Whenever you think of studying abroad in another country, you always tend to think of studying abroad in Europe or Paris, but probably never the Middle East. In today’s geopolitical climate, and based on what you hear on the news, it’s easy to forget that that may even be an option. NYU has so many incredible study abroad sites in places like London, Europe, Berlin, or Sydney, but NYU Abu Dhabi is quite possibly one of NYU’s best kept secrets. Studying abroad here is an opportunity that I feel more people at Stern need to avail, and here’s five reasons why.
1. The International Community
NYU Abu Dhabi has one of the most diverse campuses in the world. They have students from over 100 countries, and over 100 different languages are spoken. You may think that’s no big deal - NYU in New York is also considered a pretty diverse campus with students from all over the globe. But, considering the fact that NYUAD is also a fraction of the size, that international community is something you recognize instantly from the moment you step foot on campus. Just walking into the cafeteria, you can hear people taking in multiple different languages at every different table. I grew up in the US, so I’ve always been surrounded by other Americans in the classroom, both in high school and college. Here, for the first time, I’m the only American in 2 out of 4 of my classes. It adds a new layer of depth to classroom discussions that you can’t get anywhere else, because people who grew up with radically different ideas with you make up the majority. Classes aren’t framed through an American point of view, but through an international one, which is incredibly important in preparing you for today’s world And what’s even better, is how open and excited people are to discuss and educate one another on their differences, whether they be cultural or ideological, and they’re genuinely interested in learning about your experiences as well. To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about, at my job, I work with five other girls, all of whom grew up in different countries - Honduras, Nepal, Fiji, Ecuador, and Latvia. If that’s not indicative of a truly international community, I don’t know what is.
2. The Culture
When I told people I was going to study in the UAE for a semester, a lot of people hadn’t even heard of the country. The UAE is such an incredible place, with a rich cultural heritage waiting to be explored. I like to say that it’s a truly functional blend between the East and the West, in a way that feels both familiar to being in New York, but also exciting because it’s so different at the same time. When you go into the city and walk around in public areas, you look around and see people walking around in the traditional dress in the UAE (the abaya for women and the kandora for men), perfectly blended in with the people walking around in more Western clothes. There’s so many great cultural sites to explore in Abu Dhabi as well. There’s the famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which was incredibly beautiful, and such a unique experience because mosques aren’t usually something available to visit as a tourist attraction in most other countries that NYU has study abroad sites in. Students also start adopting local Arabic phrases that slip into their everyday speech, regardless of where they’re originally from. Some of the most popular include, Yalla (let’s go), Marhaba (welcome), and Shukran (thank you).
I would truly be remiss if I didn’t talk about all the incredible Emirati food that you get to experience while studying here. If you had asked me a few months ago what exactly Emirati food is, I would’ve drawn a blank because that’s not typically a cuisine that’s familiar to anyone in the US. However, I firmly stand behind the belief that you haven’t truly lived until you’ve tried a traditional Emirati breakfast. But don’t worry - if you choose to study abroad at NYUAD for a semester, you’ll have more than enough opportunities to do so. One of the most popular Emirati foods among students on campus here are legeimat, which are fritter/donuts soaked in a saffron and date flavored syrup. People always order them for events, and they’re always gone half an hour in because they’re that good. Another stand-out dish is Machboos, which is a rice dish that includes a certain type of meat (either chicken, beef, lamb, or shrimp). The meat and rice are slow-cooked together in a broth with multiple different spices, so the rice and meat soak up all the flavor. They’re served in large trays that you eat family style with all the people around you. You also can’t forget the drinks. If you like your coffee black, you’ll love Arabic coffee, or gahwa. It’s served in a traditional Arabic coffeepot known as a dallah, served in small cups known as finjaan, and it’s usually enjoyed with dates. One of my favorite drinks that I can’t get enough of since I’ve arrived is karak. It’s milk tea with spices that became popularized in the UAE through the South Asian diaspora in the UAE. You’ll find cafeterias brewing fresh karak all throughout Abu Dhabi on almost any street.
4. The Location
One of the perks of studying abroad is being able to travel and experience new countries. When I was studying abroad in London my sophomore year, all I wanted to do was travel all around Europe, and it was incredibly easy, and relatively affordable to do so. However, if you love traveling, then Abu Dhabi is a prime location to do so. The UAE is basically in the center of the world, an equal distance to both the West and the East. There are so many options when it comes to traveling, you’ll have no problem finding somewhere incredible to go to during your fall or spring break. On top of that, there are so many incredible countries you can visit nearby that you never would have thought of going to. Some popular locations NYUAD students recommend include Turkey, Oman, India, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Egypt. Over my fall break, I had the chance to visit Jordan, and it was one of the most incredible trips I’ve ever taken. Jordan is full of so much incredible history, food, nightlife, and beautiful sites, like the Roman citadel, the ancient cities of Petra and Jerash, and the Dead Sea.
5. The People
The one thing that has definitely made my experience at Abu Dhabi truly unforgettable has been the people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve made along the way. This includes my friendships with both NYUAD students, but also the friendships I’ve made with the other visiting students from New York and Shanghai as well. You’re all placed into this unfamiliar environment together, and the bonds we’ve created with one another through late nights spent together just talking about life, to exploring the city, to traveling together have really made the experience all the more worthwhile.