Quite a few people now know how I went through two rounds of university applications and applied to a total of 43 different colleges. They know because I made it everybody’s business that I was applying for college and the stories I heard about myself during this period of my life are terrifying. However, cliche it may sound, the only thing I remember from this long and winding journey is the people who helped me achieve a lifelong goal.
The list starts with my grandmother patiently peeling apples and mandarins right next to me at our family’s home. As I was fiercely typing essays upon essays and filling out financial aid forms, she would continuously fill a small plate with the fruits and pass it to me in silence. She would be the first to scold anybody who turned up the volume of the TV (even when I told her it did not bother me) and the last to leave my side until all of my books, scrap papers, and pencils were put away.
Then there are, of course, my parents who would tip-toe around the elephant in the room and try to find anything else to talk about. They felt unprepared to even talk about me leaving for university, especially during my first round of applications. It all happened too soon, too fast, and too chaotic for them to keep up with all of the new terminologies like “major,” “CSS,” and “SAT” that entered my daily vocabulary. In the end, however, despite the disappointments from the first round, they asked me to translate and print all of my essays for them because they wanted to get to know that new me.
My teachers made miracles happen. They were the ones who knew how to share all the excitement, stress, and plethora of emotions that accompany the college application process. And it was also them that encouraged me to apply to NYU Abu Dhabi specifically during the second round of applications.
If it were not for them, quite sneakily, talking about their teaching experiences in the Gulf region, I would probably have never known about NYUAD. The second year around I was even more scared and hesitant to apply to universities abroad. I was also so unimaginably tired of the whole process that it was sheer will and desperation that I submitted another 20 applications. Among them was one for NYUAD, just for good measure, as my college counselor put it. When I finally received the (too) long-awaited acceptance letter, I spent three days sending out “Thank You” emails, going around and giving out candy, and updating all of the people who helped me get to the final stop of this journey. My grandmother was at it, too, because the next time I went back to my hometown, the line of neighbors who brought in gifts to congratulate me was worthy of a renowned celebrity, not just a newly accepted college student; only a red carpet was missing at the entrance of our home.
It was not without fear or doubt that I came to this campus. It was not my first choice … it was just luck. And I never believed the college counseling lore that there is a “best fit” college for anyone until I met the first fellow first-year students at the Abu Dhabi airport. All it took was 15 minutes of waiting for the shuttle to create friendships that are, a year later, still some of my most precious ones. It was the ease with which we connected and the shared desire to not belong to a single place, but rather to a community of explorers that solidified NYUAD as the “best fit” university for me.
All of the beautiful memories I have managed to create in the past year have all but erased the disappointments and exhaustion of the application process. In the end, all the effort was worth it, as promised by that whole village it took to get me ready for college, and I found a place to belong. NYUAD might not be an obvious or easy choice for everyone, but, come on, is it not a more interesting conversation starter that you study in Abu Dhabi and not in rainy Rotterdam?