Illustration by Timothy Chiu

Where are you traveling this fall break — Small Talk or Burdensome Question?

While many students are excited to share their travel plans, some of us feel uncomfortable saying that we are “just staying on campus” and having to justify it. Why and how did traveling become an expectation for NYU Abu Dhabi students?

Sep 26, 2022

As fall break gets closer and Falcon Dirhams have just been renewed, the question “are you traveling somewhere this break?” becomes a decent rival to “what is your major?” and “how is your capstone going?” in casual small talk among the student body.
While many students are excited to share their travel plans, some of us feel uncomfortable saying that we are “just staying on campus” and having to justify it. Why and how did traveling become an expectation for NYU Abu Dhabi students? It has never been a requirement of the university — even study aways and January Terms abroad are encouraged but optional. It seems like we students put the pressure to travel on ourselves — and some in the student body are starting to feel it is becoming toxic.
“I never felt joy out of doing it [traveling] but I've always felt that it was weird to say that,” confessed Tranie Nguyen, Class of 2025. “Especially after coming to NYUAD, I feel like everybody takes this as a natural fact of life, that exploring the world and going out there and seeing things is the purpose and that it should make you excited and all that.”
Students for whom traveling is a lifestyle can have a hard time grasping how someone may not enjoy traveling as much as they do. NYUAD’s branding strategy amplifies the voices of students who would happily reside at the airport and not the ones who are concerned, indifferent or skeptical about traveling.
“The community is small. So everyone is always aware of like, oh, those guys are going on a trip,” says Aditi Jayachandran, Class of 2025.
The pressure to travel at NYUAD seems to be less about the fear of not traveling and more about the fear of looking like a boring person with no plans and no friends to travel with. A risk of not considering traveling fun is having a reputation as a person who is not fun to be around. Part of living on a small campus is having your life choices be open to public judgment — and having your reputation built on things not always objectively relevant to it.
“If I told them the alternative to traveling for me would be to just stay at home and do whatever I like, they would kind of insinuate that it's boring. And to that, I would just say well, you know, I consider your hobby boring. So if you consider my hobby boring, I guess we’re even,” says Nguyen.
Along with students who are genuinely not interested in traveling, some students want to belong to a travel culture at NYUAD but face limitations. We collected a few remarks on this from across the student body.
“I don't know if that's a good way to spend money, especially because it's not money that I've earned. A lot of my friends are full ride … So then every time they make a trip I'm like, should I go or should I not go? I don't know if it's worth it,” shares Aditi Jayachandran, Class of 2025.
“Just the thought of spending a huge amount of money on something as nonessential as traveling will make me feel like, oh, I should not do that,” Linh Hoang, Class of 2025, added.
Many of us come from cultures where spending money on experiences is considered squandering. Students often have to make a rational decision of saving up for graduate school, buying a new tablet for studying and sending money back home instead of going on a fun trip with friends.
For local students, the idea of traveling can be even more stressful since many of them have never traveled abroad.
“I feel kind of envious even though I don't wanna do it. I feel envious of the people that just travel to a lot of countries … They just go from place to place and they're always looking forward to the holidays …” said Ahmed Alakberi, Class of 2025.
Although solo trips are also popular, many people see the fun of going to new places is sharing it with their loved ones.
“I need … friends who are interested in traveling, but a lot of my friends are not that big on traveling actually,” confessed Hoang.
However, after finding people to travel with, students are worried about maintaining the balance between personal interests and friendships during the trip.
“When it comes to traveling with others, there's always a clash of what I want to do versus what they want to do. If somebody wants to go to the beach and somebody else wants to go to a museum, it's not really something you can reconcile easily,” shares Nguyen.
Ensuring safety while traveling is extremely important. Students who have had bad experiences in the past need more time to work through the trauma before they are able to see traveling as fun and not a threat. Some groups are more likely to be exposed to feeling unsafe during the trip.
Laura Moncada, Class of 2025, shared her experience: “As a woman, traveling is different. It personally provokes anxiety or, you know, kind of doubts about whether I should travel or not. This is because in the past I faced harassment and felt insecure in terms of safety. Yeah, it's fun once I get there. But before that, is this place that I'm going to safe? Do I know how to deal with strange men coming to me? Who am I traveling with, do they care about my wellbeing?”
Having opportunities to travel is a goal for people far beyond the NYUAD campus. However, most students agree that the main reason that pushes them to think about traveling this much is having the opportunity to do so. The downside of studying at such a resourceful university is the constant pressure to make the most out of each resource offered. Sometimes even without thinking about how relevant the resource is to our goals and values.
“It feels like you are missing out on an opportunity that you don't normally have,” shared Hoang. “It's not like every university allows you to travel around and go abroad during break. Coming here from a developing country, I feel like everything here is so gracious and it's like a one time opportunity that you wouldn't really get when you get out of this university. So there's always this need to make the most out of whatever it is four years here. And traveling is one of those.”
As a society that promotes diversity, we need to acknowledge that every student has different needs and therefore the resources each of us uses differ — and traveling does not have to be one of them. The pressure to travel is an issue that we as a student body subconsciously created ourselves.
However, there is something we all can do. Instead of asking “are you traveling somewhere this break?” try asking, “what are your plans for the fall break?” This subtle difference in phrasing eliminates the implication that you must travel in order to have a good time during your college break.
Traveling is one of the ways to make the most out of the NYUAD experience, but it is not the only one. Having no plans to travel does not make you a boring person, your friends can still be amazing even if they do not want to travel with you and it is okay to feel stressed about the idea of traveling as opposed to excited. Making the best out of four years at NYUAD can look any way you want it to.
Zlata Hlukhouskaya is a Staff Writer. Email her at
gazelle logo