Marhaba Week- Part 2

Hey everyone!

This week at NYU Abu Dhabi was a continuation of our Marhaba (welcome) week, or freshman orientation. We spent a lot of time listening to long seminars providing information about various campus departments and academic programs, but we also enjoyed several bonding activities and events in the city. A huge advantage of being at a small private college is the amount of individual attention, support, and programs the school can maintain.
Here's a better picture I took of the library- last post's pictures didn't do it justice.
Now that the initial excitement of being here in Abu Dhabi is starting to wear off, I think people are starting to settle in and find stronger friendships and social groups. I don't want to make it sound like all rainbows and butterflies, since it can be challenging to be a part of such a competitive and accomplished group, but I'm still really enjoying it all and am amazed at the opportunities available to us. I love how supportive my peers are. We get so many things for free here- it blows my mind how generous NYU and the government of the U.A.E. are in funding this university. I can't wait to explore more of the city, since I haven't really had that many chances to be off-campus yet outside of the organized activities.

Minor "American problems" rant:  unit conversions to the metric system are so annoying! Why can't the U.S. just use metric and get on board with the rest of the world? I can't properly describe distance, speed, volume, weight, or temperature without thinking in imperial units first and then converting in my head. I've been to the campus gym a few times, and even the treadmill was pretty confusing at first, since I don't really have an intuitive grasp of kilometers or km/hr speeds; not to mention all of the barbell weights in kilograms. To add to this difficulty, prices of everything must be mentally converted from dirhams to dollars, so it's really hard to tell how much something actually costs just by looking. I'm really hoping I will get used to this soon, since it's really annoying when I forget and describe a distance in feet or miles and people just look at me like I'm totally clueless, haha.

Some highlights of this week (couldn't cover everything):

Visit to Sheikh Zayed research center museum 
This was a little museum which contained photos and personal items from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was a previous emir of Abu Dhabi and used his wealth to finance a lot of the city's infrastructure. We watched a short video about how the discovery of oil transformed Abu Dhabi just as the invention of synthetic pearls threatened its historic economy of pearl diving. There was also an exhibit with uniforms from the past police forces of Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately, my phone battery died just before we reached the museum, so I wasn't able to get any pictures. There was a really cool portrait of Sheikh Zayed made out of postage stamps.

On-Campus Scavenger Hunt
We spent a while exploring the campus and getting to know each other and the various departments. While our team didn't win, we worked hard and had a lot of fun doing random things! I now feel like I can find my way around campus without getting lost. Several of the tasks were photo challenges, so I'll include a few here.
We tried to spell "NYUAD"... we tried

Pictures with the soccer scarves

We decided to imitate the cardboard cutout behind us...

We were trying to reenact a movie cover
Intercultural Education Discussion
This was one of the seminars that I found to be the most interesting. We talked about the spectrum of dealing with cultural differences called the Intercultural Development Continuum, ranging from a monocultural mindset to an international mindset. (denial -> polarization -> minimization -> acceptance -> adaptation). We talked about how even though we like to think of ourselves as culturally aware and open-minded, sometimes we tend to "minimize" or repress cultural differences when we focus only on the comfort-zone areas where we have common ground. I've really enjoyed talking to people about social issues in their countries and comparing cultural values with those of the U.S. 

Variety Show
We had a really fun, casual open-mic performance night. It was so interesting to see all of the different talents- songs were performed in many languages such as Russian, Mandarin, Romanian, Spanish, Bulgarian, and more. We got to see everything from a really interesting performance art piece calling attention to the political situation in Venezuela, to a funny poem written to complain about our math placement test, to martial arts demonstrations, to energetic groups of Latino and Indian students taking over the stage to lead us in Latin dance and bhangra.

