Image description: A suitcase sits outside the welcoming portal of NYUAD. End ID
Image description: A suitcase sits outside the welcoming portal of NYUAD. End ID

Illustration by Milena Bisenic

The Freshman Experience: Is It Worth It?

Is the dream of NYU Abu Dhabi even real? A first-year student’s perspective on expectations meeting reality, and other lessons.

Sep 25, 2023

As an individual who applied for Early Decision 1, I had imagined the moment I finally arrived on campus over a million times and it all seemed so magical in my head. Sadly, I arrived in the middle of the night to an eerily quiet campus. But that wasn’t enough to kill my excitement, so as I walked to my dorm lunging three very overweight suitcases, I made sure to look around and bask in the very humid air, appreciating the achievement of finally making it here. I have been here for a month now, and it has been full of ups and downs.
That first day of Marhaba week was an eye-opening and unexpected experience. Walking into a room full of people is an introvert’s worst nightmare, but I did: I walked into a room packed with first years and even managed to talk to a few of them, which I considered to be a very big win. But then the more I talked to people, the more I felt like me being here may be a mistake. I always considered myself an overachiever; I was a high school valedictorian and was responsible for so many extracurricular activities at school, but so was everyone else. Everyone seemed to be extraordinarily smart and talented, and at that moment, it felt like maybe I wasn’t. But then I told myself, “well, they accepted you here — there has to be a reason why”. I shoved the negative thoughts to the back of my mind and let myself actually know these people, and that might’ve been the best thing I did. Every person I talked to was just so nice and welcoming, none of them made me feel any less about myself, so what was I so scared of?
Marhaba week was so super packed with events that we all came out sleep-deprived and tired before the semester even started, but at the same time, we came out of it with so many happy unexpected memories. Everyone was scared and nervous but also so open to meeting new people, smiling when you passed each other in the hallway, and most importantly singing their hearts out in karaoke.
That week had to be the biggest high in the world because I did not see myself going up to complete strangers, introducing myself, and becoming friends with them. The high school Mariam would’ve stayed in her room and only attended the mandatory events, but knowing that everyone had left home, and everyone was feeling the same nervousness made me feel a little better and it honestly made me feel like reinventing myself. I kind of did: I sang karaoke with people I had just met, danced like I had never before to a silent disco night, and played a new and very confusing board game with people I can now call friends.
But that high seemed to fully crash during the first week of classes, because suddenly I already had three writing assignments, 40 pages of reading, and calculus homework. Suddenly, I found myself lost in classes, trying to understand my professors’ accents and trying to come up with something interesting to say to seem as smart as my classmates. I quickly came to the realization that this is nothing like high school: the workload is intense, and participation matters as much as every single assignment and quiz you have. The homesickness was also kicking in at the same time and I found myself thinking, was leaving home a good idea? I could’ve enrolled in a university with all my friends and continued to live with my loving family. Was this worth it?
Writing this now, I know my thoughts were very out of hand, but this is what happens when you give an overthinking person a room alone 2900 km away from home. The moment I talked to other first years , and I found out they shared my struggles , I instantly felt better. The assignments and quizzes did not disappear but at least I felt like I belonged, and that itself is a strong feeling that can boost your mood.
I think the moral of this story is that talking to my fellow freshmen always made me feel better. I might not be friends with all of them, but these awkward conversations in the elevator, the laundry room, and the hallway keep me going. Being scared and lost is part of the process, it is why I chose to leave home and what will eventually make this the best experience it can be. So yes, it is worth it. Doing my laundry, taking out my trash, and cleaning my room is part of the process, part of my goal to be the best version of myself. So yes, Mariam: you’ve worked so hard for this, actually enjoy it and make the best out of it.
Mariam Okasha is a Staff Writer. Email them at
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