Conquering Your Freshman Fears

I remember heading to NYU Abu Dhabi’s Campus Center during Marhaba Week, equipped with a snack box and a chit of paper mysteriously labeled Group Number 11. It was my first week as a freshman at university, and at the time, I didn't know that the people I was going to meet at NYUAD's First Year Dialogue (FYD) program in Group Number 11, would soon become my second family.

FYD, managed by the Office of First Year Experience, is specifically tailored to help freshmen adjust to life in university, and my very first interaction with my group made me feel at home in unfamiliar surroundings. During that introductory FYD session, eight of my peers and I — with help from our program facilitators — wrote down our concerns as freshmen, as well as our goals, academic or otherwise. Over the next several sessions, I came to realize two important things about that exercise: that most of my concerns were unfounded, and FYD had given me compatriots for life.

“FYD serves as a safe place for students to discuss challenges related to transitioning to university and supports them as they adjust to life at NYUAD,” said Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Life Renee Dugan, “and explore their own identities and value systems, gain self-awareness about their own interpersonal styles and skills, focus on their personal development, and become civically engaged through volunteer, internship and SIG work."

First Year Dialogue serves as a safe place for students to discuss challenges related to transitioning to university and supports them as they adjust to life at NYUAD.

Renee Dugan, director of Student Life

The intimacy of the program fosters a certain familiarity that allows students to ask questions, break stereotypes, and simply bond with one another in non-classroom contexts. Group 11's favorite space was Dugan’s campus apartment, complete with her loving cats, the lingering fragrance of freshly-baked cookies, and laughter.

“My favorite thing about FYD was that I became friendly with people I wouldn't even know otherwise," said Hannah Melville-Rea, Class of 2019. "When you see engineers hanging out with public policy majors, or that person who never visits the gym hugging someone working in athletics, they were probably in the same FYD group."

I became friendly with people I wouldn't even know otherwise.

Hannah Melville-Rea, Class of 2019

At FYD, discussions on topics like stereotypes, responsibility, and time management are interspersed with laughter and hands-on activities, making the experience both meaningful and fun. In one cultural myth-busting session, for instance, each of us spoke about one or more myths about our culture or country, and then tried to bust these myths. With their deeply personal stories, my peers broke my preconceptions about the United States, Hungary, and the UAE. One particularly amusing broken stereotype, however, was that of a Japanese freshman who arrived to our discussion five minutes late and, when asked to bust a myth about Japan, proceeded to explain how not all Japanese people are punctual.

FYD is also helpful beyond its culturally-enriching discussions. The program requires students to complete certain tasks, like attending sessions at the NYUAD Library or Career Development Center. It's an incentive to acquire important information about citation tools and internships — information that comes in handy later in the academic year.

FYD can also serve as a much-needed breather from academic life. "I personally hope that students see that hour or so each week as a break from their classes where they can relax, share a few laughs, and get to know themselves and their peers a bit better." Dugan said. "We want students to understand the resources available to them and have some fun!"