Aria Young thrives in big cities. The junior, who won this year’s NPR College Podcast Challenge, grew up in the bustling metropolis of Shanghai. But, although she loved urban life, she felt oppressed by the city’s rigid academic and societal environment. Seeking a setting where she could explore her creative and feminist sides without restrictions, she made the decision to move to Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to continue attending high school.
Aria’s given name at birth is Yáng Qìn Yuè. But she changed her name to Aria after her high school peers struggled with the Chinese pronunciation. Yet, even with a new name, Aria often felt like an outsider in her mostly white Catholic school. Students teased her and asked her insensitive questions about her cultural upbringing. “Being Asian, being Chinese, and being international, I always stood out. I didn’t feel very welcomed,” Aria says.
Finding a Place That Fit
Coming to NYU felt like a turning point—she had finally found her place. “I don’t feel so different at NYU because of everyone’s diverse background, and I find a great deal of comfort in that,” says Aria, who’s double-majoring in Journalism and Media, Culture, and Communication (MCC) at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. “Culturally, I think NYU does a good job in classrooms and extracurriculars. I always feel like my perspectives are appreciated.”
Aria quickly became involved at the University’s student-run, award-winning radio station, WNYU. There, she began reporting for the station and cohosting a podcast called What the New York?, which makes comedic observations about the weird and wonderful happenings across the city.
Putting a Narrative to Her Experiences
When NPR emailed the station about its College Podcast Challenge, Aria’s friend encouraged her to apply. So Aria recorded a podcast exploring her identity through the lens of the Chinese name she grew up with and the American name she chose for herself. Though changing her name was a rejection of her Asianness at first, it became a symbol of her taking control of her own identity. In the podcast, What’s in a Name, she explores what it means to reclaim her name and her heritage. The podcast won first prize out of entries from around the country, earning her a feature on NPR and a $5,000 scholarship.
What Comes Next
As Aria thinks ahead to a future career in media or journalism, she credits the experiential nature of her journalism classes with preparing her for the field. “One thing I like is that our professors are all working journalists. They’re all very accomplished in their fields,” Aria says. “They all give me a lot of professional advice because they’re not just teachers, they’re actual professionals. They tell you how the industry works.”
Aria’s involvement at WNYU has also given her valuable professional experience. She hosts the station’s news program and works on the management team. What’s more, on- and off-air, she cultivates an interest in topics like gender and identity. And she continues to take pride in her own Asian American identity. “With every harm done to the Asian American community, we have come out stronger, louder, and more resilient than ever,” Aria says in her podcast. She’s grown to accept her Chinese name as a “symbol of her lineage”—one that she’s proud to claim.