Illustration by Tala Nassar

Lonely at NYUAD

While it is okay to feel lonely, we should make an effort to get off campus, try new experiences and jump on every opportunity to make our stay in Abu Dhabi a memorable one.

It is a Tuesday evening. The daily hustle and bustle of the NYU Abu Dhabi campus starts to slow down as the sun sets. You feel an eerie silence creep up as the campus lights replace those of the glaring Abu Dhabi sun. The campus is engulfed by a sense of stillness. The Baraha ping pong balls are motionless and the television is left on only to entertain the empty couches that remain. The marketplace lights are dimmed to show the deserted tables beneath them and the yellow street lights flash as taxis begin to line up due to the dearth of customers.
You decide to go to the dining hall with the intention of sitting down at a random table to make some new friends, but then it hits you. You are now successfully a member of lonely@NYUAD.
When you first came to NYUAD, you probably felt like a rockstar. Smiling and waving at everyone you passed was a normal practice. You could easily take your dining hall tray and feel completely comfortable sitting with any group of people. You were excited, based on the promise that “living on campus at NYU Abu Dhabi is an extraordinary experience that promotes intellectual curiosity, social networking, and exposure to the customs and cultures of Abu Dhabi and the world.”
And it was in no way a lie, since living on campus is exactly that. Herein lies the problem.
Gradually, every conversation begins to repeat itself. The where are you from, what are you majoring in, and where do you want to study away questions cease to be effective conversation starters. Before you know it, the global leader in you begins to long for a more meaningful conversation. A conversation that is not about current or potential university courses, not about the merits of various professors, not about summer internships. At NYUAD, this simple desire is an impossible feat.
When New York University was built, the founders envisioned a university without walls, where students could simply walk out and be in the heart of the city. The problem with this location is that students tend to feel trapped. Sometimes all they want is to go out for a walk and see some different faces. Unfortunately, the closest source of other human beings is a hotel, which is a ten minute cab ride or an half an hour walk from campus.
Even more daunting is the process of transportation to downtown Abu Dhabi. If students do not want to spend too much money, they either have to beg people to go along with them and split cab fare or wait for the next university shuttle or public bus which leaves in two-hour intervals.
This difficulty of accessing experiences off campus and away from other NYUAD students forces students to constantly rely on other people. As a result, if your group of friends is too busy with work or does not want to get together, then you are probably stuck with Netflix for the evening.
Campus feels like a ghost town most of the time. Every student has moments of wondering where everyone is when they do not see any of their friends around. Most likely, they will head back to their rooms, only to find their roommates gone as well. The result is that students tend to fall into the trap of believing that everyone else is out having fun and that they were simply not invited. In reality, the majority of people are either working or sitting in their dorm room thinking the same thing.
What most exacerbates the feeling of loneliness at NYUAD is the fact that every semester, many students leave to study away at other NYU sites. Just when students begin to make close friendships they end up leaving for study away semesters, and strong friendships fade away.
In the midst of busy schedules, Student Interest Group meetings and office hours appointments, students on campus often forget that they need time for themselves. When we need to fulfill our social needs, the goal of this university should extend beyond bringing together different cultures and also encourage interactions between them. Sharing a diversity of opinions in the classroom is one thing, but making friends across cultures is another. When students begin to feel isolated it can become difficult to reach out to others and foster new friendships, which only furthers feelings of loneliness.
Ultimately, we have been given an invaluable gift in terms of education and opportunities, but this experience is not without drawbacks. While it is okay to feel lonely sometimes, we should keep making an effort to get off campus, try new experiences with new friends and jump at every opportunity to make our stay in Abu Dhabi a memorable one.
Malak Yasser is a staff writer. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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