Amal Al Shamsi

Finding comfort in not fitting in.

By Auguste Nomeikaite

Amal Al Shamsi, Class of 2020, graduated with a degree in literature and creative writing and a minor in social research and public policy studies. She is currently undergoing her graduate studies at the University of Edinburgh in literature and modernity.

Al Shamsi entered university keen to step out of her comfort zone. Although creative writing had been a passion of hers since high school, in her freshman year she found herself dazzled by the novelties of the film department. Being a curious learner with many interests, Al Shamsi almost majored in Film, she also considered majoring in Social Research and Public Policy. In her Sophomore year, however, she decided to stay with what was dearest to her — creative writing.

The time she spent exploring the different departments was valuable, as it revealed their interdisciplinarity. “When I was in my literature classes we always brought up cinema, we always brought up politics, obviously, we always brought up society. And right now my masters program is all about literature and modernity.”

I think that with a lot of things, we always want ourselves to find the perfect opportunities that we are so well-tailored for, like, ‘Yes, I'm perfect for this.’ And we expect them to fall into our email inbox, for us to easily find it. But the truth is… if you really want it, and if you can rationalize finding a way in, you will.

Amal Al Shamsi, Class of 2020

Reflecting back, she also notes how her shifting through the various majors made her find comfort in not fitting in. Enrolling in film classes at Tisch during her study away in New York felt intimidating at first for someone like her who no longer considered herself a committed film student. But despite what Al Shamsi described as “lingering imposter syndrome,” she kept challenging her insecurities of not being fully qualified. Al Shamsi believes that her study away experience taught her to push herself outside her comfort zone, and to not take ‘no’ for an answer. 

During her study away she also interned at the Ugly Duckling Presse, an independent publishing house which she first visited as a volunteer. That first day, after a subtle inquiry she was told that the press was not looking for interns at the time. Yet, the same week Al Shamsi sent them her resume, and by the end of it she found herself interning at the publishing house.

Al Shamsi guided herself by the same honest conviction while applying to master's programs. Although she is only a few weeks into the program, she says it is already apparent how her time at NYU Abu Dhabi shaped her as a writer, and as a student. “I think I really found my niche interests through the faculty and classes that I’ve had at NYUAD… In particular, I’m always interested in the representation of women and gender,” Al Shamsi elaborates while explaining the importance of gaining a thorough understanding of canonical English literature before diving into the Middle Eastern context, which is a field in academia that she hopes to help fill. “Master’s degrees are always what you make of it. No one's going to tell you ‘You’re right about this,’ or ‘Your talents would really be suited if you did this.’ You have to find that out yourself.”

NYUAD always pushes you to figure those interests out, to take personal initiative, do your research, and find out why this area is interesting… If I had come from any other university, and I came into Master’s, I think I’d be kind of lost… I wouldn't be able to kind of forge my way by myself.