Many of us expected the desert camping trip to be nothing more than an escape — a quick getaway from the arctic air-conditioning of Sama Tower and the miniature mountains of homework that awaited us inside. Instead, what we got was a portal to the past. The campsite set-up was so similar to that of our Candidate Weekend desert outing, it was hard not to be brought back to a time when we were all high school seniors wading through the anxiety of the college application process.
As we spilled out of the buses, my classmates and I remarked upon how strange it was to be in the desert again and how much — and how little — things had changed since our first times. It was a strange feeling of nostalgia tinged with relief. Even though our Candidate Weekend experiences had been amazing, it felt nice knowing that now we were older, maybe a little wiser, and all the more closer to cementing our futures. Still, it was interesting to hear my classmates' past impressions of NYUAD — many of them reflected on the fact that a year ago they would have never imagined themselves here in the desert, surrounded by sun-toasted sand dunes, representing their country in a student body that doubled as a melting pot for cultures, ideas, and exchanges.
It was a way to remember the bonds I had formed during my Candidate Weekend, but also a chance to appreciate how they were soon going to change, shift, and strengthen.
At the campsite there was a wide array of activities available — from camel-riding to henna tattoos to sand-boarding — but what I found most rewarding was hiking up the large sand dune overlooking the site. The climb, which in my opinion is so strenuous you should receive at least one PE credit for completing it, comes with a reward: a view that goes for miles, sand dunes rolling in every direction, and not a building in sight.
In addition to the other optional activities, there was a traditional belly-dancing show — during which several brave students were pulled on stage — as well as a huge buffet of Arabic cuisine that kindly helped all of us on our way to gaining the Freshman Fifteen.
However, despite the many opportunities presented to us — such as dune-bashing rides and the chance to see Jupiter through a state-of-the-art telescope — the highlight of my trip was climbing up the dune with some friends and getting to know them outside the Sama walls and away from our academic obligations. From Christmas carols to cats to religion and career plans, no topic of discussion was left untouched. When we had finally exhausted ourselves talking, it was almost 4am, giving us time to catch two hours of sleep before waking up for the desert sunrise.
For me, desert camping provided a glimpse to the past, but also a sneak peak into the future. It was a way to remember the bonds I had formed during my Candidate Weekend, but also a chance to appreciate how they were soon going to change, shift, and strengthen. Talking to my classmates about their ideas and plans for the future made me realize that I now have many memories to be thankful for, but also quite a few more to look forward to.