Newcomer Juniors and Veteran Freshman Bridge Interclass Divides

It’s that time of year again: the start of a new semester. Amid choosing classes, meeting new professors and easing back into routine, unfamiliar faces ...

Feb 14, 2015

It’s that time of year again: the start of a new semester. Amid choosing classes, meeting new professors and easing back into routine, unfamiliar faces abound for freshmen and juniors alike as students on the Saadiyat Campus meet for the first time.
Currently, there is approximately a third of the junior class back in Abu Dhabi for the spring semester — a relatively large number given that, this semester, juniors are studying at a total of nine Global Network University campuses. Junior year is known for its hectic schedule, which crams myriad cultural and abroad experiences into two semesters of uncertainty and excitement. Yet, being a junior can present new surprises even back on Saadiyat Campus.
“The rooms are much different from how they were in Sama [Tower],” said junior Noor Al-Mahruqi, who arrived on campus a day before January Term classes began. “It took time for me to adjust to the room because I previously had a double for myself... so it was kind of different having three roommates all of a sudden.”
Having spent her semester abroad in London, where she lived with other roommates, it was the convenience and luxury of Sama that Al-Mahruqi missed. One aspect of the previous location was its ease of access: students were housed in a building that was just a short drive from the Downtown Campus where classes were held.
Stories and urban legends about Sama have circulated among upperclassmen so often that now even freshmen have an idea of what life at Sama would have felt like. The structure of the new campus has given students in all years much to talk about.
Whereas Sama had one dining hall in which everyone convened for meals, the new campus boasts both an East and West Dining Hall, along with dormitory buildings for different years.
Al-Mahruqi recalled her first venture into a dining experience at Saadiyat.
“I didn’t know anyone,” she said. “I literally walked through the dining hall and I felt like everyone was staring at me. Because I didn’t know any of them, they were looking at me like I was a stranger. But I’m a junior and I’ve been here for a while, and then I realized it was a bunch of freshmen I didn’t know. So that was quite difficult for me.”
Harshini Karunaratne, a freshman from Sri Lanka, believes that though freshmen could now be considered Saadiyat veterans, even they must still adjust to the campus’ daily routines.
“It’s kind of nice that we have some kind of experience that we can share with the upperclassmen," said Karunaratne. "This place is new to everybody, new to us, freshmen, but I think we’re surrounded by people who make the experience less uncomfortable and easier to adapt to."
Nahil Memon, a student who chose to spend her junior year in Abu Dhabi rather than travel to New York, had a slightly different perspective on the issue. She has been commuting daily to campus, and admitted that it felt isolated without all the juniors in Abu Dhabi.
“We started out… knowing everyone,” she said. “It was the same people every single day, until the spring of sophomore year where we had to say goodbye to each other.”
The class of 2018 is the largest yet, and their separate housing on campus has some upperclassmen expressing concern that there has not been enough interclass interaction.
“I feel like the freshmen community should be more integrated with us,” said Layan Abu-Yassin, the class representative for the juniors. “My problem is that the freshmen are so far away that I’m worried that the freshmen only know the freshmen.”
When the current juniors were freshmen, there were only some sophomores on campus, since  many of the juniors were at their study abroad locations.
“I think the upperclassmen were more excited to see us freshmen [back then]," said Abu-Yassin. "Juniors were mystical figures [since they were away] and so we were excited to meet them when they came back."
Despite the perceived divide between freshmen and returning upperclassmen, there is room for an equal exchange of help and advice from both sides.  Students are able to mingle through Student Interest Groups, core classes and events, and many converge at different J-Term sites around the world.
“There are things that, as a junior, I can help them with," added Al-Mahruqi on the reversal of roles. "And things that they could help me with. I came to terms with it."
As someone involved with the film department, Karunaratne said the opportunity to help upperclassmen with capstone projects can be way to bridge the class divide.
“They need to see us as an opportunity to act as our mentor in a way because they’ve definitely been here longer than us, and they have experience and knowledge they can share with us,” Karunaratne says.
Siba Siddique is a staff writer. Email her at
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