An overlay of the Abu Dhabi skyline and major monuments against a green and yellow background.
An overlay of the Abu Dhabi skyline and major monuments against a green and yellow background.

Illustration by Ahmed Bilal

What is life teaching me right now?

What was my study away semester at NYU London like? This is an ode to missing friends, learning, and growing through travel.

What is life teaching you right now?
Last August, I encountered this question during First Year Dialogue training. I remember answering without having to think about it: missing. As I reflect on the end of my semester, and more broadly, on the end of this academic year, I know that if I was asked the same question today, my answer would still be “missing.”
Studying away, personally, was one of the most attractive things about NYU Abu Dhabi. Getting to study an entire semester outside of our main campus sounded really appealing, but I never put too much thought into the social and personal implications of it. Then, one of my closest friends left for their study away. In the months that followed, we tried to keep in touch by texting and calling, but the time difference and our daily activities kept us busy. I remember doing the math to realize that we wouldn’t be in the same place for three consecutive semesters, only reuniting for his last semester at NYUAD.
One of the things I’m most grateful for is the people I’ve gotten to know at, and thanks to, NYUAD. Meeting so many extraordinary people in the same place seems quite like a dream to me, hence the hard time coming to terms with the temporary character of these impactful relationships. Someone once told me that no semester is like the previous one and I guess that includes people too. Despite knowing I will not see the many people I have bonded with this semester for a long time, I am grateful that we made the most of our time together.
Studying away made me reflect so much on the importance of appreciating the present, the quotidian moments like waking up and saying “good morning” to my roommate, the spontaneous walks around London after class, the pleasing encounters at the airport, all while keeping in touch with friends at home — in Abu Dhabi, or elsewhere. Last semester, I missed my friends that were studying away; this semester I missed the people studying away at different global sites as well as those in AD. Now, thinking about how, once again, my friends studying away with me and I will go separate ways for the following year, makes me wonder if I’ll be able to have a different response in the near future to what is life teaching you right now?
When discussing this with a friend, I realized how much privilege there is behind this struggle, and pondering on privilege has been a constant during study away. This semester I reconnected with some high school friends from high school that are also studying abroad. Talking about housing costs, living expenses, education fees, transportation expenses, going back home at the end of the academic year, living abroad, educational systems, recreation time, and more, reminded me of the substantial privileges that having a full-scholarship at NYUAD entails. I was talking with one of my friends studying in France about bills, and she told me that gas and electricity prices have been ridiculously high since the war in Ukraine started, hence her reluctance to turn the heater on unless strictly necessary. Another friend living in Edinburgh made a similar comment about the heaters, and how she would spend most of her time on campus because they have the heaters on all the time.
Living in London during the end of winter under a full NYUAD scholarship, I didn’t think about how a seemingly small, insignificant act like turning the heater on was a privilege before I had those conversations with my friends. In a similar way, I read an article in one of the local newspapers about how living in central London is becoming more and more difficult because there is a shortage of housing and the prices are almost impossible to afford with a normal salary. This has led to people going through ridiculous selection processes that consist of multiple interviews and housing conditions far from desirable if you’re lucky enough to pass the selection process. Meanwhile, I have both the luxury of never having to worry about searching for affordable housing, and having my commuting time be less than seven minutes. Budgeting for the first time in university was definitely challenging, however, the amount of money we get for food for the entire semester is more than enough if you decide to cook. Although I was more aware of what an increase in the price of specific products meant for my regular expenses, it didn’t feel like a huge problem because I knew that my stipend was generous enough to afford price increases if I continued cooking regularly. My friends cooked too, with the big difference that higher prices do have an impact on their finances.
In NYU London, I was fortunate to have professors highly passionate about their subject. I took a class where we discussed different shows — our professor would get so excited talking about a specific actor, director, or design choice, that he would tell us the whole story of the theater we went to or the career of a specific person. I had another professor who would be very critical of the country’s history with Imperialism and its implications in modern-day society. Similarly, one class focused on the many characteristics of the Middle East, actors in the region, conflicting interests, and more. Regarding activities outside Academics, the Office of Student Life planned a different array of activities throughout the semester, from touristic trips, relaxing activities like tea afternoons, theater shows, to activities with impact like a volunteering trip to the Wales’ National Park. The volunteering trip to Wales was the most noteworthy group activity I had this semester … I am so grateful to the Office of Student Life for organizing it.
Studying away has also been about being comfortable with doing just enough and enjoying what the city and life have to offer. I have been able to breathe in London knowing that I only had to worry about classes. I have been able to walk around the city without destination or take random buses, and at some point pleasantly realize that I ended up in a familiar place. I visited so many churches and spent a significant amount of time near nature, although the weather has been a big constraint on how much I enjoyed visiting parks and gardens. Study away has been about finding comfort in being alone, but also in creating memories with people that I have become close to, and to a certain extent, have gotten used to missing. As I wrap up this semester and academic year, I smile with satisfaction as I write this, knowing that although I still have so much to question, get used to, change, be uncomfortable, and comfortable with, so far, I have learned a lot. We’ll see how next semester goes.
Scarlette Jimenez is News Editor. Email her at
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