If You Were Spending a Semester on a Desert Island…

In The Art of Travel Spring 2017, 14. Tips, Abu Dhabi by Raven

You’ve poured over the NYU Global Study Planner site, you’ve tracked down the sites that offer your required courses, and you’ve carefully mapped out your next few semesters. You’ve been practically hit over the head with promotions of the “global campus experience,” being a “citizen of the world,” and the NYU-sanctioned messaging of diversity across the GNU. Your Instagram and Facebook feeds for the past couple semesters have been filled with photos of upperclassmen studying at cafes in Paris, spending long weekends at Oktoberfest, and hiking in the Sierra de la Ventana mountains surrounding the Buenos Aires campus.

However, many students miss the opportunity to be told about the Abu Dhabi experience they could have. Perhaps this is a product of lack of exposure, simply because it has less name recognition than many of the other sites, or because less total students actually spend a semester on the Abu Dhabi campus (only eighteen total this semester, from Shanghai and New York combined). Perhaps this is a consequence of lack of New York efforts to push students towards the Abu Dhabi campus, which was never intended to be a space for study-aways at all. Or maybe even, this is a product of negative stereotypes about the Middle East. For all of these reasons and more, I’d like to offer NYU students my personal lens – although incredibly specific to my experience and certainly not indicative of the school moreover – through which to view NYUAD.

Firstly, a few common misconceptions need to be broken.

  • NYUAD is not funded by our steep New York tuitions. Many New York students tend to believe this, and it has become the subject of much controversy and even contention between the two student pools. However, NYUAD is nearly 100% funded by the Emirati government, because they saw this as a valuable asset and a feasible way to bring young academics to the up-and-coming nation. NYUAD students are not reaping the benefits of your hard-paid tuition, loans, or part-time jobs.
  • NYUAD is not a global portal site like the European and Latin American sites. It is a full-fledged degree granting university like the ones we have at Washington Square or Shanghai. There are multiple residence halls, a gym, dining halls, a library, and a wealth of other valuable facilities and resources here on campus. There is even an NYUAD Highline – built as a small scale version of the highly recognizable New York landmark!
  • NYUAD is not an isolated experience. It is true that travel in the Middle East is different than travel in Europe. You can’t take a train from destination to destination over weekends, simply because the passport situation is different than the EU (although who knows if the EU will survive many more years anyway). But in my time here, I was able to find quick and cheap flights to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, as well as weekend trips to Dubai, Oman, desert camping, or even just the gorgeous local beaches.
  • NYUAD is not just like the New York experience. Because of its unique small campus set-up on a compound on beautiful Saadiyat island, it is the opportunity to have a college experience you could never access in New York City. Never did I ever imagine I would find such a strong sense of community while across the world in Abu Dhabi, but the NYUAD campus generates this in an incredible way. With a population of just under a thousand, you will have the chance to connect to the entire student body in a vastly different way than we are able to in New York. Also as a result of this smaller scale university, professors and other faculty actually have time to offer you resources and attention. They make an effort to get to know you, and you’ll run into them casually quite frequently – as most staff and faculty live on campus too. I have developed the closest relationships to professors that I have ever experienced, because the campus inherently lends itself to an intimate experiment in community-building. It feels like a quirky blend of desert college paradise (think The Real World: Abu Dhabi) meets Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, with professors’ children and our beloved campus cats running around in the same spaces that NYUAD students lounge together reading textbooks under palm trees.

Now: if you’re considering a semester in Abu Dhabi, bring your sandals, your flowy pants, and a sense of adventure. Bring your sunscreen, a versatile headscarf, and an open mind. Take the opportunity to meet incredible people from more countries than you knew existed, develop an ear for the difference in accents, and learn to find comfort in the melodic adhan (Islamic call to prayer) echoing from the city. Try zaatar and Arabic coffee and camel milk products and dates in every form imaginable. Visit the Emirates Palace and the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, but also casual shisha cafes and tiny Kuwaiti restaurants. Leave behind your preconceptions, and leave behind your small-minded perspectives, because I can guarantee they will be challenged at NYUAD whether you want them to be or not. Pack a willingness to grow, a grounded sense of self, and the courage to represent your hometown, your home country, and NYU New York. Word travels fast on a small campus, so keep your head up, your wits about you, and a smile on your face. Think before you speak, check your privilege, and remember to consider the weighted implications of your voice in any space. Stick some patience in your back pocket, as NYUAD students have been taught to have strong opinions and the confidence of a “global leader.” But it will pay off, because in the end they may prove to be some of the best friends, best teachers, and best role models that you could imagine.

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