Exploring the Human Condition

My Favorite Course in Literature and Creative Writing

Name: Rida Zafar
Class of 2019
Major: Psychology, as well as literature and creative writing
Course: Our Monsters, Ourselves

This class explores the human condition and how we define, explore, and understand human experiences and the very notion of humanness itself. This course forces you to ask questions about how and why we characterize certain individuals as “us” — members of the same group, and other individuals as “them.”

Why This Course

I absolutely love classics like Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and Dracula, but I’ve also been curious about what gives classics their status as classics. This course offered the potential to indulge my curiosity.

While studying abroad in London, I had taken a class on gothic literature. The class discussed the difference between horror and terror, the human desire to be frightened, and the human impulse to fear what we do not know. It fascinated me.

Our Monsters, Ourselves seemed like it could further that fascination of mine by going to the root of "monsters," investigating texts that are deeply embedded in the Western literary canon, and looking at temporal and cultural responses to the same texts.

I loved being able to present on contemporary, local monsters from our own cultures/home backgrounds because I learned about so many iterations of similar themes as well as some completely unique monsters.

Rida Zafar, Class of 2019

I have taken three classes with Professor Deborah Williams over my four years at NYU Abu Dhabi and her passion for her work and for literature has made me a better reader and, by obvious extension, a more present observer of my world.

A Typical Day in This Class

You walk into class with a concrete opinion about the novel and characters within the novel you read for the week, but you know you’re going to walk out with a profound acknowledgment of the inevitable multiplicity of everything. Professor Williams would ask questions that only seemed rhetorical (but really aren’t) that made you questioned things you took for granted. Can victims be monsters too? Are monsters always bad? Are monsters just beings we don’t understand?

Four years in, I know have stepped out of my comfort zone too many times to remember and have expanded my own boundaries of comfort, without ever feeling unsupported by NYUAD.

Your classmates will offer viewpoints and perspectives you would never even think to consider, but somehow still made complete sense.

You will see patterns of similarity in the way monsters are constructed across time and space that will show you how literatures are always conversant with each other, even if you weren’t aware of the conversation.

You will find yourself stumbling, wanting desperately to create meaning, and eventually embracing the complicated, intricately and painfully entangled nature of the human experience.

Tips On Navigating What Major or Course to Take

  1. Take  courses that excite you when you read their course descriptions instead of going for classes that seem like “easy As.”
  2. Take classes with professors who are loved by students, but also try out professors and classes that you can’t find reviews on.
  3. Figure out some classes you definitely want to take but leave room for classes that will surprise you.
  4. Complete your requirements early on so you can focus on more personally meaningful classes as soon as you can.

Why NYU Abu Dhabi

The resources, the autonomy, and wholeness of a liberal arts education, and the de-centerism from a Western approach to education, particularly in the arts and humanities.

While making my decision, I was also acutely aware of how close Abu Dhabi was to my home in Pakistan. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, but not too much.