As I sat on the plane, my heart heavy with a mix of anticipation and melancholy, I couldn't help but reflect on the unique experience that is NYU Abu Dhabi. I was headed to Paris for a June course, while my friends from freshman year, pursuing different majors, were returning from their study away semesters to the Abu Dhabi campus for the summer. This was the reality for many of us engineering students who could only embark on our study abroad journey in our junior spring semester. Unlike our peers, who have the opportunity to study away twice before then, we often find ourselves separated from our closest friends for extended periods. It is during these times that I truly begin to understand the complexities of leaving and being left behind.
As the plane took off, leaving behind the place I had now called home and the friendships I had nurtured since freshman year, I couldn't help but feel a sense of detachment. My friends were returning to the campus that had become a second home to us, while I was flying off to explore the streets of Paris. There was an undeniable sense of longing for the camaraderie, the laughter, and the shared experiences that had defined our first year.
It was in Paris that I found myself thinking about those I had left behind as well as being left behind. This is a conversation rarely had — the experiences of the ones who remain rooted while their friends seemingly soar to new heights. While our friends were off exploring different corners of the globe, we were grappling with a sense of both pride and emptiness. Pride in their adventures and accomplishments, but emptiness in the spaces they left behind.
During the semesters I spent in Abu Dhabi without my friends, I often found myself reminiscing the small but significant rituals that had woven themselves into the fabric of our friendship. The D2 breakfasts, where we'd gather to fuel our bodies and spirits before a day of classes, were a cherished tradition. Late-night chats beneath the starlit Abu Dhabi sky had been our refuge. We would gather under the iconic palm trees, sharing our dreams, fears, and the complexities of college life. It was during these conversations that we forged connections that would last a lifetime. As young teenagers leaving home for the first time, the campus had become our sanctuary, and those late-night rendezvous were our secret meetings of the heart. Our Bollywood movie nights, scheduled every other week without fail, were a testament to our shared interests and the joy of communal experiences. The music, the dance, and the emotions on the screen mirrored our own journey through college.
But what struck me the most during those days on campus was the absence of these rituals. Everything on campus remained the same — the palm trees swayed, the smell of D2 breakfast wafted through the air, and the familiar sights greeted me daily. Yet, everything was different. It was a bittersweet experience to walk the same pathways, dine at D2, and stroll under the familiar palm trees, knowing that the friends who had made these moments special were now scattered across the globe.
The simplest of occurrences, both good and bad, would trigger a desire to share with my friends over voice and video calls. But now, I had to constantly check Google calendars to coordinate time zones, scheduling our meetings like business appointments. While technology bridged the distance, it could never replace the feeling of being in their presence — the warmth of a shared smile, the comfort of a reassuring touch, or the laughter that echoed in the room.
The sadness of missing those rituals was particularly acute because it is a shared experience among us engineering majors, yet it is seldom talked about. We all understand the sacrifices and the choices we have made to pursue our academic and personal growth, but the feelings of being left behind are often left unspoken.
Then came that one bittersweet week when our paths crossed again. I returned to Abu Dhabi a week before their summer classes ended, and those seven days we spent together were nothing short of magical. It was as if time had stood still. Despite the months apart, our connection remained unbroken. The laughter, the inside jokes, and the shared nostalgia of our freshman year flooded back as if we had never been apart. We explored our old haunts, revisited our favorite restaurants, and relived cherished memories. But beneath the surface, the impending departure weighed on our hearts, reminding us that we would soon be separated once again.
That one week and my journey in Paris were a stark reminder that our experiences, while shared, were undertaken from different vantage points. I was the one who had left when I went to Paris, and now I was the one coming back, watching as my friends reunited after their own study-away journeys. The contrast was palpable, and it deepened my appreciation for the two-way experience of leaving and being left behind. It made me realize that the ache of longing for those rituals and the company of my friends while I was in Abu Dhabi was a testament to the bonds we had forged. And so, I now carry with me the memories of D2 breakfasts, late-night chats, kulfi adventures on Hamdan Street, palm tree meetings, and Bollywood movie nights, cherishing them as the essence of my college experience — a testament to the bittersweet beauty of leaving and being left behind.
So, when my friends left for home after summer while I stayed back on campus for research, I couldn't help but shed a tear. It was a mix of sadness at being left behind, once again, and gratitude for having had those seven days of reunion. I realized that while we often hear about the adventures of those who leave, the experiences of those who stay behind are equally significant. So, here's to those who leave and those who are left behind — the unsung heroes of the NYUAD story. Our paths may diverge, but our hearts remain intertwined in the place we call home, and in the friendships that have become our foundation.
Sanshika Garg is a Staff Writer. Email them at email@example.com.