Illustration by Mahgul Farooqui

The Transformation of FYD: Past and Present

FYD has the opportunity to be more than just another mandatory introduction program, and it will be interesting to see how it shapes the NYU Abu Dhabi community in the future.

Sep 28, 2019

Ever since its inception in 2014, the First Year Dialogue program has been polarizing. The intensive curriculum includes small group discussions on topics such as identity, homesickness and university life, as well as excursions into the city to explore what Abu Dhabi has to offer. The program intends to provide first-year students with a safe environment for sustained and often difficult conversations and to impart important information about campus life. Today, if you ask a random student on campus about their thoughts on FYD, you could get a rave review, a scathing criticism or just a shrug. Now, more than ever, FYD is a highly individual and personal experience.
FYD, however, didn’t always provoke this much discussion and debate; it was a very different experience in its early years. Zain Mustafa, Class of 2020, has been a captain of Marhaba – NYU Abu Dhabi’s first-year orientation week – FYD facilitator and FYD coordinator for the past three years. When asked about his initial experience as a freshman, he shared:
“The curriculum seemed pretty rigid … it was trying to talk about diversity and sharing cultures and it didn’t really focus on the student community because it was with staff and faculty. There was actually no student input and it felt pointless.”
While the sense of pointlessness echoes some of the criticisms that freshman have had of more recent versions of FYD, it is hard to deny that FYD has changed. For example, the lack of student input mentioned by Mustafa was addressed with the introduction of student facilitators, who now lead their student groups through conversations and develop a strong bond with them. Sara Amjad, assistant director of First Year Experience, took part in organizing Yale-NUS College’s student orientation prior to joining NYU Abu Dhabi in 2017.
“I think over the past two years we’ve really focused on … the First Year Peer Facilitator as someone who takes the lead in the program and is more of a mentor, has more specific responsibilities,” she explained. “For me the most important thing is [recruiting] students who will be motivated to welcome first-year students into the community.”
Another recent change tries to use the scheduled outings to the city as an opportunity to tell a story. Rather than going to “bougie fake restaurants,” as Mustafa put it, the facilitators have to think of three places to go: their favorite place in Abu Dhabi, somewhere that reminds them of home, and somewhere that they go to reflect during the semester. Amjad explained that these outings are not only meant to encourage personal connections and conversations, but also showcase “an experience or a different part of the city that people may not have seen before.” To further this aim, the budget for outings this year was purposefully cut, which Amjad justified as a measure “to have people think a little bit more about resources as they’re … entering the city and leaving the Saadiyat bubble, which is a higher income bubble.”
Oddly enough, the most dramatic alteration to the FYD program was cutting down the number of sessions. Up until 2017, groups used to meet on a weekly basis. Now, there are only eleven sessions over the course of a semester, three of which take place during Marhaba. According to Amjad, the purpose of this was to make the sessions more focused and to reduce the sense of obligation in favor of more engagement and a relaxed space.
Yusril Nurhidayat, Class of 2022, is a peer facilitator and one of the student coordinators for FYD this year, along with Mustafa. Nurhidayat believes that the attempt to reduce stress surrounding FYD could be extended even further.
“I personally see [freshman fall] as the most frustrating semester for me so far because I was still figuring out everything,” he explained. “I feel like the main thing that we should consider is … next year, how to redesign this program so it’s not another burden in this really really stressful semester.”
While it is still too early to say how FYD will impact the community this year and in the long term, the feedback that Amjad and future student leaders receive continues to be the guiding force for any changes made in the future. The fact that FYD is such an integral part of students’ first year needs to be taken seriously, especially in the face of a growing student body and increasing interaction between cultures. FYD has the opportunity to be more than just another mandatory introduction program, and it will be interesting to see how it shapes the NYUAD community in the future.
Oscar Bray is a staff writer and illustrator. Email him at
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