Illustration by Dhiyaa Al Jorf.

The Halfway Point: Reflecting on the Last Two Years at NYUAD

I’m tired of worrying so much about the next chapter. I feel stuck in a constant cycle of looking back and looking ahead, perpetually ignoring the present. Covid-19 has stolen so much from my time here. I don’t want to let anxiety rob me of more.

Sep 26, 2021

When I walk around the NYU Abu Dhabi campus as a junior, I get intense moments of déjà vu. Standing in an elevator with a two person limit, I remember my freshman fall when 12 people crammed into the Campus Center elevators between classes. Eating in East Dining Hall, I remember when students brought nine or ten chairs to crowd around one small table to chat. Groggily signing up for a gym slot at 7 a.m., I remember waltzing into the fitness center whenever I wanted with no capacity restrictions.
Those memories are so distant that they seem impossible compared to the new normal we’re living in. I often feel angry about wasting my first six months of college before Covid-19 hit. I obviously couldn’t have known that my four years would be interrupted by a global pandemic, but I had so many plans that I continued to postpone because I thought I had three and a half more years to get it all done. I thought I’d have two semesters abroad, attend Model UN conferences in Kazakhstan, visit Kenya during spring break or intern in-person at The National.
18 months later, I haven’t done any of those things and the longer the pandemic drags on, the less hopeful I am that any of those things will happen during my time at NYUAD. When I’m not looking back with regret at my first few months of college, I’m anxiously looking ahead and worrying about what happens after my last months here. I’ve spent the last two years being angry that I lost my college experience to the pandemic. But as I start my junior year, I’m realizing that I don’t have time to sit and be angry anymore: I have to start thinking about and preparing for what comes next.
I’m only halfway through my undergraduate career, but because of anxiety about the future, I’m already preparing for graduate school entrance exams and scholarship applications. I’m applying for jobs and internship opportunities. I’m taking a full course load while working in multiple student organizations and holding an on-campus job.
I’m tired of worrying so much about the next chapter. I feel stuck in a constant cycle of looking back and looking ahead, perpetually ignoring the present. The pandemic has stolen half of my undergraduate experience. I don’t want to let fear of the future rob me of the other half. I frequently hear that I should be living in the moment and enjoy my time as a 20-year-old college student, but I also hear that I need to be responsible and plan for my future. It is hard to reconcile those two sets of instructions: I want to let go and have fun, but I worry that in six months I’ll look back and think that I could have instead been preparing for more serious things.
Despite the dilemma, I’ve tried to make more room for fun in my life. In my last two years, that’s something I’ve distinctly lacked. My overthinking and overplanning has often left me feeling exhausted and jaded about my university experience, wondering how I can make my NYUAD experience worth it. I refused to appreciate my day to day interactions and experiences because I was so frustrated about the past and concerned about the future. With time, I’ve come to appreciate that a late night chat over a cup of karak or an impromptu trip to Hamdan street can make up for an entire week’s worth of academic stress and existential dread.
As a type A workaholic whose aversion to self-care is honestly impressive, I’ve relied on friends for that dose of spontaneity and relaxation. This has taken many forms: be it getting off campus multiple times a week, eating with friends in the dining hall instead of taking a to-go sandwich to my dorm or actively blocking time in my calendar for rest. While my life is still 80 percent anxiety, work and organization, having that 20 percent of time for rest, friendships and fun is still something very new and strange for me.
Coming back to campus this August, I felt in many ways that I was starting over at NYUAD. Between the end of my sophomore year and the beginning of my junior year, a lot changed. I left behind complicated relationships, my priorities shifted, I took on new responsibilities and I had to build a whole new routine. While I’m glad that I’ve done all these things, it’s been messy and physically and emotionally exhausting to completely rebuild my life halfway through my time here.
In the last two years, I’ve met people who have given me incredible love and others who have deeply hurt me. I’ve had experiences I hope I’ll never forget and others that I desperately wish I could. I’ve learned to set boundaries, to make tough choices about what to invest my time and energy into and to take every experience with a grain of salt.
These two years have changed me drastically. All of the highs and lows have taught me so much about myself and what I value in my life that I finally feel ready to take control of my next two years. Will these be the best four years of my life? I surely hope not. I don’t want to leave this place as a 21-year-old whose best days are behind me. Instead, I want to create as many good days as I can and learn how to get through the bad ones. I can never get back the time that was lost to Covid-19 or to the wrong people and experiences, but I can use the anger and frustration from that lost time to push forward and make the most of my remaining time.
In my next two years here, there’s still so much to look forward to. I’ll spend a semester in New York, have a J-term abroad, complete a Capstone project and continue to meet new people and have new experiences. There will never be another time in our lives like our time at NYUAD. Never again will we live, eat and sleep within a five minute walk of all our closest friends. The time we have here, although often difficult and confusing, is truly special and at the end of our four years — hopefully at an in-person Commencement ceremony — we’ll look back and wonder where all the time went.
Grace Bechdol is Editor-in-Chief. Email her at
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