They came to the United Arab Emirates thinking that they understood what NYU Abu Dhabi was all about. But only after an evening in the desert talking and dining with their peers did these candidates really appreciate the close-knit student community that is coming together to become NYU Abu Dhabi's class of 2014.
From October, 2009 through March, 2010, close to 300 of NYU Abu Dhabi's top applicants from around the world — culled from more than 10,000 applications — accepted the University's invitation to join faculty and administrators for a weekend in Abu Dhabi. They traveled from more than 25 countries, speaking at least 30 languages and, as a group, possess an unprecedented diversity of experience and intellectual curiosity. They came to learn more about the "world's honors college," and to spend time getting to know their possible future classmates, professors, and administrators.
In March, NYU Abu Dhabi hosted its final — and largest — Candidate Weekend of the year, with more than 90 candidates making the trip, just in time for the admissions team to make final decisions prior to the April 1 admissions decision deadline.
The weekends followed a similar template: over two days they met with NYU Abu Dhabi Vice Chancellor Al Bloom, NYU President John Sexton, and other senior administrators, they took sample courses from NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU New York faculty, toured the Downtown Campus and still had time for some sightseeing around Abu Dhabi: visits to the Grand Mosque and the Emirates Palace hotel, a morning run down the coastline, and a starlit dinner in the desert. But most importantly, according to Carol Brandt, NYU Abu Dhabi vice provost, even as they were scrutinized by admissions officers, they spent time getting to know each other.
"We wanted them to know what life might be like together," Brandt said. "For our part, we wanted to see their confidence, their intellectual curiosity, their excitement to engage difference."
Jet-lagged and overtired from the tightly scheduled pace of the weekend visits, many of the students reported that their most meaningful connections were made during the unscheduled hours in the late evenings. They congregated in the hospitality room at the hotel to talk eagerly about their varied experiences and backgrounds in caffeine- and snack-fueled sessions lasting into the night. These conversations continued on online discussion boards and Facebook groups after the weekend, and students frequently described the weekend as "life-changing."
I learned so much about myself while visiting NYU Abu Dhabi, and in the process I surprisingly found a place I'd love to call home.
"I learned so much about myself while visiting NYU Abu Dhabi, and in the process I surprisingly found a place I'd love to call home," said one candidate, an aspiring lawyer from Indianapolis, who was accepted under NYUAD's early decision process.
The students who attended the NYU Abu Dhabi Candidate Weekend fit the most important criteria that NYUAD has set as a prerequisite for admission: that they be clearly admissible to any university in the world. They include captains of sports teams, leaders of student governments, Model UNs, choirs and symphonies; they are socially involved volunteers, gifted researchers, science and math Olympiad winners, and world travelers. Ninety-one percent speak at least two languages, and nearly half speak three or more. Academically, they are at the very top of their respective classes and many have near-perfect standardized test scores. Most importantly, they are deeply interested in receiving the kind of world-class global education that NYU Abu Dhabi offers.
"I have not seen any of my family members in over six years," wrote Musbah Dilsebo, a candidate from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "I do not know where they are in Ethiopia, but they are all in my soul, traveling with me on this journey of discovery and together we will make it – Musbah Dilsebo will be an educated man!"
The candidates universally expressed an appreciation and excitement for NYU Abu Dhabi's uniquely international mandate: "If I don't transform and push my limits as a student," said one, "I will be left behind as the world goes forward without me. NYU Abu Dhabi will not only push me, but put me ahead, feeding my curiosity and helping me find my place as a global citizen."
Brandt pointed out that the demands on the students who make up this freshman class will be unusual, and for some this is part of the appeal of NYUAD. Administrators are looking to the inaugural class to help them develop a campus life, to make this idea of a global community of bright young minds a reality.
"They know that we are asking them to be students in the role of information-givers, that by being in the inaugural class they would be a part of building this from the ground up," she said. "This is a unique opportunity for them to contribute to their University as social entrepreneurs and leaders. Every student we met was hungry for a life of the mind and it wasn't lost on them that they were sitting elbow to elbow with talented representatives of countries from around the world."