The new decade began with excitement.

2020 in Pictures, by NYU Abu Dhabi Students

From Black Lives Matter protests to unexpected virtual university and Lebanon’s recent explosion, NYU Abu Dhabi students document moments of tragedy, solitude and togetherness through their lenses.

Aug 30, 2020

The new decade began with excitement.
NYU Abu Dhabi students fanned across the world for some of their favorite courses of the year, the January Term (lovingly called J-Term). Students learned about community driven development in the Philippines and art in Berlin. Others enjoyed dulce de leche in sunny Buenos Aires.
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Photo courtesy of Nicholas Patas
One of these classes even embarked on a journey to three different cities in the United States to learn about the upcoming presidential elections, meeting everyone from high profile politicians in Washington, D.C. to everyday voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.
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Photo courtesy of Jessica Vitiello
The Democratic Presidential primary dominated the news during the first month of 2020; this, however, would soon change. A crowded field narrowed down to two older men, and later came down to a former vice president. Priorities changed and conversations shifted. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, students spending their J-Term at NYU Shanghai’s campus were the first to feel the impacts of a crisis building just below the radar of the international community.
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Photo courtesy of Amy DeCillis
The Chinese city of Wuhan, the original epicenter of a virus that has claimed over 800,000 lives, moved into a complete lockdown on Jan. 23.
However, other megacities waited until the end of the Lunar New Year holiday to add stricter controls. NYUSH transitioned to online classes in late January, yet by April 27, about 300 students were expected to return in person to the academic center — a stark difference to the trajectory of universities in other parts of the globe.
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Photo courtesy of Markus Abeler
On March 8, all NYUAD courses moved online to comply with a directive from the UAE Ministry of Education. In a domino effect, U.S. American universities began closing academic and residential buildings within a matter of days, sending most students scrambling to shift semester plans. Those already facing housing instability were hit hardest. Meanwhile, students who remained on the Saadiyat Island campus began to adjust to virtual coursework and restricted movement.
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Photo courtesy of Vamika Sinha
Life on campus shifted visibly as the pandemic hit. Students became more cautious about leaving their dorms and interacting with each other or those outside of campus. As the community adjusted to the lockdown, an empty campus was not a rare sight. The shift was most deeply felt when the Class of 2020 commencement became a pre-recorded virtual event, with friends and families watching in front of televisions and computer screens thousands of miles away.
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Photo courtesy of Bryan Waterman
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Photo courtesy of Katarina Holtzapple
As the Class of 2020 said goodbye to their university homes, they entered a much different world than the one accompanying them at the start of the semester. The health crisis has pushed an interconnected world to close borders, halt flights and into one of the deepest global recessions in history. Despite the disruption in international activity, social movements around the world focused on migrant, racial, climate and gender justice have marched on since the beginning of the year.
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Photo courtesy of Angad Johar
When Angad Johar, Class of 2022, stepped into the New York snow in early January, he decided to capture his attempt to bring attention to the protests in India, against the infamous Citizenship Amendment Act, to The Big Apple.
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Photo courtesy of Museera Mughees
Fast forward to March, just a few days before they were asked to return home, students studying away at NYU London managed to attend #March4Women, held on March 8, in the city. And while the world did halt for the next few months, social justice movements gained historic momentum in the summer that followed.
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Photo courtesy of Lex Perrier
The summer painfully brought the brutal murder of a George Floyd at the hands of the United States police, which sparked some of the largest and most sustained protests for racial justice in the country’s history, with potentially up to 25 million hitting the streets. George Floyd’s death and the ubiquitous nature of racism and police violence spurred enormous Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the globe. And from New York and Houston, to Hawaii and Finland, NYUAD students took the streets to protest for racial justice.
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Photo courtesy of Gideon Hakkarainen
Months later, the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23 reignited the trauma and anger, a testimony that the search for justice will not stop in 2020.
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Photo courtesy of Tom Abi Samra
Meanwhile in Lebanon, a country already facing economic and political turmoil, an explosion in early August overwhelmed downtown Beirut. The explosion, caused by nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate neglected for years, killed almost 200 people and left 5,000 injured. Lebanon joined Belarus, Mali and other countries that have also seen widespread civilian pushback against government corruption in 2020.
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Photo courtesy of Cece Kim
Throughout this year, slowly but surely, signs calling for social distancing and mandatory face masks have been plastered in supermarkets, cafes and malls as countries began to reopen, redefining our relationship to proximity and one another. From the UAE to Taiwan, people began to adapt their lifestyle to the new normal in the world of COVID-19.
As evidenced in shared moments and in our personal lives, 2020 has brought forward highs and lows. Marked by uncertainty, everyday life halted, and, in some places, resumed. Countries and individuals faced tragedies, and citizens rose up against injustice. And yet, we are just a little more than halfway through the year. Who is to predict what will happen next?
This Photo Essay is a collaborative effort by The Gazelle's Features Desk. Email them at
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