Illustration by Assel Mukanova

Do We Value Abu Dhabi Enough?

NYUAD exists at the crossroads of models of global education. Nevertheless, we do not value Abu Dhabi itself as much as we value how well it gets us to other countries. A product of a global university, is this relationship healthy?

Nov 27, 2022

NYU Abu Dhabi is a global site of NYU, though it is often not treated as such. Students come to Abu Dhabi yet take every opportunity to escape it, through fall breaks, long weekends, or any other opportunity to get on the cheapest flight to another country. The aim of a global university is to encourage cosmopolitanism by allowing students to explore these global sites. However, students who come to NYUAD are very comfortable in the campus bubble and rarely acknowledge the opportunities of being in Abu Dhabi. Why come to Abu Dhabi if you are not going to embrace the environment that you will spend so much time in?
We need to start valuing Abu Dhabi and its place in the UAE instead of treating it as a pit stop. Why do we treat this global site differently than the others we choose to visit? We all have a unique opportunity to be in a part of the world that sees little recognition within broader western academic institutions. Students in Abu Dhabi should use their positionality in the UAE as a lens to gain different perspectives on the world, leveraging the unique experiences gained through living on an incredibly diverse campus, in an incredibly diverse country.
In the same way that we would want to explore and embrace being in Florence, New York, London, and so on, we should hold those same sentiments towards Abu Dhabi. Why do we not? For one, all of our essential needs are met on-campus, making it a less cost-effective use of our time to leave the bubble we live in. Many students seem to think that in some ways it is more beneficial, engaging, and cost-efficient to travel abroad, especially because Abu Dhabi’s location internationally makes it an easy takeoff point to reach the rest of the world.
“Abu Dhabi is a great place to be in to travel! Europe, Asia, and Africa are very close by, and there are cheap flights when you look at the right websites,” said Chamindu Don Baddewithana, Class of 2025.
“I've found that it is often cheaper, or at least better value for money to just go abroad,” expressed Farhan Kamrul, Class of 2025.
But Abu Dhabi holds so much value as a global site, not only as the crossroads of the world but in itself. How many students within a western institution like NYU can say that they have the global exposure that comes with living in the UAE? There should be more efforts made to familiarize ourselves with the location that we are spending our university lives in, both institutionally and individually. We are not taking advantage of the rich and diverse history and culture that this location has to offer.
“Getting away from the pressure and the bubble is my reason for traveling [abroad] during breaks,” said Sara Vuksanovic, Class of 2025.
While this is a common sentiment felt by our student body, perhaps there are other ways of escaping the bubble without having to leave the country. But Abu Dhabi is much closer and is waiting to be explored as part of the greater UAE.
Not every off-campus outing has to be done within the confines of an expensive hotel or beachfront promenade. Go to Hamdan Street, have a one-dirham karak or two, then go thrift-shopping. Explore the art scene at the Cultural Foundation or Warehouse 421. Go to the Mina markets and explore Abu Dhabi’s sea-rich history at the fish market while getting a fresh catch for dinner! There are so many different sides to Abu Dhabi that exist outside of our bubble.
Students are not reaping the benefits of being in Abu Dhabi and in the UAE if they are spending most of their time on-campus. Campus is not an accurate representation of Abu Dhabi because it runs on a completely different social order, centered around life within the bubble rather than the “real world.”
Abu Dhabi and the UAE have so much to offer in terms of culture, language, history, and experience that students are not allowing themselves to explore, and this is not a healthy product of a global university structure. Exploring Abu Dhabi and treating Saadiyat as less of a bubble would make it feel more like home and as a place where roots can be set down. To give value to Abu Dhabi, we must change the way we perceive it as a global site rather than a pit stop between our other endeavors.
Shamma Alzaabi is Deputy Copy Chief. Email them at
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