Illustration by Dhabia AlMansoori

How does NYU Abu Dhabi teach Migration?

On a diverse campus in a diverse nation, questions of migration and belonging find their way into almost any classroom. At NYUAD, fittingly, particular classes have been created to help foster open conversations about global practices of migration

Dec 12, 2022

NYU Abu Dhabi — and the country the institution resides in — is largely made up of migrants. It is made up of individuals either passing through or relocating from around the world. As such, it is a topic that most students are familiar with, having experienced migration themselves or through people they know.
That said, how are these lived experiences discussed in the classroom? Have students begun to reflect on the global phenomenon in a more nuanced manner during their time at NYUAD? How is migration taught at NYU Abu Dhabi?
Migration in the Core Program
Nathalie Peutz, Executive Director of the Core Curriculum, described what the core program aims to address in a statement. “NYUAD’s Core Curriculum… is designed to encourage students and faculty to think across and between disciplines, to pursue big questions from diverse perspectives, and with respect to 21st-century global challenges rather than the 19th and 20th-century academic genealogies that structure many universities’ curricula.”
The topic of migration often appears in core classes as one such global challenge — particularly through Core Colloquia classes like “Migration and Belonging” and “Migration”.
Professor George Jose, Visiting Associate Professor of Anthropology, has taught the Core Colloquium “Migration and Belonging” every semester since Fall 2020.
“One of the phrases we [anthropologists] use is making the familiar strange,” Jose noted. “[We tend not to reflect on] questions like ‘where do you come from?’... because the answers come out almost imperceptibly, unconsciously, So one of the objectives I have for my course is, really, how do we become more conscious of what might be the underlying frameworks, the models, that inform these questions?”
Along with considering how and why we define our identities the way we do, the course also explores how identity takes form in a world where maps are constantly changing. “[One of the] other objectives of this course is really to make us aware of the artificiality of borders, to denaturalize maps, and to begin to say that there's a way in which we should look at territory critically, not taken for granted,” Jose remarked.
Seo-Hee Hong, Class of 2023, took “Migration and Belonging” in the past. Her personal connection to the topic, having grown up in Qatar as part of the Korean diaspora, motivated her to take the class. She described how the class impacted the way she perceived her own migration background. “It changed how I thought about belonging because I thought of it as a very yes-or-no binary concept — but it turned out to be a lot more than that.”
Another student, Kate Ezubova, Class of 2026, who has also taken the course, described her personal connection to the topic. “I relate to the theme a lot, because… I have two passports. It's not that I migrated, but I belong to two communities, Russia and Cyprus,” she considered, before further elaborating on how both nations have a rich, and complicated, recent history with mass migrations. “Cyprus is itself a very interesting country [and] people who live there are all kinds of migrants if we think about it. And then if we see Russia right now, a lot of people are leaving.”
Both Hong and Ezubova drew from their own backgrounds when writing their two papers for the class, with the former writing on identity in Qatar and the Korean diaspora, and the latter writing about Russia’s past and present emigrations and Cyprus as a postcolonial state. “The course was nice because we got to explore what we wanted to write about,” Hong stated.
Ezubova reflected on her own experience in the course. “What’s good about this course is that it connects you with real life…you start to relate more to people who migrated, you start to understand nations better in the world, like, I knew nothing about India before I took this course… It's more about understanding how everything in the world works, and how to understand each other, and how to feel empathy.”
Another Core Colloquium that delves into migration is “Migration” which is taught by Professor Susan Ossman, Visiting Professor of Movements and Places.
“It goes across a wide range of disciplines. So you really look at migration all the way from animal migration and plant migration to human migration. There's a lot of emphasis on humans, of course. But we don't forget that, especially with things like climate change and also previous historical events, like the Columbian Exchange, there is a lot that humans bring along with them,” Ossman explained.
Ossman elaborated on why the course draws from numerous different fields of studies in discussing migration. “How is it that an economist doesn't necessarily look at migration the same way as a musician who's composing a song, for instance? How is it that somebody who is actually studying human migration and desertification might actually need to talk to the botanist who's looking at plant life?”
She further emphasized how the broad structure of the class is shaped by its status as a Core Colloquium. “Part of what Core courses are supposed to do is give you this more general background and also think about what different disciplines bring to the table. So that's integral to this particular way of teaching the course.”
Ossman considered how student experiences with migration are important to discuss in a class talking about those themes. “It’s not that you're just moving to the UAE, you're also migrating to a very specific community. And so that was really, I think, quite interesting for students to share their own experience in light of what we had been reading about in class.”
