Illustration by Danie Laminta.

First Year in Retrospective: A Year-Long Existential Crisis

First year went by so quickly, that it almost feels like it didn’t happen at all. From now on, I’m determined to enjoy the rest of my time here while I still can, and try my best to embrace the change as it comes.

May 9, 2022

Towards the end of my senior year in high school, I found myself procrastinating while studying for my exams by cleaning up my room. I’d be moving back to the US from Japan after all, I reasoned it was a perfectly normal thing to do instead of preparing for the exams I had spent the last two years worrying about. While sorting through the clutter, I happened across a letter I had written to myself at the beginning of 2020. It was an exercise from my local church’s youth group where we had to write a word or phrase that we wanted to embody the rest of our year. I had written “fulfilling” as my word, but I sort of lied.
In my letter, I wrote “Honestly, I wrote ‘fulfilling’, but I think deep down I don’t really want anything to change. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m already pretty fulfilled right now, so my real word (or phrase) is ‘stay the same’.” Looking back now, this is possibly the funniest thing I could’ve written because promptly afterwards, the pandemic happened and fundamentally changed the way that I live my life. Then a little while later I decided that I wanted to move halfway across the world to Abu Dhabi to go to university. Suffice to say, I wasn’t able to keep this promise to myself.
Although I was excited to move to a new country and start my new life, I was completely and utterly terrified. Naturally, as someone who had made the decision to move across the world to go to university, I was hit by an intense fear of change. Slowly, I was realizing that for the first time in my life I had no reference for what was ahead of me. I had spent the last five years of my life around the same people in a little pocket of Japan that I called home, and now I was voluntarily upending myself. Consequently, I spent a large part of my summer generally freaking out and worrying, so it was a surprise to me when I landed in Abu Dhabi and the world didn’t end. I met new, interesting people (thanks to my coworker Sara Vuksanovic), had fun classes and just generally had a good time experiencing new things.
But there was still a nagging feeling in the back of my mind, the childish part of me that just wanted everything to go back to normal. I wanted to wake up in my duplex in Japan, bike to school and then Q’s Mall afterwards, pick up a snack at Sunnyside with my clumsy Japanese and eat it under the kotatsu. I wanted to live in the past and the present simultaneously, which I was aware was a completely childish and unreasonable wish, but I wanted it all the same. In spite of my best efforts to avoid change, I had to choose my present eventually.
Despite my general unwillingness to let go of the past, I adjusted fairly quickly to life at NYU Abu Dhabi. Though I had only been at NYUAD for a few weeks and barely knew my way around campus, I felt like I had been here my whole life. Which one might think is a good thing, but being me, I found a way to complain about doing well by freaking out about forgetting everything that had led up to this point. Not necessarily the big things, but the mundane parts of life that made up my time in Japan and the US. I had already forgotten what songs I used to listen to as I walked to school, the biting cold of Japanese winters and the taste of convenience store food (take me back to Family Mart). It’s disorienting how quickly I lost parts of myself even as I desperately clung to them. But I realized that it’s not always a bad thing; just looking around me now I’m glad that things changed, and that I changed. Even when change seems like a bad thing, it’s an inevitable part of life. No matter how I felt, things were going to change around me, and I no longer wanted to stand still.
Even between semesters it seemed like everything was constantly shifting and changing. There were my new classes, obviously, but also new friends and activities. I joined the netball team, met new people and felt a subtle shift in my pre-existing relationships. The picture of the next few years at NYUAD I had built up in my head over the first semester started crumbling as new things strained against the lines I had drawn for myself. Yet, somehow, I didn’t mind.
I’m not sure what the takeaway from all this is. To be perfectly honest, I’m still afraid of change, and am utterly terrified of what lies ahead. Freshman year went by so quickly it almost feels like it didn’t happen at all. It’s as though I got here yesterday and now suddenly the year is over and in two weeks I’ll no longer be a freshman. Will the next three years go by just as quickly? Will I have enough time to spend with the people I’ve grown to care about? I have no idea, and as you might guess, that scares me. But what I do know is that I’m determined to enjoy the rest of my time here while I still can, and try my best to embrace the change as it comes.
Emily Yoo is Deputy Features Editor. Email her at
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