A2B-403 girls take the stage!
My roommates and I performed a guitar/ukulele/vocal cover of Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire". (I think the "girls from A2B-403" might have a band in the making, haha.) I also played the piano accompaniment for a flute piece, which was kind of last-minute but turned out to be really fun. There are definitely some really good musicians here. Nothing breaks cultural stereotypes like watching a Vietnamese student do a perfect Elvis cover, or watching an Emirati student in an abaya screaming "I'm Not Okay" by My Chemical Romance. (You guys rock!) There were so many great performances that I can't even describe them all.

Dance at Park Hyatt Hotel
This was a really fun night dancing at the gorgeous Park Hyatt Hotel in Abu Dhabi. Once again, super fancy food as well.

Roomies! (I was wearing heels, haha)

Meeting with author Saud Alsanousi
Over the summer, we were required to read The Bamboo Stalk by the Kuwaiti author Saud Alsanousi. We had a really interesting question-and-answer session with the author. The session was in Arabic but headphones with live translation were provided for the non-English speakers. Afterward, we got to meet the author and get our copies of the book signed! I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in intercultural conflict and political issues in the gulf region.

Author Saud Alsanousi
My signed book (in Arabic)
I got to go to church here for the first time (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints/ Mormon church). It was really nice to have something so familiar to fall back on in the midst of all the changes. Our church meets on Friday afternoons here. I even got to practice with the church choir, just like at home! I was also pretty happy to find out that there is a church Institute program here (basically church classes for college students) but it's a little more informal than in the U.S. and the class is just for an hour before the regular church meeting. Our ward (congregation) is approximately half from the Philippines and half from the U.S., with a few people from other countries. People were overall really welcoming, genuine, and helpful. I'm really excited to be able to worship here and get to know people at church better in the coming weeks.

It's also important to remember that a lot of the infrastructure and service industries of the U.A.E. are made possible by a huge labor force, mainly from the Philippines and other southeast Asian countries. I feel so fortunate to have such a wonderful experience here, and it's humbling to see the viewpoint of people who aren't as economically well-off; some of the Filipino church members here have left their families behind to come find work and therefore have a much different experience here than mine. The church is in a part of the city that isn't really as glitzy and glamorous as the places I've been so far, and it kind of helped to put things into perspective. All of the experiences I've had here motivate me to use my privilege and resources to help the world. I'm not sure why I deserve to live in such comfort, but I know that this gives me a responsibility to work hard and ultimately to help other people who don't have the same opportunities. 

Math Placement Test
We all had to take a math placement test, since we come from so many different school systems. I'm really fortunate to be starting with multivariable calculus as I had hoped, which sets me up for a really academically challenging but rewarding first semester. Classes start on Sunday (tomorrow- remember our weekends are Friday-Saturday here). I previously thought I wanted to study biology, but I'm now signed up for engineering courses while I decide specially which path I want to take. I'm thinking long-term about biomedical engineering, but that means I have a lot of different options for an undergrad engineering degree. I'll write more about my class schedule next week, after I've actually experienced the courses more. 

I got to visit a trampoline place at Marina Mall with some other students! So much fun!

Other Stuff
We played some carnival games and ate a lot of junk food to end our Marhaba Week! 
Other than that, I've been to the mall, keeping up with laundry, eating regular meals, and overall am semi-succeeding at the whole adulthood thing. We'll see if that holds up once class starts. I also had to do a medical test for my visa, and I'm pretty squeamish about needles, so I was really really happy to get the blood test over with.

I'm still very happy to be here and I'm looking forward to my classes starting tomorrow!

*Side note- there are a handful of qualified students from my class who are facing delays in getting their U.A.E. entry permits, and even though they have been accepted to the university, they have been unable to enter the country and do not know how long it will take. They need to get their entry permits approved within the next two weeks, or they will not be able to join us this semester. Please send them your prayers/ well-wishes as they wait for the situation to be resolved.   

Goodnight from Saadiyat Island,


*For privacy, I will try not to use names of other students on the blog unless it is really necessary. If I post any photo of you that you do not want shown on the blog, just send me a message and I will take it down immediately. Thanks!*