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Illustration by Mahgul Farooqui

An Ode to Saying Goodbye

How can a place with intense turn-over, increasing population and continuous change become a home? The answer, it seems, is to embrace NYUAD's lack of stability.

Oct 26, 2019

Aug. 7, 2019. I couldn’t sit still on my three-hour flight back to NYU Abu Dhabi, itching to return to the only place I’ve ever considered home. The thought sounded surreal⁠ – missing a place where I had only lived in for a year, after being away for a little over a month, feeling out of place anywhere else.
But that was the truth. I yearned to be back under the palm trees and surrounded by a multitude of people with different stories to tell.
Fast forward nine weeks, I sat on yet another plane after a much-needed break from what has thus far been an overwhelming semester. Post fall break blues envelop the Saadiyat bubble as stressful realites begin to set in, with meetings and deadlines looming. Midterm grades aren’t even the worst part. This time around, my readiness to return was mixed with the painful realization of the limited amount of time I have left on a campus I consider home, with people I consider family.
But this pain-in-the-gut feeling started long ago.
I had never anticipated having to deal with goodbyes during freshman year, let alone that my own sister, Aya – who may or may not kill me for this reference – would leave for her study away during that spring.
It’s now my turn to engage in the most common NYUAD ritual: saying goodbye. In eight short weeks, I will be on a plane to Paris for my own study away, my best friend to Berlin, another to New York. Preparation for another round of what seems to be an endless cycle of farewells.
A bittersweet feeling embraces me as I try to make the most of the time I have left at NYUAD while also welcoming the excitement of new beginnings in numerous cities.
This cycle of adventure tainted with sadness is what lies at the heart of the NYUAD experience. Our campus culture lies in our impermanence, in Instagram feeds filled with countryhopping during study away, and lifelong bonds that endure 3,000 miles apart.
An anchor amid our global lives, our limited time at the Abu Dhabi campus paradoxically offers a source of security, a home overflowing with belonging, intimacy and meaningful connections.
How can a place with intense turnover, an increasing student population and continuous change in short periods of time, become a home? The answer, it seems, is to embrace NYUAD’s lack of stability.
We are defined in our lives abroad – crashing on each other’s couches on a two-day visit to a foreign country, trying to navigate time differences with 4 a.m. Skype calls, writing letters to the “love of your life” who is across the world, and in the way your heart races when you get a letter back. Moving, instability and uncertainty are all part of a constant flow of goodbyes that are at the core of NYUAD’s culture.
Goodbyes carry with them enormous amounts of pain, but with that comes the most beautiful part: saying hello again. Changing flight tickets to add in weekend trips in your best friend’s home country, learning to live out of suitcases, and spring break trips with heartwarming moments of reunion. With goodbyes also come postcards in mailboxes and birthday presents delivered, hellos at your doorstep and connections strengthened even while literal distance grows.
The fleeting nature of our lives has made me more appreciative of the people and the magic of the places that surround me. During fall break, I became a tour guide in Jordan, exploring areas of my own hometown that I never had before with friends that I call family. My January Term in Prague consisted of breakfasts at aesthetic cafes each morning, discovering Egyptian shisha shops in hidden parts of the city and visiting art galleries, all with people I had met two days prior and that would be a part of my life for long after.
What makes saying goodbye so hard are visits to Saadiyat Beach at the end of the semester with friends and wishing we had gone more often – but knowing we had absolutely zero time to. Circle Cafe brunches, 3 a.m. stops at Opal Restaurant and dipping a toe into the art scene in Abu Dhabi every once in a while before being whirled back into academic stress. Generations of students above us have created our culture from our little bubble in Abu Dhabi, but this culture evolved out of our temporality.
With the sadness of leaving comes the excitement of returning, a longing for senior year and a growing nostalgia for Abu Dhabi. The bittersweet reality of our lives at NYUAD makes us dread goodbyes, but more so, anticipate reunions.
Sarah Afaneh is Deputy Features Editor. Email her at
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