Though Sirui “Ray” Qian is based out of NYU’s campus in New York City, the Shanghai native and dual major in Film and Television at NYU Tisch and Business with a concentration in management and organizations at NYU Stern has studied at NYU Shanghai and NYU Florence. They’ve also traveled with Tisch Special Programs to Cuba and the Czech Republic. But that’s not all—Ray’s currently spending the fall semester of their senior year studying away at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Student Ray Qian standing next to a camel in a desert.
Engaging with Communities Around the World

Taking advantage of NYU’s global opportunities has given Ray a personal connection with communities around the world. In addition, they’ve gained inspiration for their future. “People always ask me why I didn’t just take a gap year to travel. I got to know a lot more about each of these cities through NYU connections,” explains Ray. “Whether through partnerships with other institutes or people the professors and staff know in local communities. Those connections made a big difference.”

The longer nature of NYU’s study away opportunities—from multiple weeks in Havana and Prague to a full semester in Florence—gave Ray the chance to truly engage with local cultures. “I know that if I’m traveling on my own, I’m not going to stay in Florence for six months. I’m not going to stay in Prague for six weeks or in Havana for three weeks either,” Ray says. Moreover, by immersing themselves in each place and culture, they made more meaningful connections. “I’ve had so many chances to talk to local people. And I’ve learned about their experiences, their artistic spirits,” they recall. “Maybe I’d encounter equally artistic spirits elsewhere if I traveled on my own. But at NYU, you have the chance to have deeper conversations.”

Ray taking a photo on a rooftop in Havana, Cuba.
Balancing Both Art and Business

In addition to diving into the local cultures at each location, Ray found unique ways to balance both their artistic work as a filmmaker and their interest in business and entrepreneurship. Even though their studies in Cuba and the Czech Republic focused on film, they incorporated business into their academic experience at both locations. In fact, they interviewed local business owners for part of their final project in Cuba. “Because of Cuba’s political landscape, people want to be more individual and stand up for themselves,” they explain. “So starting your own business is not uncommon. I learned a lot from the people we talked to.”

Conversely, while their classes in Florence centered on business, Ray showcased their creative abilities working on campus with the Office of Student Life. In this role they assisted with digital media and events helping to manage the center’s Solidarity Week. Also, they helped host a discussion with Italian filmmaker Daphne Di Cinto, whose film ll Moro focuses on the hidden Black history behind Italy’s famous Medici family.

“My biggest takeaway wasn’t even the fact that she was an Italian filmmaker, but that she was an individual filmmaker and a woman filmmaker,” explains Ray. “It was a big deal to me that she was a Black female filmmaker. We’re from different countries but share the same universal passion.”

Ray is holding up their DSLR camera to their face at the Piazzale Michelangelo, which overlooks Florence.
Gaining a Global Perspective

Ultimately, Ray hopes to use their unique, global experiences as inspiration toward their goal to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ filmmakers. “I want to create a studio that supports student work in the LGBTQ+ community,” Ray shares. When they first started the project, they didn’t necessarily begin with a global audience in mind. But after meeting so many LGBTQ+ artists, filmmakers, business owners, and entrepreneurs abroad, they were inspired to expand their vision to support as many people as possible. “I realize now that there is a huge LGBTQ+ community all around the world,” they reflect. “And in so many places, like where I’m from in China, it’s so censored. So even if people can’t have in-person experiences with the LGBTQ+ community, I want to at least provide something virtual.”

As Ray now embarks on their final study away experience at NYU Abu Dhabi, they are excited to embrace another new culture. “I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. I’ve never been to the United Arab Emirates or anywhere like it. It’s a completely new experience in terms of the language, the culture, and the people.”

Kelly McHugh-Stewart is a Senior Writer and Strategist for NYU’s University Relations and Public Affairs Office of Marketing Communications, where she seeks out and enjoys telling stories that help people understand the world through a new lens. Kelly holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Kansas State University. Her reporting and personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, CNN Opinion, and Sports Illustrated, among others.