illustration by Al Reem Al Abbas

Study Away Chronicles: The Real Value of NYUAD

Perhaps we do not appreciate what a lot of us have at this university until we leave it, and recognize what we’ve been given.

Apr 1, 2024

I never liked the sentiment that ‘you only appreciate things once you lose them’. It points to the ungrateful aspect of human nature which gets used to good things too quickly and secretly enjoys hating and complaining. Studying away did make me appreciate a lot of things I temporarily lost. This whole column is a series of such confessions. Today’s is an important one.
When I think of the quintessential NYU Abu Dhabi experience, I think of sitting with a group of friends in the library, resting our heads on our keyboards trying to understand how we ended up neck deep into work again for us procrastinators. Every semester we promise ourselves we will take easier classes and every semester we live through periods when we count the amount of sleep we get in minutes (not hours). Exhausted from writing yet another essay arguing against well-established scholars, we wind up wondering what we are doing with our lives. Is university just an endless series of work and Saturdays spent in the library? When will be the next time we have time for fun? Have we ultimately made the wrong choice? Should we have gone to a different university?
I will be honest, these questions really got to me at the end of last semester. I had just switched my major, relearnt how to write essays and survived 20 credits of introductory classes. In the moment when my burn-out had burnt out, the thought of going back to the hamster wheel of week 8 to week 14 felt like an unbearable punishment.
Luckily, winter break and study away came in the nick of time. Shipped off to Prague to figure out my life once again, I frequently thought about NYUAD. Coming from our campus bubble, in which many things went without saying, I was now in a situation where I needed to explain everything about my (uni) life.
I was surprised by how little was known about our community, as well as Abu Dhabi and the UAE in general. One Czech person even asked me if women were allowed to drive in Dubai. Most, if not all, other students were severely prejudiced against NYUAD. In settings where the majority of people I encounter believed that the UAE is a land of danger and discrimination, I now needed to defend my educational choices. Why did I go all the way there to study?
One word encompasses why I made this choice.
NYUAD is an incredible opportunity. To understand this, we need to look no further than its students. NYUAD attracts many international students, often from developing countries, who require full financial aid to attend world-class universities. These students are the crem-de-la-crem of their high schools and perhaps even countries. Yet, this is more often than not not enough for many other American universities, whose financial aid is either much more competitive or much less comprehensive than that of NYUAD.
Not only is NYUAD one of the rare universities financially attainable for such international students, but it is also a university that provides its students with a myriad of resources. Our gym, library, and dorms –the things we often complain about –are fully and freely accessible to us. We never worry about spending money on books and the amount of times we need to open them during the semester to make them a worthy investment, or how we will afford the taxi to the airport once we depart home. Every semester, some of the best companies in the world come to the Career Fair students casually stroll around. So many of us are able to travel –the campus empties during any break while students tick world wonders off of their travel bucket lists. For some of us, the university-provided FAB card is the only bank card we have, and campus dirhams boil down to ‘free money’ used for the daily sweet treats we are addicted to. It is entirely possible to live in NYUAD comfortably and spend zero of your own dirhams during the week –a situation impossible in perhaps any other university.
These benefits extend beyond campus. Financial aid travels with all of our students. For students like myself, studying away somewhere in Europe, this means that we get to live in very nice housing in some of the best areas of our host cities and attend classes in historic university buildings in town centers. Campus currencies we get in Abu Dhabi translate into money on our FAB cards, sufficient for more than a comfortable life during study away.
Sharing that my financial aid covers all my expenses in Prague genuinely shocked my classmates from New York. Most of them are plagued by the worry of making their tuition dollars matter. This is a worry unrelatable to a big part of our community.
NYUAD gives students an opportunity and allows them to get an American education without the American price tag. This allows those of us who could not afford a similar option a chance to make it in life. Our school is a lifeline for some of us who lack the privilege needed to succeed. This demographic, usually sentenced to settle for other alternatives, was recognized as worth investing in. This fact tends to get over our heads while at NYUAD, often struggling to keep up with the demanding lifestyle. Yet, this visionary approach is the real value of NYUAD, unmatched by any other institution.
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