Illustration by Daniel Obaji/The Gazelle
In the short time between the university’s Marhaba orientation program and its annual RealAD show, freshmen are given exactly two weeks to experience and explore NYU Abu Dhabi for the first time.
Representing over 70 countries, NYUAD's latest cohort of freshmen is poised at the beginning of an exciting four years. But Marhaba week presents its own challenges and, whether anticipated or not, they can make the first semester at university a difficult adjustment.
The NYUAD Confessions Page, an online Facebook page where students share
their thoughts and secrets, has published several anonymous posts about the initial troubles of university life.
Upset by a perceived inability to connect with new peers, one unnamed freshman wrote about their feelings of loneliness and seclusion. "I see everyone else planning to go places together and sharing inside jokes, and it just makes me feel a bit like an outsider," they wrote.
The post drew attention from fellow NYUAD students, attracting likes and comments of support.
Dr. Anita Tieman, a counselor at NYUAD, was not surprised by the student’s struggle to feel a part of the community, especially after the initial frenzy of Marhaba.
“[Freshmen] had this orientation, where everything was about excitement and getting to know things and learning about new people,” Tieman said. “And all of a sudden you don’t have the same things that brought you together. And so I think everyone experiences this kind of let-down from that initial excitement.”
This sentiment resonated with other students who had difficulty transitioning from Marhaba to regular university life.
Junior Ieva Liepuoniute, when asked about her impressions of Marhaba, said the shift could be a somewhat traumatizing one.
“You were doing all these social things, and now you have to do academics and there is so little time left for social things,” she said.
She said that the connections she made during Marhaba week weren’t necessarily friendships, but rather temporary acquaintances.
Friendships, she explained, began to form as people went to classes, joined Student Interest Groups and realized they shared common, more substantial interests.
“At the end of the day, it’s a long process, and it requires a lot of effort. It’s like academics: the more you study, the more you get out of it,” said Liepuoniute, who re-lived Marhaba last year as an RA for a freshman floor.
Senior Devin Ó Cuinn noticed that there are exceptions to the rule, such as couples
who get together during Marhaba and last for years. But it is important to realize that usually, both friendships and relationships take time to form.
Ó Cuinn added that a lot of people, including himself, remember sometimes feeling lonely during freshman year, especially in the beginning.
“You are completely displaced, in a lot of ways, from everything that you’ve ever done. It’s a big change from high school. It’s also a kind of culture shock for many people,” said Ó Cuinn.
The excitement of Marhaba and the slowdown that follows can be disorienting, but sophomore and Marhaba organizer Roman Kohut saw the pace as a necessary element of the week.
“Had Marhaba been done in a more relaxed sort of way, there wouldn’t be a need for [freshmen] to come a week earlier,” said Kohut. “The purpose of it was to make sure that they got to know the deans, got to know the place ... and that all takes time. That’s why [the week] was so packed.”
Since attending Marhaba is obligatory, students may need to find their own strategies to ease smoothly into the rest of the semester. Apart from the standard wellness services provided by the university, Tieman believes in the power of what she calls “managing one’s mood.”
As students mature and take responsibility for their own lives, Tieman explained, they also need to figure out what it is that will make them personally feel better, whether that’s talking to someone back home or simply attending the SIG Fair in search of new activities and clubs to join.
According to Tieman, even though freshmen can be most affected, everyone feels social stress and loneliness at times of significant change, like during study abroad. She suggested that an important technique in combating these feelings is to learn positive self-talk.
“Part of it is turning the words [in our heads into]: I’m not isolated, I’m just lonely today. So how do I go and not be lonely?’” she said.
Ó Cuinn also advocated taking time to leave Saadiyat every once in a while.
“I think if you don’t get out to the city in the first couple of weeks, it’s very hard to get out after," he said. "And I think that’s something that can contribute to this isolating feeling as well."
As a member of REACH, a peer support group on campus, Ó Cuinn is also involved in organizing a series of informal meetings for freshmen. The first took place last Wednesday, and another will be held a week later.
Liepuoniute, as a former RA, stressed the importance of reaching out to others.
“Talk to RAs, because we get trained for situations like that and we can really give advice,” she said, adding that she had been a strong proponent of facilitating connections between freshmen on her floor.
“Don’t get takeaway,” she added. “Go to the cafeteria and talk to people you have never talked to before, even if it’s awkward ... Life is so much better all of a sudden.”