Illustration by Reine Defranco/The Gazelle

Why I Didn’t Drop out of NYUAD

Why do we study? A biology major may be studying in order to become a doctor in the future. Engineers often have plans for the future, and know that ...

Illustration by Reine Defranco/The Gazelle
Why do we study? A biology major may be studying in order to become a doctor in the future. Engineers often have plans for the future, and know that they have a safe spot somewhere in the workforce. Political science majors sometimes take this subject as a means to study law or to join an international organization. But I’m a creative writing major. All I’ve been told growing up is that artists starve to death, that they are usually depressed and drink a lot — like Van Gogh did. I have no idea if I’ll ever be able to make money out of my writing; all I know is that writing is my passion. After I’m done with university, there is no clear path. I won't be working as a doctor fighting against writer's block, or reading up in a mountain like some hermit. Other than graduate school — if I decide to keep studying and manage to get there on a full scholarship — the future for me is unclear and scary.
The week following spring break, I was planning to take a semester or even a year off. I even thought of dropping out for good. I’d just come back from a life-changing trip to Pokhara, in Nepal. While I was there, I pictured myself opening a café or a restaurant with a couple of friends, selling handmade bracelets and, every now and then, writing pieces that would magically get published. Save for the last dream, the others seemed quite realistic. I thought, well, it’s not like staying in college will teach me how to make money through writing. So what do I lose by staying in Nepal?
At university, I get $74,000 in financial aid, an NYU Abu Dhabi-gifted home and four years of my life secured. I also get exposure to top-notch faculty, staff and students, a secure stipend and a degree. So I didn’t think I was losing much. What I was failing to see is that the value of  studying at NYUAD is not in all these material goods. Like everything in life, studying here is important not because of the outcome, but because of the process we must go through to reach it — at least, as an arts major.
Robin Hemley — who authored a guide for immersive writing and visited one of my classes — wrote, “I think there should always be two stories in a sense. You should always ask yourself, ‘What is the story here?’ and then, ‘What’s the real story?’” I think this is also true in life. Why are we coming to university? And then, what’s the real reason behind coming to university?
For the first question, it’s obvious that we attend university to get a degree. But that’s boring, that’s not a story. That’s not something I’d sacrifice four years of my life to do. If this diploma is the only reason I’m here, its lack of depth wouldn’t allow my spontaneous personality to stick with NYUAD. The real reason why I’m here and staying is because, in the process of getting my degree, I also got 10 days to travel to Nepal for my first solo trip, to do laundry for the first time, to talk about literature in a class with 12 people from 12 countries, to actually visit the country I read about in class and to thoroughly explore extremely different ways of thinking. I get to have experience after experience that shakes my life and makes me contemplate dropping out of school. If staying here was a matter of getting a degree or not, I’d have already left.
There’s a difference between the potential me who stayed in Nepal after spring break, leaving my education behind, and the potential me who will go on to live in Nepal after finishing university — and this difference is not that the latter comes with a diploma. Sure, I could survive both ways, but making bracelets for a living would be much more fulfilling if I knew about the history of jewellery-making, or how to research the infinite amount of techniques that exist in bracelet-making through mediums other than Pinterest. Who knows, maybe a background in programming with Introduction to Computer Science might also be of use. Then, maybe, I could write a piece about that.
The fact that this is a liberal arts school allows me to take art and history classes, computer science and web design classes that on the surface don’t seem to have anything to do with my major — but I trust that in the future, all the classes I take will contribute to my journey.
In his commencement speech for Stanford University’s Class of 2005, Steve Jobs said something that has always stayed with me, and perhaps without me knowing, his stories played a role in my decision to come back to school. For Jobs, dropping out of his non-liberal arts university was the best decision, since it allowed him to take all the classes that interested him, and not the ones restricted by his major. One of the classes he took just out of interest was a calligraphy course. He must have wondered if the class would ever be useful. But 10 years later, when they designed the Macintosh, the class came back to Jobs, and “it was the first computer with beautiful typography.” Thanks to this irrelevant class, you are all reading this text in Lora Serif now. His reflection: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.”
Although I don’t have a clear view of where I’m going with my creative writing major, like many of my fellow art students, I do trust that everything I’m doing in the process of getting the degree will have a deep impact on the success of my life later on. Perhaps the piece I’m forced to write — thank God for deadlines — for Travel Writing, which will, of course, be about my trip to Nepal, will teach me how to write a Nobel-Prize-winning travel piece. Or maybe it could turn into a book later on. Or the start of a new series of travel guides to compete with Lonely Planet. Or maybe it’ll be a piece of shit. But that’ll teach me something too.
Josefina Dumay Neder is deputy features editor. Email her at
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