Rishika Panda, Class of 2026, contemplated on what she learned from “Migration”: “I have migrated a lot, I lived in 12 different homes, seven different cities, I studied in eight different schools… I still don’t know where I belong to and what would be my mother tongue… the class made me realize that everyone sometimes also goes through these things and it’s okay.”
The Core Curriculum includes more classes about migration across various disciplines, such as literature, theater, and social sciences. Some of these courses include: “Reporting on Migration” which considers how media coverage shapes migrant experience, representation, and policy development, “Literature of Migration” which looks into how migrants and migration been represented in literature and visual art, “Coming to Grips With Theater and Immigration” which explores what arts can do to capture the immigrant experience, and “Refugees, Laws, and Crises” which explores how international law responds to global challenges confronting refugees and states.
Migration Across Disciplines
Migration as a theme is represented through classes across the Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences — particularly in the university’s Social Research and Public Policy (SRPP) program, which aims to explore “major social problems of our times such as international migration.”
Professor Anju Mary Paul, Visiting Professor of Social Research and Public Policy, teaches the SRRP class “International Migration” at NYUAD.
“It's an introductory course in the Social Sciences that gives students a survey of migration studies as a field. It starts giving them a theoretical foundation to understand…questions around assimilation, integration, but also questions around return,” Paul commented. “It's not a policy class. It is meant to be more just around the theories of migration and looking at different case studies of migration. What I usually do is teach a separate advanced class that's focused specifically on migration policy… It's such a rich topic, and trying to do all of it in one course is impossible.”
She further elaborates on who this class is meant for. “It is a social science course. But…it doesn't presume any kind of background and is a 1000 level class so anyone could take it. As long as you're interested in migration — maybe you are a migrant, maybe you know migrants — I think it can speak to a very broad audience.”
One of the students taking “International Migration” is Sejin Park, Class of 2024.
“I appreciate how it's not restricted to one region, but instead draws on research from different parts of the world,” Park remarked. “The class made me reflect on how my own migration experience fits into or doesn't fit into categories of migration in unexpected ways.”
Paul emphasized why the course utilizes a global perspective. “The point of the class is to talk about migration as a truly global phenomenon… I know there are other classes that are taught at NYU Abu Dhabi, where the Gulf is much more the center of the focus, but this is meant to be a global migration class… I don't want to privilege any one part of the world too much.”
Other courses within the SRPP program look into migration through a more local context, such as “Gulf Urban Societies”, which considers the diversity of populations in the gulf resulting from historical and contemporary migrations as one of the topics of the course.
Migration is also a theme interwoven into the syllabi of other academic programs, such as History, which considers global histories, connections and trade in classes such as “History and Globalization”, “South Asia in the Indian Ocean World” and “Alexander and the East”. It is also present in other programs in the Arts and Humanities, such as Anthropology with classes like “Anthropology of Forced Migration”, as well as literature and music with classes such as “Migrant Poetics, Narratives of Flight” and “Music and Identity in Trade” respectively.
How does NYUAD teach migration?
Paul relayed her impressions on how migration is discussed on campus. “I was really pleasantly surprised by how many faculty there are who do work on migration related topics, maybe from an urban lens in terms of migrants in the city, or in terms of integration questions, or citizenship questions. Some people look at gender and migration, some people think about the arts and migration… Abu Dhabi, the UAE lends itself to these questions and concerns, and also the diverse student body that we have here as well.” She further commented how many of the institution's contributions appear to be qualitative.
Jose also expressed how he feels students have a plethora of classes about migration to choose from from the NYUAD curriculum, before considering what else can be done to further the impact of migration studies on campus. “I think there are other models of trying to generate knowledge, potentially. I certainly value the possibility of team teaching or collaborative teaching, and so on and so forth. But also, I am only too aware that the course that I currently have on migration only addresses particular aspects of that very rich experience, and I always welcome the opportunity to develop other courses that address other dimensions of migration.”
While NYUAD may not have a specific, formalized “migration studies” minor at the institution, there are plenty of opportunities for students to explore these themes during their time at university.
Hong encourages students to take a class on migration at NYUAD if they have spare electives. “With the range and diversity of students that we have in this university, at least one aspect about migration or belonging or identity are questions that we all have or think about and will hit home. I think exploring classes like this might help answer some questions [students] have. Because I know it answered some for me — not all, but some.”
Sidra Dahhan is Features Editor. Email her at
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