Illustration by Assel Mukanova

Finding Your People at NYU Abu Dhabi

I never really miss home… But one particular day within my first few weeks on the NYUAD campus, loneliness gripped my heart so strongly it felt like nostalgic grief… It took me a year but eventually, things fell organically into place.

Sep 26, 2022

For as long as I could remember, I had dreamt of having friendships like the ones you see in movies: the ones where everyone knows each other like family, with bonds standing strong against the test of time.
I desired friendship so dear and I was sure that I was going to find it at university. I was doubly sure that I was going to experience it at NYU Abu Dhabi. The presence of meaningful conversations, the many opportunities to share culture, and the friendliness of people was alluring. There was little doubt in my mind that at least one connection beyond the frail ties of acquaintanceship would bloom. Secondary school had been a flop. University was my shot at a new beginning, a new me, a less friendless me.
With that thought simmering in my mind, I joined as many online groups for the class of 2025 as possible. As is customary when things are new and everyone is brimming with excitement, conversations were exploding at all hours. There was always something to talk about, and messages flew at a frenzied pace. It was exhilarating. It gave me courage to tap on a stranger’s number within groups and select “message.” It was less scary to talk to a screen (with only the vague remembrance that there was a person attached to the phone); it was safer to test the waters, to weather rejection if it came.
Zoom invites would pop up occasionally and in frantic desperation, I joined as many calls as I could. It always seemed like the people there already knew each other. They would joke like old friends, forgetting that I was there. It did not help that my camera was often off and I preferred to type over speaking. I was an outsider right in the middle of things, clueless about context yet too afraid to ask to be brought into the fold.
Like many other group chats, those that I had joined reached the point of stagnation — some early on, others much later. I, however, had managed to keep a relatively steady line of communication with a few people whom I had envisioned a future friendship with. I thought I had found my people and that I would be okay. Reality was a rude awakening.
I never really miss home, not in the way it tinges your life with sadness and makes your heart yearn for people or places you hold dear. But one particular day within my first few weeks on campus, loneliness gripped my heart so strongly it felt like nostalgic grief.
Feeling abandonment so intense caused an ache for the familiar. The people I thought were going to be my friends proved to be nothing more than the excitement of the start of another chapter. I had come in with high expectations, and life had crushed them and left me in the dust.
Then, one night, I received a message from a girl in one of my classes asking if I wanted to play foosball in Baraha. I did not really know her or how to play foosball but I went anyway. We had fun and from there burgeoned something that had the potential to bloom into a true friendship. We hung out often, had meals together, gave advice to each other and depended on each other. She became special to me. I had found my person.
Winter break came, and with it, the time to say goodbye. As I was frantically pulling my luggage to the entrance of NYUAD to catch a cab as quickly as possible, she was there with me. Right before I got into the cab, she hugged me. We had never hugged before. I did not know that that moment was a goodbye more permanent and painful than a few weeks of separation.
The start of the spring semester saw me back at square one. My one close friend was now oceans away at another university. I ate mostly alone and was desperate for company. One night, seated outside D2, I was ruminating on my aloneness. I wept that night, for the loss of my friend and for myself. Finding my people was more difficult than I imagined.
I had joined the Abu Dhabi Christian Fellowship in the previous semester but did not regularly attend their gatherings. I lived on the periphery, desiring more but hesitating to reach out. Spring break was the beginning of the gaping hole of loneliness being filled. A few ADCF members had signed up to attend a youth conference in Dubai over the weekend. I did not know what to expect but decided to accept the invitation to join them.
On our way back to campus, we vanquished hunger with McDonald’s and sang songs. It was amazing, and unbeknownst to me, nascent bonds were sliding into place. Songs at night on a bus back to campus morphed into informal game nights, lunches at D1 and more regular attendance at Bible discussions. We laughed together, played music together, sang together, watched movies together and even studied together.
The group has changed shape because of study abroad opportunities, internships and the military but that does not pierce my heart the way it would have in the past anymore. There are still days when loneliness threatens to crush my spirit, moments when I forget that I am no longer alone and I find myself wallowing in grief for the friendships that never came to be. On those days, the world feels heavy but I am more at peace. It took me a year but eventually, things fell organically into place. I had finally found my people.
Ellie Allen is a Staff Writer. Email her at
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