Abu Dhabi: From Unknown to Beloved

Cooperation in highly diverse, multicultural societies is something researchers are trying to learn more about

NYU Abu Dhabi brings together a community at the crossroads of the world in an environment conducive not only to academic learning but also to learning that extends beyond textbooks and labs into a city that's cosmopolitan, dynamic, modern and culturally vibrant.

Even though NYUAD students come every corner of the world, Abu Dhabi is our home away from home, so much so that no study away journey begins without a “#SeeYouSoonDhabs” post on social media and no conversation with a friend from home is complete without telling them that there are only two seasons here: hot and hotter. When most of us prepare to leave for a break our suitcases are packed with delicious Arabian dates to share with those who've never had them before.

Everyone came to this city with different ideas about what life would be like here. Our journeys are all unique but our experiences are shared and our perceptions of Abu Dhabi, the UAE, and the Middle East have evolved together.

Tanya Bansal, Class of 2018

It almost makes me laugh when I think about how my notions of life in Abu Dhabi turned out to be poles apart from the reality. After three eventful semesters, I've discovered that AD is much more than its quintessential beaches, souks, and malls. It's a place that brings together people from every part of the world in a community that is diverse, tolerant, modern, and culturally alive. Abu Dhabi is truly one-of-a-kind.

Casual conversations with fellow students, faculty and staff allow me to string together pieces of our changing perceptions of life and society in Abu Dhabi and present a side of the story you'll never read about in brochures.

Special thanks to Pam Mandich, Rosy Tahan, Justin Blau, Jessica Vitiello, and Ankita Sadarjoshi for sharing their thoughts.

What surprised you about Abu Dhabi?

The travel opportunities, remarked staff member Pam Mandich, who came to Abu Dhabi almost nine years ago from Canada and has seen about 20 different countries since then.

"What I love most about this place, besides being safe and having friends from all over the world, is how easy it is to travel. In less than an hour I can be in a totally different country!"

A view of the Abu Dhabi skyline as seen from the Breakwater Corniche.

What is something you thought about Abu Dhabi that turned out wrong?

The impression of Abu Dhabi as safe but relatively dull (and even boring) seems to be the number one misconception for many of us.

"There is so much more to do in the city than hit the malls”, said sophomore Rosy Tahan, who grew up in Dubai. "Formula One events and free annual concerts on the beach really pep the city up."

What do you think is the most commonly held myth about life in Abu Dhabi?

Mandich finds herself educating friends across the Atlantic about what day-to-day life is really like for women. “I tell them that I live in one of the most tolerant and diverse places in the world. I don't have to cover, just dress respectfully."

Tahan added with a laugh that "some people think you'll be arrested for wearing shorts" and don't know the UAE has female cabinet ministers and even fighter pilots.

Professor Justin Blau is always surprised when people "think Abu Dhabi is the same as Dubai." There are a lot of differences.

What I love most about this place, besides being safe and having friends from all over the world, is how easy it is to travel. In less than an hour I can be in a totally different country!

Pam Mandich, NYUAD staff member

What challenges you most about living here?

Freshman Ankita Sadarjoshi who grew up in Muscat, Oman, said it's sometimes "difficult to explore the city on foot" because it's so spread out and there's a lot of construction. The pedestrian culture is still finding its feet.

And for those who transition from snow to sand, getting used to the heat and humidity can be a challenge, while others are surprised to see a big city like Abu Dhabi doesn't have overly accessible public transit like the Dubai metro.

Mandich was surprised to learn there's no traditional address system. “I had to Google every place before taking taxis and I still get lost in Dubai.”

Still, most of us can’t help but be charmed by this city’s peaceful yet vibrant vibe. New Yorker and athletics coach Jessica Vitiello is considering starting a family in Abu Dhabi. Settling down far from the US will be difficult news to break to her loved ones and it will take some adapting on her part because Abu Dhabi is a transitional society where people are constantly coming and going.

"You are always having to say goodbye to really wonderful people," added Mandich. "But of course, the flip side is that you are also always saying hello to new friends.”