Photo courtesy of Jamie Sutherland

The view from abroad

Photo courtesy of Jamie Sutherland I have been away for about 12 weeks now. That’s a third of the total time I’ve spent away from NYUAD since I arrived ...

Apr 20, 2013

Photo courtesy of Jamie Sutherland
"We relate to each other because we are similar. We learn from each other because we are different." – Associate Dean for Global Education’s email signature
I have been away for about 12 weeks now. That’s a third of the total time I’ve spent away from NYUAD since I arrived for Marhaba 2011. I won’t be back for at least another 38 weeks. By that time, I’ll have been away from the university for only a little less than a year. None of that is especially novel. Studying away is part and parcel of the NYUAD experience: first you sign up, then you fill in all the forms, answer all the emails, read all the blog posts, print the boarding pass and finally, almost incredulously, you get on the plane.
You will soon arrive at another airport. Most of us have an affinity for these glowing hubs, with the baggage, the duty-free stores and the lurid late-night lighting. But as soon as you arrive, things begin to fade. “Shukran,” “habibi” and “khalas” will start to slip out of your vocabulary, but you will soon replace them with “gracias,” “che” and “basta.” But, you will still try and dig up these old words when you find yourself in the inevitable themed restaurant on the other side of the world. For those of us away, hummus, falafel and shawarma are like madeleines for Proust, even if it’s true that nothing really can rival Foodlands and Lebanese Flower.
But that won’t stop you from trying. Sometimes Armenian restaurants in downtown Palermo offer half-decent kebabs, and it’s worth going there just to find that out. Even when you are far away, you will still feel part of that world. You may hear “¡Listos!” everyday, but "Yalla!” has appeared as a Student Government-sponsored web app, and now you can keep up with all the fantastic events you’re missing out on this semester. You will probably miss screenings of your favorite films, trips to places you’ve always wanted to go to and discussions on that one topic that has always fascinated you. But it’s okay. You’re away.
You have a whole city to explore and you can really be in and of it this time. Your homestay, apartment or dorm probably won’t have an attached gym, “Firefly” screenings, or even its very own Feminist Passover. You’ll actually have to venture outside to find ways to spend your day. While Buenos Aires doesn’t offer such feminist Passovers, it does have better jazz clubs than Abu Dhabi, as well as better steakhouses, museums, parks, cemeteries, pedestrian crossings, seismic stability, people-watching, coffee, tea, horse-riding, boutique shopping, Saturday morning markets and ice cream. The last is debatable. Regardless, you’ll be busy.
You’ll miss you friends. You’ll probably miss staff and faculty too. Your family, obviously. But you never expected “Firefly” to be on that list. What is “Firefly” even about? Where is all the information about these screenings even coming from? It’s on Facebook. You will be on Facebook, too. You will keep up to date with the earthquakes and Earth Day, watching out to see how NYUAD is doing without you. It will seem to be doing pretty well. You never expected it not to. No doubt, the university will not be the same when you return. You suppose the hope is that you won’t be either.
Studying away teaches you what you value most about NYUAD. It teaches you to celebrate new things, whether that’s getting a halfway decent grade in a class taught in a foreign language or just your first Passover, albeit not a feminist one. Friends are scattered to the four corners of the GNU, but you’ll make new ones. They’re not replacements, they’re additions, and next time you’re travelling to the west coast you’ll probably appreciate hanging out with those Californians. Travel is of course the dream. We all know ‘away’ is the new black, or at least purple.
Only at our university is go away not an insult, but an invitation. We may not all go the same place, but we will all have the same experience. Who needs to have all done the same thing? I don’t want my friends to be exactly like me. I just want them to like me. And when we all come back from Accra, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Florence, New York, London, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Tel Aviv, Washington, D.C., Shanghai, Sydney and wherever else we’ve been, we will grab brunch and catch up over hash browns and butter chicken.
Away. I hope you’ll go there too. It’s a great place, with interesting people and stunning views. It’s different from Abu Dhabi, and I’m not saying it’s better or worse, but I would say it’s worth going to. And you should listen to me, really. I’ve got badges on TripAdvisor. Foodlands will probably still be there when you get back, even if we have to make pilgrimages from Saadiyat. Buy yourself a new foreign-language dictionary. Grab a spoon for that new favorite flavor of ice cream. Away is a big wide place, but chances are it will have Wi-Fi somewhere. So go away. Post a status some time. We’ll all like it.
Jamie Sutherland is a contributing writer. Email him at
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