Joining their fellow NYUNYers — in Abu Dhabi studying away for the spring 2012 semester — 19 Presidential Scholars from NYU's College of Arts and Science (CAS) recently traveled to the UAE. One of seven NYU destinations offered to the Scholars for spring break travel, NYUAD welcomed the students for the very first time. "Our sophomore Scholars routinely take trips to study-away sites during spring break," said Bryan Waterman, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the NYUNY English department, and an advisor to a group of sophomore Presidential Scholars, "but this is the first year that the Abu Dhabi campus has been one of the options they had to choose from."
The 19 members of the Abu Dhabi group — who came together based on their academic interests and their interest in visiting NYUAD — spent five days in the UAE, exploring the emirates, sitting in on classes, attending lectures, and meeting NYUAD students. The Scholars, selected from the top five percent of their entering NYU class for academic achievements and impressive records of leadership and service to the community, enjoyed the jam-packed itinerary. "There really wasn't a moment of the trip that was anything short of wonderful and breathtaking," said Scholar Evan Bobella.
In addition to taking part in classes — including Interracial Learning, Serendipity in Science, and Myth, Magic, and Representations in Childhood — with the NYUAD students at the University's Downtown Campus, the Scholars attended an NYUAD Institute film screening, toured Saadiyat Island (the future home of NYUAD), and made stops in the emirates of Dubai, Sharjah, and Fujairah. They also visited Abu Dhabi's Grand Mosque, the Masdar Institute, and the Falcon Hospital; had dinner with NYUAD's Sheikh Mohamed Scholars; and spent an evening in the desert, eating, riding camels, sand boarding, and watching the sunset.
For Scholar Kevin Jones, the activity that stood out most was the visit to the Grand Mosque. "It gave me another perspective on how religion plays a strong role in a cultural setting that I knew little about before enrolling into this year's Presidential Honors Seminar," he said. "I was also astonished by the mosque's detail and architecture." "If I had to pick a favorite moment," said Bobella. "I think I'd be torn between our visits to the Falcon Hospital and Saadiyat Island. The former gave me a fascinating insight into the culture of the UAE, and Saadiyat was a similar experience. The fervor and intensity with which everyone described the future of this as-of-now desert island, to see the great plans they have for it, and the dedication with which they're cultivating it — and therefore their prestige — made for quite a spectacle. Not to mention seeing the site of NYU's future home in the Middle East!"
There really wasn't a moment of the trip that was anything short of wonderful and breathtaking.
As an intern in NYUAD's Office of Global Education, freshman Corey Meyer helped to plan the Scholars' activities. Along with sophomores Paige Hasebe and Connie Trang, he determined which opportunities in Abu Dhabi and the UAE were "considered best suited to paint a diverse picture of our unique environment," he said. He also acted as a liaison between the NYUAD student body and the CAS Scholars, who he found to be "much like NYUAD students." "They all had a vast array of backgrounds and interests, but were captivated by the Middle East," he explained. "Overall, I was quite blessed to get the opportunity to spend time with such a remarkable group of students." It was a feeling that was apparently mutual. "Every person I spoke to (and there were a few) seemed utterly brilliant," said Bobella. "And the tight-knit sense of community was something you just don't see many places." "All of the Abu Dhabi students I met were extremely welcoming and friendly," said Scholar Meredith D'Angelo. "They all seemed very enthusiastic to meet us and learn about our lives in New York."
As well as being impressed with their Abu Dhabi classmates and certain aspects of NYUAD — specifically the "highly engaged" and "superb" classroom setting — the trip participants also gained insight into the University and the region. "I think there's a lot of curiosity among students on the Square about the NYUAD experience and how it fits into the global network university," said Waterman. "There are also some misconceptions, probably. But beyond internal NYU matters, there's also a realization among students that relations between the West and the Islamic world is one of the defining forces of our lifetimes. I think there's also curiosity — and misconceptions — about the region as a whole, and these students seemed eager to confront such issues head on," he explained.
Indeed, for Jones, who before this trip had never traveled outside of the United States, the experience "stretched the horizons that I am used to and now I am able to look at things in life with a much more global perspective," he said. For D'Angelo, her time in Abu Dhabi "really gave me a different perspective on the Middle East." "The trip was able to break formidable stereotypes that many Americans have about the Middle East," explained Meyer. "Students expected to ride a camel and see the desert, but did not know much else in terms of the culture of the UAE. By getting the desert and camel ride out of the way on the first night of their visit, the students were able to learn that the UAE has so much more to offer, whether it be learning about new energy technologies at Masdar City, discovering Islam's vast influence on science at the Museum of Islamic Civilization in Sharjah, or taking pleasure in the awesome bonds that link all people as they enjoyed dinner with the Sheikh Mohamed Scholars in Dubai."
"We'd done a lot of prep work on Gulf history and especially on urban planning," said Waterman, "but I don't think we were entirely prepared for the range of experiences we'd have." As Bobella said, "All in all, quite a way to spend spring break!"