As Nawal Ali was finishing high school in Singapore and applying to universities abroad, she knew she wanted the next step to maintain that sense of belonging to an international community that she grew accustomed to away from her home of Kenya.
NYU Abu Dhabi was a great fit from the beginning: the diverse student body; the unique location of the campus closer to Kenya; and a young university where Ali felt she can make an impact.
“Being a minority in many places makes me want to be in a more diverse space where I feel I can belong. And that is NYUAD for me,” Ali added.
Passionate about community building, Ali joined the Muslim Student Association student interest group where she worked with different groups of across the University to help create events related to Islam, such as the importance of Ramadan and planning iftar and suhoor, while also facilitating dialogue between students. Ali was also a resident assistant on campus where she served as a resource for students curious about topics ranging from academia to policies, and took charge of activities that allowed students to explore Abu Dhabi city.
Moving around a fair bit since high school, Ali knows the importance of building a sense of belonging through friendship and community. With classmates located in different parts of the world each academic year, friendships naturally evolved. Despite the distance, Ali learned that there will always be friends who care and welcome her into their circles, no matter where they are located.
Ali said she will always remember a trip with classmates when they drove into the desert to spend a few hours watching stars with a bonfire nearby. “It’s one of those moments I had pictured before coming [to NYUAD], and it’s surreal that I was able to do it,” Ali said. Another memory etched into Ali’s mind was a ladies-only day at Yas Waterworld. Being able to enjoy the company of so many classmates while de-stressing at the waterpark before examinations was refreshing, in more ways than one.
These fond memories are a contrast to the current remote learning environment on campus and the physical distance caused by the global pandemic. As a community-driven individual, Ali has felt the absence of seeing friends in person and being in the classroom. “I really miss the spontaneity of seeing people on the Highline,” Ali said.
Meeting up with friends now requires intentional scheduling as these can only happen if you plan ahead, she added. In the face of a difficult year, Ali learned to be more resilient and kinder to herself. She accepted the fact that it’s ok to not feel ok some days and learned to not overthink certain situations. It also gave Ali a push to get outside her comfort zone more, applying for work opportunities that she otherwise may not have done, and being more comfortable with expressing her feelings more openly.
Be it planning for graduate school or applying for jobs; everything now becomes a positive learning opportunity. Having spent her formative years at NYUAD learning more about herself while trying to figure out what she wants to do career-wise, Ali is now a little more sure of herself, her methods, and where she is headed.