Jue “Niki” Zhang ’19g (Music Therapy) knew that her passion for music therapy would likely lead her to leave her hometown in Luzhou, China, but it wasn’t until she started researching university graduate programs that she began considering New York as an option.
“I began planning to study abroad because there are only a few universities that provide music therapy programs in China,” she said. “I got offers from universities in Australia and New Zealand, but I decided to come to New Paltz because the professors have high reputations around the world. I also like that New Paltz is close to Manhattan, and there are a lot of really good music therapy facilities there.”
Niki, who plays piano and guitar, is now on the cusp of earning a Master of Science degree from SUNY New Paltz’s #1 ranked music therapy program. She says her time at New Paltz has been full of both professional and personal growth, as she’s taken advantage of educational, employment and service opportunities as a valued member of the College’s international student community.
Arrival and Settling In
A vast majority of New Paltz’s international students come to the College via one of the major New York City airports. New Paltz is about 90-120 minutes from Manhattan by bus, and the town’s bus depot is within walking distance of campus.
Niki, who is accustomed to the warmer climate in southern China, says the temperature difference is one of the first things she noticed when stepped off the bus in New Paltz in January 2016.
“New Paltz is very different to where I’m from,” she said. “I remember arriving at around 5 p.m., and it was already evening, and very cold.”
Despite the differences, Niki quickly warmed up to life in New Paltz. The College works with international students to design first semester experiences that ease the transition and equip them with the language and expression skills they will need to succeed academically and socially.
“The first semester I took mostly ESL classes – I had taken English at home for many years and my speaking was pretty good, but these classes were very helpful for taking tests,” Niki said. “That first semester of studying ESL not only gave me a chance to practice and improve, it also gave me a time of transition, when I could participate in clubs like International Student Union, and experience the culture of the United States and the culture of this campus.”
Developing Skills and Building a Résumé
The graduate program in music therapy at SUNY New Paltz is constructed around a series of clinical and fieldwork experiences, allowing students to apply theory in a variety of practical settings.
As Niki progressed through the program, she made connections at agencies in the nearby cities of Albany, Poughkeepsie and Kingston. In 2018, with assistance from the music therapy faculty, Niki secured an internship at Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy at New York University in Manhattan.
“I did my fieldwork in a school and my practicum in a nursing home,” Niki said. “Now, I’m doing my internship Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy. I primarily work with children with autism and adults with special needs. I face different challenges every day and I’m getting real practice in the field.”
Niki has also found opportunities on the SUNY New Paltz campus. She has been working at the International Student Programs as a full-time GA since 2016, and also successfully applied for two academic scholarships.
“Erica Wagner at the Career Resource Center helped proofread my applications,” she said. “I ended up getting them both, and I think I could never have gotten scholarships without her help. That and my job have really helped release some of my financial stress, which has been very important for me.”
Looking Ahead, and Finding Balance
Niki is on track to complete all her degree and fieldwork requirements in May 2019. She’s weighing her options and leaning toward returning to her home nation to pursue opportunities as a certified music therapist.
She says she has already received some job offers, and looks forward to beginning her career, while also making sure to enjoy all aspects of her life.
“I’m the type of person who likes to make small steps every day, and do the things I enjoy,” Niki said. “Music therapy is important to me, but it is just one part of my life. I’m looking forward to spending time doing other things I like as well.”
Visit the Center for International Programs at SUNY New Paltz to learn more about opportunities for international students.
More information about Music Therapy programs at SUNY New Paltz is available online.