Photo courtesy of Amelia Kahn

Virtual community: staying connected while abroad

Photo courtesy of Amelia Kahn In a world echoing with the beeps and bloops of Facebook chat, study abroad no longer requires a definitive goodbye. When ...

Apr 20, 2013

Photo courtesy of Amelia Kahn
In a world echoing with the beeps and bloops of Facebook chat, study abroad no longer requires a definitive goodbye. When students can keep in touch through the ever-present buzz of online communication, choosing to study away means a short hiatus from only the physical world of Abu Dhabi — a shift from personal relationships to online ones.
“We have Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook,” said Valentina Vela, a sophomore with several friends who are currently abroad. “Seeing somebody go is less about I’ll never see you again, and more about figuring it out.”
Is that to say social ties no longer factor into study abroad choices?
“I definitely think social ties come into play,” added Vela. “I know that there were friends who were really sad to tell someone else, you know, I changed my mind and I’m not going to your [study abroad] site. Or there were people who changed at the last minute to be with their boyfriend or girlfriend, canceling one site to go to the other.”
Somewhere along the line, NYUAD’s study abroad program has morphed into a study abroad culture. Students are expected to become intrepid world travelers who trot the globe, zipping their educations into suitcases as they lope across continents and countries. It is common for an NYUAD student to visit at least three different continents by the time they graduate.
Despite being labeled as global citizens, students are still uncomfortable with the idea of leaving behind friends in Abu Dhabi as they go off to continue their educations abroad.
“[The topic of] study abroad comes up when we’re sitting around with the sophomores, and we tend to change the subject just because we don’t want to think about it,” freshman Rasha Shraim said. “In about five weeks or so we might never get to see each other again.”
Students  continue their Abu Dhabi relationships on their cellphones, yet to electronically keep friends and loved ones stashed in purses and back-pockets is not enough.
“Just like in Abu Dhabi, a lot depends on proximity,” said Jessica Obidowski, a junior who has spent three semesters abroad. “It is easier to keep in touch with people who live in your dorm or are in your classes.”
Much of study abroad centers on interacting with people outside the NYUAD community. These new, budding friendships may take priority over Abu Dhabi friendships, which glow forgotten on computer and iPhone screens.
“It’s definitely hard,” Shraim said. “Once you’re not in the same country, it gets really hard to keep in touch. I don’t think my friends and I are going to stop being friends, but, possibly, there will be new, closer relationships [with other people]. It’s difficult to keep up with.”
NYUAD’s study abroad program unfolds into a wide range of choices. Students can pick and choose among a transcontinental buffet of sites, while also deciding when they’d like to schedule their study away. While some opt to do a whole year abroad, others choose to study away in semester-long stretches. The amalgamation of different plans and times can lead to conflicts, wherein one student may choose to go abroad for a semester, and then come back to Abu Dhabi at the same time their friends take off for their study aways.
“I don’t know when I’m going to see her again,” said Vela about her friend who travelled abroad. “She left for Berlin and then she’s going to be somewhere else, and then I’m going to be in New York. It’s not working out.”
Due to this reason — as well as the appealing idea of tackling a foreign experience with a friend — more and more students are tailoring their study abroad plans to match those of their classmates.
“Mike and I definitely made the decision to study abroad together this spring in London,” said sophomore Roshni Dadlani of her good friend, sophomore Michael Neubauer. “We’re really close and had always talked about traveling together and this seemed like the perfect opportunity … We spend a lot of time together and run in the same circle of friends, which can all become a lot to handle — we bicker a lot.”
However, Dadlani maintains that there are certain benefits that come with factoring social ties into study abroad decisions.
“At the end of the day, I always have my best friend’s shoulder to lean on,” Dadlani said. “On some days in London or any foreign place for that matter, that’s golden.”
Obidowski also asserts that studying abroad with friends is beneficial — not just for the fun of traveling with a friend, but also because of potential risks that arise when one is not conscious of how their study abroad plans may affect their social ties.
“Though one of the purposes of studying away is to make new friendships, especially outside of NYUAD community, it is also important to maintain those you already have,” Obidowski said. “If you don't take this into account, it might be the case that you won't see your friends for two years out of four in college.”
However, there are limitations to one’s study abroad choices. Certain majors and class requirements are provided at select few sites and times. Some students, especially those on the engineering track, may find that academic obligations must trump social ones.
“You can try as much as you can to sacrifice certain academics things, but you also have to graduate,” Shraim said laughing. “At least for me, academics come first.”
That said, students become experts at the long distance relationships. Seasoned Skypers and Google Chat veterans, most students come into the university mentally prepared to handle the stress of long-distance.
“Just by being here, we have long distance relationships to our parents, our families, to everyone back home,” Vela said. “The fact that we’re here and not breaking down everyday means we have the muscle to do long distance friendships or relationships. We’re just good at it.”
Zoe Hu is features editor. Email her at
gazelle logo