Illustration by Alex Najm

Freshmen Finally Arrive on Campus

After a rocky start to their first year, the Class of 2024 arrived on campus to begin their journey at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Jan 31, 2021

From Jan. 7 to 13, around 700 students, including 430 first-years, flew into the United Arab Emirates for the spring semester of 2021. The January arrival window saw students from all around the world and welcomed the Class of 2024.
Breaking Down the Quarantine Experience
The unique circumstances prompted by Covid-19 significantly altered the process of moving-in on campus as students were required to follow specific public safety regulations upon their return. The government protocol included a mandatory quarantine period — students traveling from countries listed as green quarantined on campus for three days while the rest quarantined across the Marriott Downtown, Centro Yas Island or Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi for 10 days.
“The quarantine process was smooth for me … I quarantined in Dubai for two days and in Abu Dhabi for the remaining eight [days],” shared Isha Gandham, Class of 2024. She explained that the quarantine procedure was highly systematic, as they were made aware of the expectations, necessary information and points of contact before their arrival date. In addition to this, Gandham said that the hotel and NYUAD staff were accommodating of dietary preferences and any other queries and concerns throughout the isolation period.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” admitted Gandham. A few students, however, faced issues while crossing the Abu Dhabi border where they were delayed in transit for over eight hours at a stretch and made to wear electronic tracking wristbands for the remaining quarantine period.
Aigerim Zhusubalieva, a first year student, said that she was surprisingly motivated and active during her quarantine despite the challenging move to a new country. She found that the daily Marriott quarantine challenges such as brain teasers, origami and fitness workouts, among other activities, helped keep her engaged.
The First Year Experience Committee and the Office of Student Life worked together to plan optional social events centered on team building, bonding and inclusion. Virtual programming in spring included a mix of quarantine check-ins, movie nights, Murder Mystery games, Deep Meaningful Conversations and NYUAD Attitude events. Such events were helpful in forging student relationships and providing a space for deeper connection among students from the Class of 2024.
Move-In Day: Making the most of the NYUAD campus and Abu Dhabi
For many students, the move-in day was a rekindling of hope in their freshmen experience.
“I would say I was relieved because I’ve been waiting to be on campus for over two years now,” shared Colleen Mader, Class of 2024. Originally a member of the Class of 2023, Mader took a gap year and has anticipated her return to campus since her Candidate Weekend in 2019.
Aditya Balakrishnan, Class of 2024, echoed Mader’s sentiments: “I had seen [my peers] on Zoom but [when] I finally got to see them in person … my initial reaction was surreal.” He confessed that the triviality of seeing his classmates’ unexpected heights, for instance, was what stood out to him the most. Balakrishnan shared his excitement about meeting those he virtually interacted with and finally getting to know them on a more intimate level.
Visiting local souqs, Lebanese restaurants and the Yas Mall, students have eagerly begun to explore Abu Dhabi and have begun to form a connection with the emirate. “I have taken the public bus and [the] shuttle a couple of times downtown, so I do feel like I’m learning more about the city,” said Mader.
“Considering the programming for [the] fall break in 2020, I look forward to going kayaking and have a chance to explore the city during [the] spring break,” shared Zhusubalieva. Gandham also looks forward to this semester and upcoming First Year Dialogue trips to the city.
Difficulty adjusting to campus
Moving to campus in the middle of the academic year has its challenges.
“I thought the move-in process was a bit rushed … it was stressful trying to navigate a new campus and social dynamics at the same time as starting classes,” explained Mader.
“Everything is new, everything is different, which made it super overwhelming,” shared Balakrishnan. Having lived in Bangalore his whole life, he described the slight uneasiness he felt as a result of being in an unfamiliar environment, away from his main support system.
The inability to have an in-person orientation week also made it harder for first years to acclimate themselves to campus. Recognizing such challenges while keeping in mind Covid-19 health regulations, the Marhaba committee created a “Tidbits” series on Instagram that answered freshmen questions on how to navigate campus — the laundry room, meal swipes and weekly testing procedures — in great detail.
“I am thankful to be on campus ... To finally be at my home for the next three and a half years,” said Gandham
Aashraya Dutt is Deputy News Editor. Email her at
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