Illustration by Mouad Kouttroub

I Want to Go Into the Arts. My Family Disagrees.

NYUAD first-years interested in the arts share how they are battling the experience of balancing family-approved career paths and artistic interests of their dreams.

As a child, the question I lied in response to the most was: what do you want to be when you grow up? And that’s where my true impromptu act came into play; a scientist, an astronaut and the president of the United States were some of my favorite picks. Despite being young and feeling the necessity to conceal my true musical passions, I never took that pressure seriously. But now, as I am one step closer to independence, the pressure is becoming something inescapable.
College is the first grand step towards adulthood for many people, a step that brings about new freedom and opportunities but also new responsibilities. As the Class of 2024 begins that journey, they have to grapple with the competing pressures of family expectations, career prospects and personal interests.
“I’m a painter by heart,” said Roudhah Al Mazrouei, Class of 2024, who is trying to transform her extensive background in art, seen by many people as a simple hobby, into what she sees as a dream job.
“It’s a judgement thing,” shared Al Mazrouei, when asked about her family’s attitude toward her craft. She explained that her family members’ reaction toward her chosen path indicates their reluctance to accept it as something serious.
“Do you really wanna do that?” jokingly added Al Mazrouei as an example of such reactions.
Aya Adib, Class of 2024, shared details about a similar experience. When she was younger, the possibility of pursuing theatre was never on the table due to her parents’ concerns.
“In my perfect world, I would want to double major in Social Research and Public Policy and Theatre,” said Adib.
The experiences shared by these students are situated within a larger pattern of contemporary life which evaluates jobs from a heavily materialistic approach.
“[It is] a society that regards paid work as the 'real thing' and creative life as a frill,” explained Janis Boyd, a professor at Griffith University, Australia, in her work Myths, Misconceptions, Problems and Issues in Arts Education. “The word 'artist' conjures a vision of a temperamental romantic leading a carefree life.”
Applying the same thinking to education, creative subjects are often labelled as less viable degrees that won’t lead to employment after graduation.
Research shows how families of artists are not limiting their children out of pure desire to control, but often because they hold deeper concerns about the financial and career prospects of attaining a degree in the arts.
Adib and Al Mazrouei shared their understanding of such tension.
“I don't blame anyone in a certain way,” emphasized Adib. “Because once again, to think of it from that perspective, it makes total sense.”
Still, family rationality does not make the emotional process easier for the young artists.
“It’s a bit disheartening, because I really want to [engage in theatre], and I want to have the emotional freedom,” noted Adib, when asked about the effects such limitations had on her emotional wellbeing. Likewise, Al Mazrouei experienced stress and anxiety during her high school years due to the constantly changing attitudes of her parents toward her craft.
Nevertheless, both interviewees are learning to get more comfortable with pursuing their interest in the arts despite the pressure and limitations around them. For Al Mazrouei, this includes finding a surrounding that serves as a source of encouragement and support to thrive as an artist.
“There are friends that keep on pushing me to do the best,” shared Al Mazrouei, explaining how even the smallest encounters, such as wholesome messages from strangers and friends, strengthen her desire to continue her craft. At NYUAD, she consulted with academic advisors in order to create a plan that would be supported by both her parents and the artist within her.
“It’s just the different opportunities on campus that I am latching myself onto,” added Adib. “For example, Rooftop Rhythms. I just find ways to engage with it as much as I can.” She also highlighted the flexibility of the Social Research and Public Policy program, which allows her to double major in Theater, molding a pathway that includes both of her dreams.
Diving into the stories of these two artists felt like looking into a mirror for me. In my strict household where science was the true pillar of success, the desire to be a musician and an artist was not a path to be considered. Hearing these stories, however, allowed me to see that succumbing to pressure and sacrificing your true passions in the process is never the solution, for one can always look for the opportunity to combine a dream with reality.
Until I realize my dream, I will minor in Music, make full use of the studio spaces at the university and, finally, satisfy the true needs of that kid who had to lie throughout his childhood for what he aspires to be.
Yerkebulan Imanbayev is a contributing writer. Email him feedback at
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