Photo Courtesy of Malak Abdel-Ghaffar

Navigating Academics, Extracurriculars and Personal Life: How do Commuting Students do it?

On a campus where many students’ homes are a few time zones away, this piece explores the sense of community for day scholars and commuting students in NYU Abu Dhabi.

Nov 13, 2022

A defining feature of university life for many students around the world is living on campus, whether it be alone, or with roommates and suitemates. At NYU Abu Dhabi, this is how many students form life-long friendships, make core memories, and learn valuable lessons like timing their laundry so it doesn't get lost. Much of what distinguishes NYUAD from other institutions is the tight-knit community, facilitated by the fact that the majority of students, faculty, and other community members live on campus — which begs the question of why students would choose to commute, and how their experience on campus may differ as a result.
Sophie Biervert, Class of 2025, lived on campus for her first year before deciding to commute daily. “I switched to commuting because…I had troubles with my roommate and…I felt kind of claustrophobic. I felt like living on campus, I couldn't escape the academic environment and I just felt like I was living where I was working.”
In conversation with students who commute on weekends, their choice stems from a desire to see family as well as the convenience of free transportation offered to different Emirates. “I am not 18 yet so I cannot get my driver’s license…I would not want my parents from Dubai to drive a total of 4 hours every week, so since it's available, why not use the commuting bus every weekend,” said Sara Al Mehairi, Class of 2026.
For any student living on campus, it can feel almost impossible to separate academics, extracurriculars, and personal life which some students try to resolve by commuting. Al Mehairi reflected on how commuting during the weekends helps her navigate this compared to how she found it difficult to balance different elements of her life during highschool. “When I was at school, I was at home, I was doing my homework, and my mom calls me, my dad calls me, my brother needs my help, but when I’m living here, I have time for myself, I can focus on my academics, then that one day [when she commutes to Dubai] I can focus on my family,” she elaborated.
Similarly Biervert touched upon how her mental health and happiness has drastically improved following her decision to commute. “Being at home, separating my work and personal life, I just get a break from the university. I love the area I live in, it's very pretty and very nice, I feel more connected to nature.”
Meanwhile, Budoor Al Rahma, Class of 2023, contended that although commuting has its advantages, the hassle of travel still makes the distinction between work and home difficult. “It is beneficial for me, but I feel like I still do not have work life boundaries…I don't feel that separation.”
Al Rahma also touched on missing out on campus events as a result of having to commute. “I live on campus most of the week so I don't feel like I’m missing out on anything in terms of relationships, in terms of activities [other than university activities] that happen on the weekends, and I miss — not even a lot — I miss all of that.”
Yet, Al Mehairi stressed that there is not much we can do about this. “We’re such a small group, so I don't think they should do that [moving events to weekdays] because some people who live on campus full-time have nothing to do on the weekends.. So the events are good for them.”
“A lot of my friends tend to go out in the Saadiyat area which is a little far from me.Those are the downsides of commuting, you miss out and perhaps you’re not as integrated because you’re not living with friends,” said Biervert.
Even though students may miss out on events, traveling by bus to campus on the weekends allows them to form friendships. “I got to know a lot of people on the bus, because you’re forced to, because when the bus is full, you have to sit next to someone for three hours and you're forced to talk,” said Al Mehairi.
However, they reflect on some of the weaknesses concerning commuter support from campus that have not yet been resolved. Al Mehairi mentioned the difficulty in identifying the commuter bus since there is no NYU logo, as well as a frustration with the bus being early without notice or late due to an extended waiting time at different stops.
Al Mehairi and Al Rahma stressed that better accommodations need to be made in order to support students who commute on weekends. “I’ve heard a lot of complaints, and that's why the Domestic Student Advisory Board was established,” added Al Rahma.
While students are working diligently to make campus more accessible to commuters, such as with the recent opening of the commuters lounge to give them a dedicated space on campus to spend time between classes, some look forward to future efforts to actually build a community. Biervert stressed a need for more cohesive communication among and with commuters, admitting that she was unaware that a space for commuters existed.
Biervert stressed the importance of finding out what works best for each individual. “It's just a matter of planning and going with what you feel comfortable with and if you are someone who prefers living at home for whatever reasons they may be, then you should go for it because your life isn't going to be terribly affected because you're not living on campus, and for non-commuters, I would say if you’re happy where you are then stay where you are. In the end, do what makes you happy and what makes you feel at home.”
Liyan Mustafa is a Deputy Features Editor. Email her at
gazelle logo