Valerie van Zuijlen (TSOA ‘20)

Valerie van Zuijlen (TSOA 20) came to New York with a plan to do something nearly unbelievable: complete two masters degrees simultaneously at universities separated by an ocean. Before enrolling in the master’s program for Cinema Studies at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Valerie began a master’s program in film, design, and politics at the Sandberg Institute, part of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, in the Netherlands. Having twice the courses and double the homework of a typical degree didn’t stop Valerie from creating films, designing graphics, and qualifying for the New York City Marathon. And a global pandemic won’t stop her from continuing to create art that spans across continents and academic disciplines.  

Why did you choose to enroll in NYU’s Masters in Cinema Studies program?

Before enrolling, I was already a student at a Master’s program in film, design, and politics at a university in the Netherlands. But after spending some time with my various interests—graphic design, computer science, electrical engineering, and video game studies—I knew that my calling was cinema studies. NYU’s cinema studies program is one of its kind, and I knew if I enrolled here I would be able to study with established film visionaries.

Once I was accepted to NYU, I was, of course, thrilled, but also a little nervous to forgo the projects I had running in my current graduate program. I remember visiting Tisch in person for the first time;I had the overwhelming sense that I had entered a Broadway musical and immediately felt both comforted and energized. I decided to continue to pursue both Masters degrees, at NYU and in the Netherlands, at the same time.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your final year at NYU? What did you learn from this experience?

The pandemic hit at an interesting time for me. I had returned to New York after spending the holidays with my family, and was starting an artist-in-residence program with the Lower Eastside Girls Club. I was referred to as the club’s “space artist,” and started to design a project with the girls and their planetarium director to make a virtual reality 360-degree immersive performance based on Artemis 2024, a space mission where the first woman will land on the Moon. Unfortunately, like most creative spaces in New York, the Lower Eastside Girls Club closed indefinitely in mid-March. I returned to the Netherlands to spend time with my family.

I’ve spent this time in quarantine mostly reflecting. It’s been a time to think critically about the technology that we may have taken for granted, that allows us to participate in dialogues around the world. I’m thinking a lot about my own voice as a maker and valuable ways to contribute through modes of storytelling. For now I put my energy in new upcoming creative projects.

What kinds of activities did you participate in as a student?

I feel like my mantra over the past few years has been “eat, study, exercise, socialize, sleep.” New York is an amazing place to study the arts because of the astounding number of museums and galleries to visit. NYU hosts dozens of events each week like film screenings and gallery openings, so I tried to take advantage of those opportunities as much as possible.

New York, as we all know, is an expensive city. I took a job as a graphic designer for the Center for Culture and Media within the Anthropology Department at the University. I got to design the center’s posters and materials for upcoming events, which made me even more aware of all the opportunities students have to learn on campus. Sometimes, I got to watch the films that I would design marketing for, which is a win-win scenario for me. The connections I made through this center got me involved with the Margaret Mead film festival the Museum of Natural History holds each year.

One project that I’m really proud of came together while I was working on my final paper for a course. I connected with some people I met while studying at Stanford University who were using “moonbounce” technology, a radio communications technique that relies on the propagation of radio waves from an Earth-based transmitter directed via reflection from the surface of the Moon back to an Earth-based receiver. Working with the radio astronomers, I built what I call an “alien light installation,” that I named “Moonlight” based on sending sounds to the Moon and back. This became the basis for my contribution to the international light festival GLOW in Eindhoven, the Netherlands in November 2019. As a cinephile, I couldn’t resist and made a referral to the musical melody used in the science fiction film by Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters of a Third Kind (1977). The whole thing was quite a spectacle.

NYU is sometimes described as a school that’s “in and of the city” how has that been true for you?

In a sense, this is very true. The collaboration between the university and the city is apparent when you think about all the opportunities available to students. There is a palpable energy in New York that makes you awake to all the possibilities that are open in this city. At the same time, NYU is much more than a college that happens to be in New York City. It has a large global presence considering the many campuses it has abroad, and the high number of international students like myself.

What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?

During the quarantine, I’ve been working on my entry to a film competition. My proposal is a 45-minute fantasy film in which a moon goddess attempts to protect the Netherlands from an environmental and cosmological disaster. The film would incorporate my love of science, astronomy, art, and technology.

I've been assigned and connected to a mentor through the NYU Tisch Career Development Mentor program, which I have high hopes will be a big help for me professionally. Eventually, I would like to start my own production company. Though I’m currently located in Amsterdam, I hope to relocate around the world over the course of my career, or even to Mars for that matter.

What advice would you give an incoming student to maximize their time at NYU?

Find your rhythm in the city. For me, the mantra of “eat, study, exercise, socialize, sleep,” worked just fine, but we all have different methods for flourishing. The advice to “stay true to yourself” might sound cliche, but I think the sentiment touches on important work we all must do: finding our passions and tapping into our ambitions and abilities.

Lastly, I’d recommend all students take a moment to have some fun. Every day might feel like a rollercoaster, but at the end of it, you can look back with great pride that you were able to ride it to your next stop. NYU is just the beginning.