Everyone knows what it is like to be scared. Some may feel anxious opening their admission letter, others may feel their stomach gurgle menacingly in public. However, as someone with diagnosed anxiety, I feel scared much more often. So why is it that I decided to attend NYU Shanghai, a university so far from home?
When I was deciding which university to attend, I had to choose between what was comfortable and what was needed for me. At first glance, I believed that a secure and well known environment was necessary. But upon introspection, I realized that the only thing holding me back was myself.
“I’m not good enough. It was a mistake. I will only mess it up. I won’t make friends. I will be alone.”
These were the horrible thoughts that would not leave me alone. But with one click, I chose to accept admission to a university across the world — a world I had never explored outside of an electronic screen. It was that one moment of brief clarity and bravery that decided my fate for the next four years.
Now, as brave as this all sounds, I continued to spend the entire summer brimming with fear. I jumped at any notification sound as I waited for emails to provide me with more information about NYUSH. For someone constantly afraid, only information and assurances could placate me. But they were never enough to completely drain out the fear.
While my classmates looked for information on their visas, my mind battled with something different. I needed step-by-step instructions of what to say to a visa agent and a detailed floor plan of the visa office so I could interact with the least amount of people. The more I could plan, the more assurance I had that I wouldn’t become an embarrassment.
Once I finally reached the NYUSH campus, there were still things that made me anxious. While the one-building-campus helped with not getting lost, it didn’t stop me from checking my schedule five times before entering any classroom door.
With time, I eventually started to feel comfortable in this space. Maybe it was because I could see the same person five times within an hour or maybe it was the shoebox-sized cafeteria. But as I got to know everyone I felt more secure. I knew no one was making fun of me because if they were, I would have heard about it within an hour. It was with this sense of peace that I left home for winter break.
Yet, this feeling of ease did not last long. It was after New Year’s that I received the first email about Covid-19. At the time, it was just a placating gesture by the school for an epidemic with a small spread. However, it did not calm me in the slightest to hear that a new virus had been reported. Many zombie movies immediately came to mind.
A week later we got a message that stated the semester had been postponed. Suddenly, my fear went from being infected to never being able to return. Another week and we got an email that told us not to return to campus. NYUSH students suddenly had the option to go online or take a Go Local semester.
In the hopes of salvaging my college experience, once I was admitted to the Go Local program, I bought a plane ticket and left for NYU New York the next evening.
I arrived in New York with only a few days to spare before classes began. Again, I had left the comfort of my home for a new location. With my stress levels high, I had to walk into a freshman triple occupancy dorm at Weinstein Hall and try not to puke.
I became a robot: go to class, go to the dorm, do homework, sleep and repeat. It is hard to make friends in a school with an open campus. When I did leave to explore, I did it alone. It is much easier to plan a trip when I am the only one there. Being there on such short notice and with resources spread across a seemingly endless city, I never made any close friends.
A month later NYUNY was officially closed due to the pandemic and I was sent home again.
Fast forward a year and half later and one more semester in China, I once again found myself in a new environment: Abu Dhabi. Now any American kid can explain that the public opinion for the Middle East in the U.S. leaves not much to be desired. But I’ve seen beauty across the world so I knew that this was just another misunderstood place.
Upon landing in Abu Dhabi, it took me only two steps outside the airport, blinded by the fog on my glasses, to think I may have made a mistake. But besides the horrible weather and dismal quarantine food, I quickly found myself liking NYUAD.
After a very stressful learning period of how to use meal swipes, East Dining Hall, colloquially referred to as D2, no longer seemed so scary. Despite knowing that the library was on the third floor, it took a physical tour for me to become comfortable using it. Now I go there every week to bother people with my inability to properly sit in chairs.
Once classes began in person, I saw the same friendly faces every day. People would greet me on campus. Strangers would compliment my clothes on a casual Daymart run. And the NYUAD Facebook groups allowed me to ask the most basic of questions anonymously.
I cannot say that one campus is better than another, but I will say that smaller student populations help me feel at ease. Having any sort of anxiety is difficult, and being thrust into new situations is even more difficult. But I find that more often than not, other people feel the same way. From the mouth of an anxiety-prone student, fear is one of the most difficult things to overcome.
Sometimes, it only takes one hello, one smile and one click to make everything better. The brave are those that take the first step, even if it’s with their eyes closed.
Luna Lopez is Deputy Multimedia Editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.