Words From An Alumnus: Keep Building

Congratulations. You made it to Saadiyat. Your reward? You now face more questions about shaping your college experience than you knew existed. If you ...

Aug 30, 2014

Congratulations. You made it to Saadiyat. Your reward? You now face more questions about shaping your college experience than you knew existed. If you are at all like me the prospect of trying to manage your studies, your career, your finances, your friends and family all at once in an unfamiliar place is a little daunting. There is no shortcut or quick answer for these or the other hard questions you will encounter at NYU Abu Dhabi. However, as one of the few alumni so far, there are a couple of things I wish I had known before I started college that I am happy to pass on.
You are not alone. It sounds much more obvious than it is, but it is important to remember that every student in every class is trying to shape their learning experience at least as much you. Never underestimate the solace that can be gained just from having other people suffer through somewhat similar trials and tribulations. Do not assume your difficulties are greater or lesser than your classmates; instead, focus on what each of you can do to help lighten each other’s burdens. Ultimately, this was probably the greatest asset in the arsenal of the class of 2014.
Not only are you among friends when things are rough, but also everyone around you wants you to succeed. Of course, competitive spirit is alive and well in any classroom, but the overall reputation of NYU Abu Dhabi is still being established. Accordingly, every student, every faculty member and every alumnus or alumna, wants the best for you and your studies. One of the virtues of attending a college with such a tight-knit community in its earlier stages is the genuine vested interest of your colleagues. In my experience, seeking help from classmates, from professors or even GAFs, is often a rewarding way to break down otherwise indecipherable material.
That said, there will be moments where it is very difficult to be nice or to care for your fellow students. Cultural differences alone may make differences in opinion weigh strongly on any kind of relationship. If you can’t be nice, be reasonable. Find an appropriate avenue to express your concerns — in my experience this is almost never online — and do so in a respectful and open way. You will definitely be on the offensive and offended side of at least one conversation like this during college, and you never know when you might find yourself in the opposite situation. Don’t punish people for honest mistakes or ignorance, and be cautious with your language and assumptions around other people. A little bit of reason goes a long way, particularly in the long run. Even the members of this community that are exceptionally unpleasant in your opinion have earned the right to be here every bit as much as you, and therefore deserve as much respect from you as you would ask of them. Moreover, you will probably find that the energy spent on this kind of enmity far exceeds the difficulty of an open and honest conversation, particularly with an RA bringing their significant mediation and conflict resolution skills to the table.
Do not assume that what is important to anyone else is important to you, especially not the advice of an alumnus you have never met. Being a student at NYUAD gives you a lot of freedom, but also a significant amount more responsibility in shaping your experience. Which Student Interest Groupss are actually important to you? Which classes? What professional or athletic goals do you want to achieve while in college? You will be bombarded with options, any and all of which may threaten to consume all of the time you can give them. There are lots of sources of information to help you make an informed decision but ultimately, you must choose.
No, you cannot do it all. Some of you may have achieved everything there was to achieve simultaneously in your prior learning experiences. You may have excelled musically, academically, socially, professionally and physically. Sadly, due simply to an abundance of opportunities and a scarcity of time, you cannot do the same at NYUAD. By all means attempt to use your time as efficiently as possible, but even the most efficient student in history would necessarily miss out on some of the many learning experiences offered at NYUAD. Push yourself as hard as you desire, but recognize that ultimately we all must accept our limitations.
There’s a lot to be said for good planning and forethought, particularly for course planning. But when it comes to scheduling your time, less may actually be more. Give yourself windows for exploring Abu Dhabi, for chilling with friends in your dorm, for trying something entirely new or for whatever else may interest you. If you find yourself filling your time with a particular activity or additional study in a particular area, consider diving deeper there. Giving yourself free time and seeing what you end up filling that time with is an excellent way of following your nose to discover your own interests. In my experience, you will need to actively set aside time for this kind of thing. Your classes and extracurricular activities may have a way of sneakily absorbing more time than you may schedule or expect.
You are not just your brain, your readings and your laptop. You will need food, sleep, communication with other human beings and space to yourself. Even the roughest of classes is made easier by a 20 minute nap beforehand and no assignment was ever well-written on an empty stomach. Taking care of your body enables your brain to function better and honestly, the NYUAD Health and Wellness and Athletics departments are outstanding resources for keeping you not only functional, but in the best shape for your learning.
Last, but certainly not least, continue to reinvent what it means to be a student at NYUAD. Found new SIGs, build new connections on Saadiyat or wherever you may study. Vote for a change in a policy of Student Government, start a Rugby Union team or form a casual cheese and book club. The classes that came before you have done their best to shape NYUAD. However, the most defining aspect of the NYUAD education is, somewhat paradoxically, the opportunity to define it for yourself.
Keep building,
Joshua Shirley
Joshua Shirley is a contributing writer. Email him at
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