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Photo courtesy of Malak Abdel-Ghaffar

Should You Return to Campus Next Semester?

Here’s a comprehensive look into the factors affecting students’ choice of returning to campus in the Spring or not, including academics, travel and quarantine and campus life.

Nov 1, 2020

On Oct. 26, the NYU Abu Dhabi student body received an email from Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann, Provost Arlie Petters and Chief Administrative and Business Officer Peter Christensen, announcing that the Remote Plus model would carry on into the spring semester, and that all students are eligible to return to live on campus next semester.
With study away canceled, and Go Local offered for selective nationalities, the administration expects double the number of students to return to campus. The spring will likely look similar to the fall, but flexibility and patience is asked of the student body for any changes that may take place given the nature of the pandemic.
Courses will only be in person for those classes deemed essential for degree completion, such as labs or studios required for capstone. Students participating in these courses are strongly encouraged to return, but a mixed-mode format which provides a remote version will be available.
Unlike the fall, there is a possibility for a blended model of in person and online learning, for those faculty who decide to opt-in. Full classroom capacity is not probable.
More courses are planned to be offered to compensate for the cancellation of study abroad. The option of remotely taking courses from other sites is still possible in the spring.
Living on campus has created a safe space for some students that home cannot provide, academically and socially. “I’m really thankful to be on campus this semester. I personally cannot be as focused academically around my family as I would be here,” shared Suzan Sadek, Class of 2022.
Aathma Dious, Class of 2021, shared a similar sentiment: “Due to my family situation, I was stuck indoors for six months straight. It was really hard for me to work. It wasn’t as grim as it sounds, I did get closer to my parents, but there was a lot of stress and pressure in the house, so it impacted me negatively when I wanted to do my own thing.”
But there are also cons to living and studying within the confines of one’s dorm room. “It can be isolating, and it can go dark really fast, just the bed to the laptop and the laptop to the bed can be really difficult,” said Sadek. “I am not able to have the privilege of portability in my classes because a lot of them are software heavy so I have to use a desktop in my room and can’t go study elsewhere.”
The one person per bedroom rule remains unchanged, but singles with two or three people currently will have additional residents move in next semester. Depending on the number of students who intend to return, additional housing off-campus may be offered.
For the first time, students have the option of staying on campus over winter break. However, this option also means they would not be able to see their families and friends back home for the full academic year.
Some are choosing to return home permanently after being on campus in the fall. “There’s a support system at home, and it's a familiar environment, which is needed especially in these times,” said Andrew Riad, Class of 2022.
People who go back home over the break with the intent of returning must check out of their dorms and take all their belongings. Housing for the spring is likely to change, and they will have to quarantine when they return.
“Despite having to quarantine when coming back, it’s definitely worth going back to Egypt, especially without the January term this year and an extended winter break. I miss my family and I also miss spending time with my friends,” stated Mariam Amer, Class of 2022.
Upon arrival, students are expected to quarantine for 14 days inside of their dorm rooms. They should anticipate receiving a government tracker for this duration as well.
Some students may face the possibility of quarantining in government facilities, but will only know if it is required of them after landing in the UAE.
“Although I’ll miss going home, to me, the thought of having to quarantine twice feels like a waste of my winter break, especially during senior year. And the potential of government quarantine is not appealing,” added Siya Chandrie, Class of 2021.
Regulations on Campus
Life on Saadiyat definitely looks different, but maintains a sense of normalcy. Regulations mainly include bi-weekly testing, wearing masks constantly and maintaining social distance. No commuting or overnight trips are allowed, and consequences are high as two students have already been sent home for breaking this rule. Informal boundaries have also been established within the community, with the awkward air hug among the top contenders.
Many students, especially those with immunocompromised diseases, worried about their health post-quarantine. Cassandra Mitchell, Class of 2021, who shared her concerns in an article for The Gazelle, still plans to come back in the spring.
“So far, because we’ve had no cases, my life has felt pretty normal, like as normal as anyone else on campus. I’d imagine that’d be pretty different if we start to get cases here in our community,” she said. “I do feel very safe being on campus.”
Megan Binnis Davalos, Class of 2023, shared similar sentiments regarding the campus being particularly safe in contrast to her home country, Mexico, which ranks in the top ten highest Covid-19 cases globally. “It’s way safer here [than Mexico] with all the precautions; the symptom checker, the bi-weekly tests and contact tracing. The university really takes care of us and makes sure campus is safe as can be while also making it as normal as possible.”
For others, strict regulations are a reason not to return. Martin Stewart, Class of 2022, took part in the Go Local program in Florence this semester, and is planning to stay there for the full year. “Abu Dhabi is a more restrictive life, campus is a bit tougher,” he stated. “Here, I can enjoy myself a bit more.”
He also has the chance to take Italian courses and loves learning the language while exploring the country. “For me, if I can take a language out of the pandemic, a skill that will help me in my life, and have a strong impact … I think that’s a win situation.”
Campus Life
Campus life hasn’t changed drastically, with dining outlets available as per usual and the library operating, but for shorter hours. The fitness center is open, but students must book slots in advance to go to the gym, and classes are offered virtually.
Cora Mao, Class of 2021, found living on campus similar to past semesters, but exercising definitely has changed. “Using the sports facilities is a bit restrictive. First, you need to book the space online to use them, which means you need to plan your week a few days ahead,” she said. “The second thing is we are required to wear masks all the time, in the gym or the indoor track area. You need to wear a mask while doing cardio, and I personally couldn’t get used to that so I just stopped doing cardio. Also, we cannot borrow equipment from the fitness center this semester.”
“Campus has, compared to regular, lost a little bit of life and color, it’s a little dull. But we’re all just trying,” shared Sadek. But nevertheless, she reflects: “Being on campus makes you feel connected, it makes me feel not alone. We’re all facing the same thing here, versus if I’m at home with my family, I’m the only one struggling.”
Social Life
Abu Dhabi is opening slowly, with restrictions firmly in place, so students do have the ability to go into the city to take a break from the Saadiyat bubble. Seating in the city is limited to four people, and gatherings on campus are limited to six, which has led to greater intentionality when socializing.
“Connections are more intentionally made and developed,” reflected Seleen Barada, Class of 2022. “But overall not much has changed for me because my closest friends are all here.”
Some are choosing not to come to campus due to anxieties from the pandemic, and avoiding socializing altogether. “I am still super anxious about going out in [the pandemic]. I know a lot of restaurants and cafes are open again and people are going to study,” said Al Reem Al Hosani, Class of 2021. “Even as restrictions ease, I still have a lot of fear. My fear of Covid in general is stopping me from hanging out with people in general.”
For first-year students, experiencing campus amidst a pandemic may be overwhelming as they adapt to several changes at once. An in person Marhaba has not yet been confirmed, but in person First Year Dialogue outings have been approved, hoping to provide a space for students to socialize and get comfortable living in Abu Dhabi.
“The campus I’m familiar with today is very different than it was during candidate weekend,” said Ziad El-Sayed, Class of 2024. “Campus can feel very isolating at times, considering not only that it is discouraged to go outside, for obvious reasons, but also the lack of big social gatherings and events,” added El-Sayed. “Life is still very much Zoom-centered, just in a different setting. There very much is a sense of community, though, and I am extremely grateful to be here this semester.”
At the end of the day, procedures are in place if, and when, a COVID case hits campus. Choosing to live on campus entails being aware of the risks involved, but also being socially responsible, respectful and actively abiding by public health regulations.
Sarah Afaneh is Senior Communications Editor and Features Editor. Email her at
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