thing that I expect to be similar are the start-up challenges, like starting our own unique curriculum from scratch, and creating an institution that reflects us as people.
What was NYUAD’s reaction when NYUSH was initially created?
A bigger relief — and though I can’t speak for everyone at NYU Abu Dhabi, I think there was a pretty positive reaction — because it proved that Abu Dhabi wasn’t just a freak experiment that failed, clearly something went right here that they were doing it again in another city. And that felt great.
What do you think of the perception of NYUAD and NYUSH being sister schools?
There is definitely some merit to that statement, because the initial start-up challenges will be common and as our campuses get to know each other more, as we have more exchange of students and teachers, there will be a deeper connection formed between the schools. Exchange has already begun, because there are a couple of GAFs here at NYU Shanghai who are members of the inaugural graduating class of NYU Abu Dhabi, and we are here to see that deeper connection form, to experience this portal campus and see how we can help it grow from our experiences.
What did graduation feel like as the inaugural class?
To me, it honestly just felt like any other day but with a realization at the back of your mind that this is the last day in many respects. There was the obvious feeling of relief that we made it as the first class, we graduated on time and got our degrees. It was amazing seeing Mr. Clinton as the commencement speaker. It was sad at the same time because some of the people who we’ve lived with for the last four years, who we have gotten to know so well, we may never see again because we are all scattered around the world.
What expectations do you have for NYUAD in the future?
I would just like to tell NYU Abu Dhabi to keep fighting the good fight, continue what it has been doing till now because even in these first four years, NYU Abu Dhabi has had a very significant impact on Abu Dhabi. Even in contentious things like the labor rights issues in building our campus, I feel like the institution has handled itself pretty well and has fostered meaningful conversation between all parties in a non-threatening manner. Personally, my expectation for NYU Abu Dhabi is to move forward the way it has in these past four years.
Since we have a new campus now, the NYU Abu Dhabi I experienced will be very different from what the students will experience moving forward, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. All institutions change, and I’m expecting NYU Abu Dhabi to continue to evolve and reinvent itself as the years ago on.
What do you think about the Global Network University in general, and how involved does Abu Dhabi feel in the GNU?
It’s a pretty ambitious project and sometimes when people talk about the GNU, it seems very lofty, one can get carried away in the rhetoric. I obviously believe in it because otherwise I wouldn’t still be a part of it, but I think it’s important to realize that it’s not about being in many locations but about what being in those locations means. It’s about being able to learn and think about what kind of conversations we can foster by being there. Just like Abu Dhabi fostered conversation about labor rights and academic freedom, conversation will definitely pop along issues relevant to Shanghai now that NYU Shanghai is here. I’m a fan of the GNU, and I think there are some things you can only get from a location by actually visiting it.
Would you recommend the students at Abu Dhabi to study abroad at NYUSH? Why or why not?
Absolutely yes. The city experiences at Abu Dhabi and Shanghai are completely different; Abu Dhabi is much quieter in general, and slightly more isolated. Shanghai as a counterpoint has a much more diverse city culture in ways that can be important to experience. Shanghai has a lot of academic strengths Abu Dhabi doesn’t have to the same degree, and the same can be said about other strengths Abu Dhabi has that Shanghai doesn’t have to the same degree.
In retrospect, is there anything you would have done different in college or as pioneers of the school?
Though I am a perfectionist, I believe that the decisions you make and how you implement them build up to create you as a person. Are there some things I would have differently? Probably. Several smaller things like submitting that homework on time, making sure I was keeping up with all of my deadlines, all these little things that would have helped me have a less stressful college life at certain points. But I actually don’t know I would have anything differently, because if I had, I wouldn’t have become the person that I am today and all in all, things turned out pretty well the way they happened in real life.
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