How January Term is Redefining Education
Students in Shanghai, China, for the J-Term course Food and Drugs in Chinese History with Professor Joanna Waley-Cohen. Christy Maksoudian, Class of 2015

Journeying Abroad for J-Term

After briefly returning to their home countries for winter break, many NYUAD students spent their intense three-week January courses — colloquially known as J-Terms — scattered throughout NYU's global sites in Shanghai, Buenos Aires, New York, Florence, and London. The courses available were as diverse as their settings, with classes on offer that ranged from The Social Life of Finance in Buenos Aires to Wealth and Inequality in New York.


For Bobby Haynes (NYUAD '15), Food and Drugs in Chinese History, which took place in Shanghai with Professor Joanna Waley-Cohen, was as challenging gastronomically as it was academically. In addition to studying topics including food in religious and ritual practice and consumption and the material culture of food and drugs, the class examined the role of food and drugs — especially opium — in Chinese social, cultural, economic, and political history. As part of the course, Haynes was simultaneously studying and experiencing the effects of the various cuisines he was exposed to, while being immersed in the culture of Shanghai. And although he and his classmates visited the Shanghai History Museum, Suzhou, Beijing, and even the Great Wall, for Haynes, the highlight of his J-Term was the greater academic understanding and appreciation of China's "street culture and street food" his studies provided, both in and outside the classroom.

Although he only had three weeks to explore the culture of Abu Dhabi's "sister" campus in New York, Umair Saad (NYUAD '15) also had an immersive J-Term experience studying The Nature of Code with Professor Daniel Shiffman. One of seven J-Term courses offered in New York, the class focused on the programming strategies and techniques behind computer simulations of natural systems and explored topics ranging from basic mathematics and physics concepts to more advanced simulations of complex systems. In a sense, the city itself echoed the course theme with its collision of artificial metropolis and organic cultural hub. "The city mirrored the boundary between the natural and the programmed," explained Saad, "the same interplay our course was focused on." Outside the classroom, Saad and his classmates took advantage of the weather and made the most of the city's winter activities, which included ice skating in Bryant Park and taking in a matinee of War Horse. Yet, even with all of New York's distractions, for Saad, J-Term "was the best academic experience of my life."

I hadn't experienced the global network university before, but this trip made it a reality for me.

Juan Felipe Beltrán, NYUAD Class of 2014

For Juan Felipe Beltrán (NYUAD '14), studying The Miracle of Florence on location with Professor Anthony Kronman made the lofty ideals of NYUAD seem more tangible. "I hadn't experienced the global network university before, but this trip made it a reality for me," said Beltran. And from his description of his course — which focused on the philosophical, political, and scientific dimensions of the Renaissance — it isn't hard to see why. In order to grasp how several of the great Florentine thinkers (including Alberti, Machiavelli, Pico, and Galileo) were connected by a shared set of ideals and beliefs, the course readings and discussions were supplemented by visits to the main cultural monuments of Florence, such as the Medici Chapels, the Duomo, and the Laurentian Library, to name a few. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how "debating with classmates from all over the world as the ex-dean of Yale Law School explains the philosophy of the enlightenment, looking into the heart of Florence" could be anything other than a rejuvenating and challenging experience. The Florentine fare also altered Beltran's perspective on at least a daily basis. "Every dish I had was my favorite dish I've ever had."

Despite "a small language barrier" in Buenos Aires, Vivek Mukherjee (NYUAD '14), who took Professor Eric Klinenberg's course, Metropolis: Culture and Politics in the 21st-Century City, felt that "the class taught us a lot about the city, in an immersive way." As well as providing an overview of key issues in the culture and politics of urban life, with a focus on Buenos Aires itself, the course included tango lessons and graffiti tours — shared with NYUAD's second class offering in Buenos Aires, The Social Life of Finance — and provided access to the city's own "diverse community." Studying the effects of city living on the mind and social interactions, Mukherjee and his classmates were able to observe directly the effects of the concepts they debated in class, making the entire experience, in Mukherjee's words, more "authentic."

For Mandy Tan (NYUAD '15), who battled London's winter weather, her J-Term course, Politics in Modern Europe, featuring Professors Simon Hix, Josh Tucker, and Michael Laver, "was like a three-week fantasy" with the political science all-stars of European politics. Every day, Tan and her classmates were enveloped intensely in the debate surrounding the EU and the euro, while also gaining invaluable insight from conversations with political representatives, from EU MPs to the ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina. "Everything we talked about in class was directly applied," she said, detailing the relationship between her morning lectures and afternoon class trips to the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the offices of the EU in London. Coming from Abu Dhabi, Tan was also struck by "the feeling of being in a place with so much history." Ultimately, for Tan, her London experience was "truly immersive…exactly what I imagined NYUAD would be."