Alumni: Simon Wilkes

Simon Wilkes came to NYU Abu Dhabi from Trinidad and Tobago as a Political Science major and switched to Theater. He graduated in 2019 and shares his experience as a student.

I applied to Harvard, Trinity College and Columbia. And then NYU Abu Dhabi – I thought why not? It seemed strange at first that NYU had a campus there, but the more I found out about it, the more I knew I had to apply. I was blown away by the kinds of people they were attracting to study there.

When I got through to the interview, I realized this was a different kind of school, because I got an email saying, "You’ve been selected for interview. Please let us know your passport information, because we’d like to fly you out." I couldn’t believe it. 

When I arrived I was very impressed with the students I was interacting with.

For the two days I was there, I don’t think I went to bed before three or four in the morning, because I was up talking and sharing ideas. I remember going back home after and thinking, "I have to get to Abu Dhabi." These were kinds of people I wanted to be in class with. I was lucky enough to make it. I started out studying political science. As part of my Core Curriculum I picked a course in Arabic, and one in political science and then randomly I chose an arts class, taught by Ruben Polendo (now Chairperson at NYU Tisch School of the Arts). He set me on the path of becoming a theater major, because I was given a view of art and theater I’d never been exposed to before. 

A theater production by students at NYU Abu Dhabi.

I appreciated the breadth – yes, I studied theater. But studying at NYU Abu Dhabi was about learning how to analyze, process, problem solve, and gain a rigorous skill set.

What’s nice is you don’t get locked into one way of doing things, and there’s flexibility to be able to shift, adapt, and adjust to take into account different ways of doing things. 

If you’re driven enough to really own your education, the opportunities here are incredible.

I felt fortunate to be taught by such outstanding people from faculty, both in and outside the Theater program. Across the board, I felt they were putting students first. The teaching isn’t of the ‘raising a hand in the back of a lecture hall kind’; you get to talk and interact with all these different people on campus. You see everybody all the time. And similar to that first interview weekend I had, one of the best parts of my student experience was the long conversations with people in the dining hall after lunch, and the level of debate.

Faculty made me feel like I was developing. You could walk around the Arts Center and see faculty in there all the time, and they had a different, welcoming attitude. They wanted to be accessible to students.

Another advantage was the experiences available to us, to help you take that extra step on, whether it was an internship at the fitness center, or volunteering on a program that had nothing to do with my course of study just because it looked interesting, or going to an Institute talk with a renowned academic in their field.

Within the program, the faculty themselves across the board were knowledgeable across a broad range. The head of the Theater program was my advisor, but she’s also a theater director, she has a company that does live performance in sign language called ‘sound paintings’, she acts, and she used to do set design. It means when you get feedback it can be specific, but you can also zoom out to see the different moving parts. Bringing all these perspectives and skills together promotes that flexibility of thinking. When would you ever get the chance to have something like that again? If you’re driven enough to really own your education, the opportunities here are incredible.

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