Exploring the UAE and the Region During J-Term in Abu Dhabi

January Term in Sri Lanka.

This J-Term, students taking courses in Abu Dhabi not only hit the books, but also hit the road! In addition to three regional trips to Sri Lanka, India, and Qatar, professors led their classes on a variety of field trips to multiple locations within the UAE. Enrolled in just one course, students were able to completely immerse themselves in the subject at hand. And professors used the opportunity to organize real-world experiences that allowed the students to explore what they had already learned on paper.

For the students in professor Corinne Packard's Post-Catastrophe Reconstruction class, the destination was Sri Lanka, where the class took part in an intensive program of lectures and discussions about the country's post-tsunami reconstruction process. The 2004 tsunami, which devastated a long stretch of Sri Lanka's coast, killed more than 40,000 people and left 2.5 million displaced. During the four-day trip, the students met and talked with officials from both governmental and non-governmental agencies involved in the reconstruction process, including the United Nations Development Program Office, World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, and the Disaster Management Center, and visited with Governor Kumari Balasuriya and Bradman Weerakoon, former secretary to the prime minister.

"Our trip to Sri Lanka helped us to better understand the reconstruction efforts that were instituted there after the devastating 2004 tsunami," said Neelgoon Safdar (NYUAD '14). For her, the highlight of the trip was the visit to Habitat for Humanity, which provided housing for the tsunami victims. "Habitat, however, doesn't just give people homes," Safdar explained. "It sets up a system of community building by providing people with loans and encouraging them to build their houses themselves."

The trip also included some sightseeing, with a walking tour of the Galle Fort, whose "walls protected the people inside during the tsunami," said Safdar, and a visit to the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, which the students had the fortune to visit on a Buddhist holiday. "People, dressed in white, came to pray here and brought flowers with them," explained Safdar. "They also burned incense and lit candles."

Professors Craig Calhoun and Immanuel Wallerstein took their The Modern World System: Past, Present, and Future class to Doha, Qatar, where the students toured Al Jazeera's headquarters and met with Director of Research Haoues Taguia, who gave the group insight into the company's operations. For NYU junior Kendall Galloway, a Resident Assistant at NYUAD, the experience helped her to better understand what she studied in class about the Arab Spring and the role of the media. "I learned that Al Jazeera played a major role in inspiring democratic change in the region and sustaining the permanence of the revolutions," said Galloway.

During the semester there is not much time to explore or even to just hang out with friends. J-Term provided a space to do both of those things. I am glad I chose to stay in Abu Dhabi.

Brook Fowler, NYUAD Class of 2015

The class also visited the Museum of Islamic Art, enjoyed a traditional Middle Eastern dinner on a dhow cruise, and toured Doha's old market and port area, which, explained Galloway, "gave us insight into how everything is interconnected and how the Arab culture has been greatly influenced by Italy, Russia, Spain, and many of the ancient empires."

For the second year, Professor Mariët Westermann's class, The Gardens of Eden, visited India and some of its most intriguing monuments and gardens, such as the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, Akbar's Palace and Tomb, the Goyid Deva Temple of Krishna, and Humayun's Tomb. "As part of the learning process for the course, we closely explored and discussed all the sites we visited, and we also reflected on each of them by giving our personal opinion and perspective of gardens in various religions," explained Oleg Grishin (NYUAD '15). Indeed, the students spent a lot of time observing, describing, and drawing ground plans of the different gardens, and, according to Grishin, the opportunity to study these spaces in practice was incomparable to doing so only on paper.

In addition to observational exercises, the students met with a variety of experts. Ratish Nanda, project director for the Aga Khan Trust's Nizamuddin Urban Renewal project, spoke about the project, which "ties the conservation of the great garden tombs of the Delhi sultans and emperors to the development of expertise and employment opportunities in the community," said Westermann. And Prashant Banerjee, the site architect for Humayun's Tomb, gave the class a tour of the Mughal garden complex in Delhi ("a major precedent for the Taj Mahal," explained Westermann), demonstrating to the students how the conservation team had restored the original 16th-century waterworks; sharing the ongoing restoration of stonework, inlay, and stucco decoration of the massive tomb building; and giving an introduction to the workshops where workers recreate lime plasters and stone jali screens using working methods, tools, and materials of the Mughal era.

Many of the other classes held in Abu Dhabi also went on trips, but stayed closer to home with outings to locations within the UAE. The Global Banking and Financial Markets class visited Dubai to meet with Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan, and the Dubai International Finance Center (DIFC); the Photojournalism: Your Personal Vision class traveled to Umm al Quwain and visited numerous sites to capture in photos the lifestyle of the Emirate; and students in Critical Issues in Social Entrepreneurship: Innovations in the Middle East visited Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Nuami (also known as the Green Sheikh) at his Al Ihsan Charity Center in Ajman and had the honor of having dinner at his house.

The students in Microbes, Meals, and Metagenomics, Gardens of Eden (Abu Dhabi), Food in the Global Kitchen — which also visited Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah — Tales of Love and Death, and Designing Abu Dhabi had the opportunity to explore Abu Dhabi and learn more about their Emirate. The classes enjoyed local sites including the Al Wathba Wetlands; the Al Ain Oasis; Sheikh Khalifa Public Park, Museum, and Aquarium; and Manarat Al Saadiyat. As freshman Brook Fowler said, "During the semester there is not much time to explore or even to just hang out with friends. J-Term provided a space to do both of those things. I am glad I chose to stay in Abu Dhabi."