Illustration by Jam Moreno.

NYU Abu Dhabi: The Settling Years

With the impending graduation of NYU Abu Dhabi’s eighth class, we highlight thirty changes and growing pains of the last four years, from Covid-19 to the return to normalcy.

May 9, 2022

Four years ago, when I was just a first-year, I discovered an article published by the Gazelle that clued me in on what I was inheriting as a student at NYU Abu Dhabi. Written by Class of 2018 Alumna Thirangie Jayatilake, this article entitled NYU Abu Dhabi: The Early Years, outlined how many things had changed in the eight years since the first class enrolled at the institution. Reflecting on how our school had ‘begun to stabilize’ by the time of its fifth class’ graduation, the article presents 30 remarkable facts ‘about the early days of NYUAD.’ Now, almost four years to the day that it was published, I aim to present my own little sequel detailing 30 interesting facts about the changes that have taken place since the Spring of 2018.
Prior to Day Mart and Blue Mart, the convenience store was run by ADNH Compass. It was much smaller and had a severely limited selection of goods that were rarely restocked. Once a week on Tuesdays, there would be a ‘fresh fruits and vegetables market’ – the only time when students were able to purchase those specific goods.
When the space housing the convenience store was renovated in the spring of 2019, it temporarily relocated to the Marketplace, where it was covered by flimsy dividers and had essentially no variety in terms of products.
The place that now houses the Department of Undergraduate Admissions, used to be home to the writing instructors. Prior to that it was a 24 hour student working space called The Arc , where many commonly also went to take naps.
Before there was Amazon in the UAE, students used to have to order everything from In 2018 and 2019, most delivery drivers would not come to campus. In order to get KFC to deliver, you would have to get an order over 150 AED. Consequently, a common post on the Facebook group Hungry@NYUAD would be “KFC?” followed by a comment asking people to meet at the welcome center with exact change.
Before the Galleria Mall was added as a stop for the shuttle, it used to stop at Gate 4 on the Corniche.
Every candidate weekend and Marhaba used to end with a Welcome Dinner at a five-star hotel where the Vice Chancellor would address the crowd. This was later replaced by a plaza party event that the Class of 2024 is more likely to remember. Now, Candidate Weekend is an entirely online affair.
You used to be able to order food to your room from the dining hall and anywhere else using meal swipes. This was discontinued in the fall of 2018.
A meal swipe used to be 30 AED, you could buy as many drinks as you wanted with it, and Starbucks Coffee could be included within a swipe.
Candidates coming for Candidate Weekend used to stay in A1A and A1B and were later all concentrated in A1C. Starting fall of 2018, A1B started being a residence hall and by the fall of 2022, all three buildings will have become active residence halls. Sushi Counter used to have an all you can eat offer on Fridays for 80 AED. They ended the offer in the Spring of 2019 when students overused it.
Before our FAB Cards, we had Wirecards which were also sketchy, unreliable and annoying to use. The cards were replaced, after a scandal rendered Wirecard insolvent and its CEO, COO and other executives were arrested.
A common tradition held by our first Vice Chancellor Al Bloom was a visit to the top of the Burj Khalifa by all first years, followed by another five-star dinner at Abd El Wahab next to the Dubai Mall fountain.
For a while, Marhaba on campus took place in the East Forum as it could accommodate an entire class. From 2017 onwards, this moved to the Red Theater and Blue Hall when the Arts Center was opened. Prior to this opening, RealAD was also held at an off campus venue.
D1 is now a fully operational dining hall that serves more upscale food operating similarly to how it did before 2017. In the fall of 2018, it was used as an events space that was only open after 10 p.m. for late night dining options.
Cultural Nights were central to student life on campus. During the course of a normal school year, you could expect to attend Asia-Pacific Night, Latino Night, Afrofest, Diwali, the Pakistani Mock Wedding, Holi, among others.
Since 2017, the Arts Center in collaboration with Gazelion Records has hosted the Battle of the Bands where student bands competed with original compositions. Normally this took the form of a sprawling music festival outside the Arts Center. The last iteration of this competition was a friendly Bands on the Block that took place in the fall of 2019.
While the Interclassico was brought back this year, there used to be a slew of other hallmark athletics events such as Defend the Nest, the last basketball game of the season, that are yet to be returned.
Prior to 2018, Class representatives would often organize an inter-year capture the flag competition that was played across the highline. It often got very intense.
The Arts Center also used to host Open Studios where each department would showcase their talents in elaborate displays. It would also stage a theatrical production every fall starring students.
Prior to the pandemic, circa 2019 there were over 100 active SIGs on campus. Now in 2022, there are roughly half as many. Rumor has it that prior to the pandemic they were planning to open a franchise restaurant of Nolu’s, where the old bookstore used to be. That has not happened, but students can now frequent a new cycling studio named Frequency and two new salons to replace Studio XY which used to be situated prior to Fall 2019.
Prior to 2018, classes used to have regional trips funded by the school that would allow for students to go to different countries as part of their semester. These were discontinued before the class of 2022 came to campus.
The debate about what to do with the Campus Cats is as old as the campus itself. For a while, one solution temporarily implemented was to place spray bottles on the tables outside D2.
Movie outings were a staple of each semester. The Student Government Programming Board would rent out an entire theater and a hundred or so students would go watch a film together.
During a heavy rainstorm during the spring of 2020, a ceiling in C2 collapsed causing flooding in the area next to the ATM. D2 used to have a global food counter that served cuisines from different countries. It often caused problems, because they could never really figure out how to label the food carefully.
NYUAD used to have a host of SIGs that were focused on off-campus activities such as the equestrian SIG, the go-karting team and a golf SIG. The remnants of these SIGs can be found in SIG Storage.
There used to be an initiative called Lounge Lives that highlighted student musicians through filmed and produced sessions.
The Class of 2022 consisted of about one third of the student population on campus in 2018. Four years later, we make up less than one fifth.
Toby Le is a contributing writer. Email him at
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