Illustration by Gauraang Biyani.

Coming to Terms with Transient Friendships

My senior friends graduate in less than 30 days. My second-year friends leave to study away next year These were relationships I nurtured with love, warmth and patience and now I am forced to grapple with their absence.

May 9, 2022

On the last day of high school, our tight-knit group of five vowed to ‘stay in touch’ as we parted ways. Tears rolled down our cheeks, as an overwhelming sense of nostalgia took over each of us. We clicked a few polaroids as souvenirs and thanked the advent of the 21st century for a paragon like social media. All five of us are in different countries now and coordinating time zones for a video call has become a hassle. But the polaroids serve as a long-lasting reminder that high school gave us something we valued, something we cherished and a reminder that we were strong enough to build something. We were friends for 12 years and created countless memories with each other; nevertheless, the burden of getting a higher education, staying on top of academics, and professional life got to us and cast a dent in the bond we once shared.
My school was a microcosm of NYU Abu Dhabi, with NYUAD being a more palpable version of this phenomenon. When I applied to NYUAD, I was amazed by the offer of two study aways, June terms abroad and advanced summer opportunities. But I rarely evaluated the social implications of this program. Being constantly on the run, working on the visa process for the semester abroad and looking for an internship during our study away. This institution is very dynamic in nature. We take pride in our work ethics, in a curriculum that pushes us to go above and beyond and in the resources that give us the opportunity to relish university life. With its pace, we lose ourselves, and the chance to introspect how a conversation is holistically expanding our intellectual powerhouse. Rarely do we have the time to sit and ponder, to value what we have built here.
People are always coming and going. To some extent, we have normalized this temporality and applied it to the sphere of our friendships as well. In many ways, this university is akin to a transit lounge, just a propeller for where people eventually want to get to. I have barely seen people express genuine gratitude for being at the institution itself. This university presents itself as a pedestal, to climb on and reach for bigger things. This sentiment largely derives itself from the notion of belonging and inclusion from the institution itself as well as the larger landscape of the UAE. As Unnikrishnan said in his masterpiece ‘Temporary People’, there is an internalized feeling that we are 'people from elsewhere' who live as perpetual foreigners, often in fear, with precarious futures. Thus, we look at NYUAD as a temporary part of our lives. Consequently, this feeling is reflected through many of our social bonds.
Another unspoken factor that definitely affects the health of our relationships is the cut-throat competition and pervading sense of ‘inferiority complex’ that is evident in our community. This competition stems from a small community that is vying for a small pool of opportunities. In this process, your friend is contending for the same position as you, and when they get it, there will undoubtedly be a feeling of slight resentment. On one hand you are beaten to the back that you have to fit in the definition of success, but on the other hand, also expected to maintain immense cordiality with someone who came in the way of you fitting into this definition. And that is a big ask to make — especially for young people like us. Thus, there is somewhere the aspect of convenience that also shapes our friendships. My general observation is that many of the friendships here at NYUAD are very transactional in nature — and that is also a place where this temporality stems from.
Fuelled by representations of media, we have these preconceived notions of what ‘ideal university friendships’ look like. Life at NYUAD is not minutely similar to these representations. As much as I want to invest in these friendships I have made in the first year, check-up from time to time I wonder whether I have the emotional bandwidth with everything that is happening. I have to come to terms that some people are temporary chapters of our life. But that doesn’t mean they are not valuable. It’s people who come into our lives, induce a new form of self-discovery and help us come face-to-face with an improved version of ourselves. As they leave, I have a gut-wrenching feeling and it is one that I have not yet overcome.
Aarushi Prasad is Deputy Opinion Editor. Email her at
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