Illustration by Yuree Chang

The NYU Abu Dhabi stipend – a Eulogy of a Friend

I will forever cherish the freedom that the NYUAD stipend gave me; the freedom to curate and create my own, independent relationship with the UAE, and to better understand the complexities of the country.

Aug 27, 2020

It is with great sadness that I write this eulogy: a tribute to a great friend and mentor, relatively small in size but huge in importance. The NYU Abu Dhabi stipend, the great equalizer, the enabler of independence, the ensurer of stability, sadly passed away last week. It was by my side throughout my four years at NYUAD – a companion that afforded me virtually every substantial extracurricular experience of my undergraduate life – and it breaks my heart to know that future NYUAD students may not be able to befriend the stipend, which cared for me so well.
In freshman year, I participated in Istakshif. It was an NYUAD-curated introduction to Abu Dhabi, a city that most of us have little to no knowledge of prior to joining the university, and a city that can be difficult to interact with, without a bit of initial guidance. The curation of Istakshif prompted my curiosity to curate my own relationship with Abu Dhabi – which I did, with the help of my dear friend, the stipend. Together, we took taxis, found restaurants, smoked shisha pipes and visited museums and cultural institutions. We even visited other Emirates together by public transportation, and along the way, had numerous interactions with people who were curating their own experiences, their own money in hand.
Fast forward to senior year – when I interacted most with the UAE. In Aug. 2019, my classmate and I each invested 3,000 AED of saved stipend money into a used 2007 Honda Jazz. We called him Louis. That August, Louis, stipend and I went all out exploring Abu Dhabi and the UAE. We visited every Emirate together, as well as the UAE’s neighbor, Saudi Arabia. We spent the evening hours chatting with the barista at Auro Coffee in Mina. We ate at our favorite Yemeni restaurant on an almost weekly basis. We helped curate an art exhibition together in Warehouse 421 and connected with the UAE’s art community. We visited alumni around the city and country and managed to stay in touch. In short, we made a life for ourselves in the UAE, outside the NYUAD bubble.
Photo courtesy of Jakob Plaschke
Louis, the stipend and I spent the whole school year together, figuring out Abu Dhabi. I still remember the pride we felt when we realized that we could navigate the city without a GPS – what a contrast to freshman year. It all culminated in the planning for my classmate’s birthday celebration: a barbecue by Al Bateen Beach. Louis, the stipend, friends and I took turns going out into the city to buy vegetables at the Mina vegetable market, fresh meat skewers from Al Farah Butchery, halloumi cheese at Lulu, big trays of hummus and moutabbal from Lebanese Flower and a big birthday cake from La Brioche on Reem Island. Parking Louis on the shore of Al Bateen Beach that evening to get the barbeque going, we truly felt like residents of Abu Dhabi. While we celebrated our friend’s birthday, that night, we also celebrated how far we had pushed ourselves out of the bubble.
I will forever cherish the freedom that the NYUAD stipend gave me; the freedom to curate and create my own, independent relationship with the UAE, and to better understand the complexities of the country. In other words, the stipend helped me do what NYUAD tries so hard to do – connect with the larger UAE community. We even surpassed that goal and not only connected with, but became part of the larger UAE community.
Some people say – and it may be a bit cliché – that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. And I never realized until hearing of the stipend’s passing how much it actually meant to me. So often, my friends who have never been to the UAE ask me skeptically, “It’s quite… different, studying in the UAE, right?” Luckily, my reply is not, “Yes, it’s a strange place. But the NYU campus is great!” Luckily, and thanks to our dearly departed, I am able to clearly articulate how important Abu Dhabi and the UAE have become in my life and why. I visited Burj Khalifa, sure. And Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – it’s absolutely gorgeous. But I’m so happy that my relationship with the UAE is more than just that.
Considering that I feel this way just three months after my graduation, I can only imagine the effects of my inextricable relationship with the stipend in the next 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. The stipend also played an enormous role in the lives of those dear to me. It ensured the financial stability for many of their families. It enabled friendships between individuals from vastly different economic backgrounds. It allowed our friends to both stress over LSATs and grad school applications and destress over shawarma and karak. The stipend was a companion to any and all, and it knew how to support us when we needed it the most.
And those of us who knew the NYUAD stipend – we should consider ourselves lucky. We lived through the golden years, when the stipend was still alive and well, crafting for each of us an environment in which we could thrive on our own terms, not just those curated for us by our institution.
In the end, I would like to invite you all to honor the stipend in whichever way you see fit. Say a prayer, keep it in your thoughts or simply remember the privilege it was to have it by your side. I, for one, know that my NYUAD experience would have been so much less meaningful had the stipend not been part of it. For this, I honor it.
And finally, let us hope that this is not the end of the line. Let us hope that sooner or later, NYUAD students will again have a companion that allows them to meet, interact with and understand the city and country they live in. Let us hope that the golden years will be back.
Jakob Plaschke is a contributing writer. Email them at
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