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Illustrated by Vivi Zhu

This Too Shall Pass: Looking for a Job in the Middle of a Global Pandemic

Recent NYUAD alumni, Youssef Azzam, reflects on the hardships of graduating amidst a global pandemic and economic recession.

Aug 30, 2020

This past year has not been easy on anyone. From nations closing borders, unemployment rates skyrocketing and people trying to stay safe, no one can neglect the impact that Covid-19 has had on every aspect of our lives. Now, imagine being a graduating senior with job applications, interview rounds and grad school visas — all coming to a halt — and you have got yourself a NYU Abu Dhabi Class of 2020 student about to fly high from the falcon nest, unsure of where they will land.
Ever since I joined NYUAD in 2016, I always pictured myself graduating and settling in Dubai for a couple of years to work at a multinational company. In my plans, later I would go for a Master’s degree somewhere in Europe. So, when it was time to start applying for jobs in the UAE, given the late nature of recruitment in the Middle East and North Africa region, most of my interview rounds were scheduled to start in March and April. I had it all planned out since junior year: I overloaded during my junior and senior fall semesters so I could underload during senior spring, giving me more time to prepare for my interviews. After almost a year of working at the Career Development Center giving advice to others, who could have predicted that finding a job would be so hard? But life happens. Sometimes, things are just beyond our control.
After two or three interview rounds with employers, applications were put on hold because of a looming pandemic. I have still not received any responses on the status of my applications. I eventually concluded that my best course of action, for now, was to go back home and finish my mandatory military service, buying me some time until this whole situation hopefully eases.
For some seniors, the fields or employers they sought out after were able to offer them opportunities amidst the pandemic to pursue what they were initially seeking. Others, like myself, have had to readjust their professional trajectories in order to adapt to the ongoing situation.
Mahmoud Salah, Class of 2019, was selected to join Emaar, the largest real estate development company in the MENA region, as part of their Graduate Program in Dubai. The half-a-year long training program offered cross functional experiences with the promise of a full-time role upon its completion. Almost six months later, with a couple of days left until the end of his probation period, the pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn impacted several businesses across the nation. This left Emaar with no choice but to terminate Salah's graduate program in order to cut down on costs.
Salah still remembers the words of his senior director at Emaar, directed at him and his fellow trainees on their very last day of work – "I understand these are tough times, but just remember, this is not going to be the worst and you need to embrace it."
These words still resonate with Salah and complement those taught to him by John Coughlin, Professor of Religious Studies and Law, during his time at NYUAD: "I am 64 years old and you're still 22! You still have a lifetime ahead of you to see and explore, so don't let a couple of months bring you down." Admittedly, this is easier said than done.
When the pandemic began, many in the NYUAD community expected the Class of 2020 to be the most impacted. By the time a virtual commencement rolled around, many seniors were yet to secure any post graduate opportunities. Others were unable to go back home due to flight suspensions and travel restrictions, and resorted to moving in with fellow NYUAD alumni until an improvement in the situation. By this time next year, things will be better for sure, many of us thought.
Now, as the academic year begins with new rules and regulations that will reshape the NYUAD experience we know, the Class of 2021 has come to realize that uncertainty will accompany their senior year as well.
There is no escaping the fact that the economic downturn is here to stay — who knows for how long, but should that keep us from the idea of pursuing opportunities as a whole? Absolutely not. Does it mean we may need to readjust our expectations? Maybe.
Rising seniors and the rest of the NYUAD community need to remember that it is great to have a plan that succeeds, but it is also fine to have temporary plans, adapting to factors beyond our control. Understand that uncertain times call for uncertain changes; accept that your first job does not dictate where you will ultimately end up in life. If I could do anything differently in senior year, I would remember that message and instead focus on enjoying my last few months with friends from around the world, in our home that is NYUAD.
The NYUAD experience for current and future students may be different from that of my fellow classmates and myself. But if there is one thing I learned so far, it is that the strength of our NYUAD community stems from its members. No matter what is happening and wherever you end up, we have got each others' backs in every corner of the world. Fly high.
Youssef Azzam is a contributing writer. Email him at
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