Graphic by Megan Eloise/The Gazelle
NYU Abu Dhabi’s inaugural class is only weeks away from getting their diplomas. Yet the class size has diminished since 2010, when they first stepped through the doors of Sama Tower. Over the past four years, some students have made the decision to transfer out of NYUAD or take a leave of absence. While these choices were made for personal reasons, their stories may reflect thoughts and feelings that have crossed many of our minds as we adjusted to a new school, friends and city.
William London graduated from NYU New York in December 2013 and will soon be moving to Seattle to work for Amazon. Joseph Stornelli runs a tech consulting company and has been a student at NYUNY on and off, set to graduate in 2016. Both were part of NYUAD's inaugural class but chose to leave the school within their first year. London left after his second semester, though he explained that he had been having a difficult time adjusting to the new environment since the Fall 2010. Stornelli, instead, realized quickly that NYUAD was not fulfilling his expectations and returned to his home in the United States within the first few weeks of his first semester.
Before and after
After their Candidate Weekends, London and Stornelli were convinced that NYUAD was the school for them. London was attracted by both the opportunities for travel and the financial assistance package, especially since NYU had always been his dream school.
“All of a sudden, [the opportunity] was presented to me: You get to travel the world and live abroad and meet interesting people … But you’d also go to school at this school that you’d normally not be able to afford,” he said.
Stornelli explained that at the time, NYUAD seemed to be in a higher league than the Ivy universities he had been considering. He also said that the luxury of Candidate Weekend swayed him.
“We stayed in a fine hotel, toured our luxurious dorms and high-end facilities and even went to the Emirates Palace for a reception with traditional food, song and dance. My other [university] option at the time … looked blasé compared to this,” he wrote to The Gazelle.
Upon arrival in August, however, they discovered that NYUAD was very different from what they had imagined.
“The reality of the situation was a shock. Welcome receptions lasted a week but grew tiresome toward the end. Then came the workload … The honeymoon phase was over, and I had barely been there a month,” wrote Stornelli.
“I felt like I was living on a reality TV set or something. That [was] added to the fact that every single thing was being recorded because of all the hype around the inaugural class,” explained London.
Both of their decisions to leave were both personal and tied to individual goals and needs. London explained that, upon reflection, he was not happy at NYUAD and was not ready to handle the environment and the experience.
“I was in a lot of personal pain living there, in such a removed part of the world from what I knew at the time. I wasn’t, at the time, equipped to handle it in healthier ways … I didn’t have the tools that I saw my friends having, to handle the ups and downs of living there and handle the isolation and handle the foreign-ness that you always feel,” he said.
He admitted that alcohol helped him escape these feelings.
“The objective plusses couldn’t outweigh the way my soul never felt nourished living there. My emotional and intuitive side felt like, ‘This is wrong. You’re not supposed to be here. This isn’t the place for you.’”
While his decision to leave was difficult — both financial and emotionally — he said he could not have found the help he needed at NYUAD.
Stornelli’s choice was made for both pragmatic and emotional reasons. While at NYUAD, he was also trying to continue to manage his small consulting company in New Jersey, but this proved difficult because of time differences. At the same time, the Economics major he had just begun was disappointing.
“Not only was it very theoretical, but it wasn’t really a business degree at all. There was no pre-professional aspect, no recruitment focus and little possibility for hands-on non-academic work,” he wrote.
He added that his connection to family and friends was also wavering because of his location. The experience, though, pushed him to think carefully about what he wanted from his university career.
“It occurred to me that what I actually wanted [at the time] was a business degree … I didn’t want the culmination of my efforts in college to be a capstone project,” said Stornelli.
He withdrew quickly from NYUAD, returned to the United States and spent some time interning before enrolling in NYU New York.
No regrets, but grateful
Both London and Stornelli made it clear that being at NYUAD, even for a short time, shaped them.
“I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. This is the only way I would have ever ended up at school at NYU and living in New York City, which I quickly learned to love … If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there are certain risks worth taking, but you also must know when to divert yourself … I’ll do the same with other big risks as they come along,” he wrote.
Stornelli said that he was proud to have been a part of the first NYUAD class, whom he described as “extraordinary.”
“I’m still in touch with a handful of them too, and everyone I meet from NYUAD, in the class of 2014 or beyond, shares a bond characteristic of the Global Network University, yet uniquely NYUAD,” wrote Stornelli.
London felt the same way. While he does not look back on transferring out of NYUAD, neither does he regret going there.
“To this day, my closest friends are in Abu Dhabi. I didn’t make the same kind of lasting, powerful bonds with people that I have in Abu Dhabi,” he said.
As with Stornelli, London explained that the experience has been an integral part of his growth.
“I wouldn’t be where I am, I wouldn’t be who I am or I wouldn’t have the perspective that I have, if I hadn’t done it. So I find great value in the time that I was there, even though I wasn’t capable of finishing it out with my peers,” he said.