Photo by Alistair Blacklock/The Gazelle

The challenges of being abroad at NYUAD

Photo by Alistair Blacklock/The Gazelle “In this building, it gets pretty monotonous,” said NYUNY junior Nate Chumley. Behind him, Sama Tower’s windows ...

Apr 20, 2013

Photo by Alistair Blacklock/The Gazelle
“In this building, it gets pretty monotonous,” said NYUNY junior Nate Chumley. Behind him, Sama Tower’s windows glowed, speckled with the fluorescent lights of a city so different from Chumley’s New York, which is famed for its immense crowds, tangles of metro lines and dynamic urban life.
Like Chumley, NYUNY junior Brittany Hamzy has found that, in terms of urban and social life, moving from New York to Abu Dhabi was a difficult adjustment.
“There’s not a lot to do in this city,” Hamzy said. “Or if there is, it’s expensive and far away.”
This change in city life is just one among the slew of cultural and environmental differences that NYUNY students encounter when they study abroad in Abu Dhabi.
With miles of distance wedged between New York and Abu Dhabi, it is difficult for students from either campus to know what exists on the other side. NYUNY sophomore Martha Askandar picked Abu Dhabi as her study abroad site with few ideas of what the experience would be like, and was shocked when, upon her arrival, she was met with jarring disparities between the campuses. NYUNY students must adapt not just to a new city, but a different school atmosphere as well.
“I just came in not really knowing what to expect,” said Askandar. “But I was expecting NYUAD to be a very similar university as NYU. I guess that was my biggest expectation, that I would be attending the same school as back in New York.”
NYUNY student Jessica de Oliveira echoed this sentiment.
“Definitely the largest complaint [among NYUNY students] is the disconnect between the New York campus and the Abu Dhabi campus. When we [NYUNY students] came to study abroad, we all had the idea that we were coming into that same environment, and that we were going to meet people who just loved NYU. It was really disheartening to come and see that this wasn’t apparent.”
This disconnect between Abu Dhabi and New York not only causes a general air of confusion and detachment, but also seeps into personal interactions between students. For many NYUNY students, studying in Abu Dhabi has given rise to several concerns about possible gaps in understanding and beliefs between campuses. According to de Oliveira, even the simple act of referring to people as New York students or Abu Dhabi students can carve an undesirable divide into the overarching NYU network.
“At the end of the day, we’re all NYU students, and I don’t think that has been emphasized enough,” de Oliveira said.
It is hard not to see differences, however, when so many aspects of the Abu Dhabi campus — including interactions with students, the administration and the city itself — prove unique from the NYUNY experience.
“It’s a lot easier to meet new people here because you don’t need to have a pretense to get to know them and interact with them,” Hamzy said. “Whereas in New York, it’s really weird to sit down with someone you don’t know at all. You need to have a class with them or build up some relationships with them beforehand.”
This sense of intimacy extends to relationships with the NYUAD administration as well.
“It’s nice that things are more personable here, because it is a smaller community,” Askandar said. “Just the accessibility of administration and faculty, in terms of this being a small community … It makes it so easy to get in touch with who you need to get in touch with.”
From friendly elevator run-ins to classes with less than 10 people on the roster, the NYUAD community generates a social, tight-knit atmosphere. But although future NYUNY students can look forward to a more intimate setting when studying in Abu Dhabi, there still lurks the troubling divide between NYUNY and NYUAD students — and the consequential attitudes and behaviors that come with it.
“It seems like it comes from the administration and it comes from the students as well,” Askandar said. “There’s a separation between the two campuses.”
But what causes this divide, and where does it stem from?
Perhaps these two questions have the same answer. The divide between students brims with misunderstanding and a lack of communication. Crammed tight with these false impressions, the divide widens, making room for more assumptions, more of the shifty perceptions that members from different campuses sketch of each other. It is a vicious cycle fueled by misinformation, resulting in a disconnect between communities.
One of the largest and most alarming assumptions NYUNY students have encountered is the idea that students from the Square are of a lesser academic caliber than Abu Dhabi students.
“There’s a large feeling that NYUNY is somehow looked down upon here,” Hamzy said. “It makes us feel as though we’re not good enough to be here. It comes in through teachers and professors, and somewhat permeates some of the student body. There have been comments.”
For students who have never visited the U.S., let alone Washington Square, it may be hard to appreciate the academic merit of NYU. This false perception that NYU is less rigorous with schoolwork could have to do with the way liberal arts institutions are perceived in different cultures outside North America.
“Back in Bosnia and Herzegovina people don't even know what liberal arts studies are,” said freshman Djorde Modrakovic. “I have a feeling that the fear of liberal arts and its breadth is a common thing in many world universities outside the U.S.”
Such fear — and ignorance — of what a liberal arts education means may manifest itself in demeaning or offensive comments, which de Oliveira says she has received from a portion of the student body.
“Personally, it hurts,” de Oliveira said. “Even with questions like, oh, are the classes at NYUNY easier? Or oh, we heard that people at NYU don’t have to go to classes and they can just party and do whatever. Even questions like that, which seem innocent and come from a place of curiosity, give the impression that those things are true about NYU.”
Other students, however, are met with more blatant derision.
“I know in one class, some professor said, oh, you guys are much smarter, we’re going to move so much faster than the New York kids,’” Chumley said. “A New Yorker was in that class. And the professor should have known that.”
Aside from such comments, NYUNY students also felt academically belittled from the way NYUAD was portrayed to them.
“The first thing we were told we were going to get here is that we were going to have a really academically hard semester, and that we should get ready to buckle down, and we’re going to be so overwhelmed,” Hamzy said. “But I haven’t felt that at all.”
De Oliveira mentioned the marketing of NYUAD to be discouraging.
“I just feel like World’s Honors College contradicts with the notion of global network,” de Oliveira said.
However, NYUAD is attempting to work with the New York students based on their feedback in order to improve Abu Dhabi’s study abroad standing.
“We are so pleased to have the students from New York with us for study away,” said Carol Brandt, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Global Education and Outreach. “They inspire us with their commitment to contributing to the building of NYUAD and the GNU, their abiding intellectual strength and curiosity, their desire and ability to connect with the NYUAD and broader community, and their adventuresome spirit in joining us as we are growing.”
NYUNY students were told they had to pay for textbooks — some of which teachers rarely used and had only assigned under the assumption that their students would be receiving them for free. For many Abu Dhabi students, this assumption stands true. NYUNY students, however, were asked to pay full price for the books, in addition to import costs incurred from shipping them to Abu Dhabi.
The issue, and the frustration felt by NYUNY students, was brought to attention of the administration.
“Now I’m very happy to say that they figured that out and starting [in] the fall NYUNY students will have their textbooks funded for him,” de Oliveira said. “I think a lot of New Yorkers are quick to criticize and focus on the bad … [Students] have some criticism about the institution, but that comes with any new project that anybody takes on.”
Shrugging her shoulders, de Oliveira added, “There are some kinks that need to be worked out.”
Zoe Hu is deputy news editor. Andres Rodriguez is opinion editor. Email them at
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