It's been in the news and in the making for nearly 5 years...is it a depository for oil money, a government pawn, a trophy for NYU's Manhattan campus, a Middle Eastern travel sponsor targeting unsuspecting students? I was prepared to believe any of the above, so it was a surprise akin to (if you'll allow me to be a bit irreverent) something between religious conversion and falling in love when I went to the March Candidate Weekend and was completely converted to a cause I see as anything but pointless and pretentious.
In astonishing ways, things fell into place. I expected to feel bribed during the elaborate and all-expenses paid selection weekend, but bizarre as it sounds, it was more like a courtship through a series of conversations. But first the basics: NYUAD is created to be a relatively small research university offering the same top-tier liberal arts and sciences degree as their Manhattan campus. More than that, it's toting itself "the world's Honors College," pulling the best students and faculty from many dozens of countries and nearly every continent. And even more than that, it has a vision of examining what the world will look like in the next couple of centuries in the context of various theories of cosmopolitanism, globalization, and cultural identity in hopes that students will be non-traditional leaders carrying civilization into the most ideal and sustainable future possible. And that's just innately exciting. This inaugural class consists of just over 100 students and about 40 faculty on a temporary downtown campus (permanent facilities are scheduled to open on Saadiyat Island in 2014, so you can imagine what a close-knit community it will be. It was glimpses of this network which blew me away, and what impresses me most is the extent to which personal sacrifices have already been made for this project. I didn't expect President John Sexton's legendary charisma and enthusiasm, nor the potential professors' candor in describing why they've decided to leave jobs at the world's top universities for this crazy endeavor, nor that chatting with Dean of Students Jim Larimore and other staff about living in Abu Dhabi would be so cathartic. From what I have seen, they certainly have the means to turn their idealism into reality.
It's also interesting to note that such enthusiasm hasn't always been present. There has been a fascinating evolution of opinion about the project as evidenced articles from several years ago full of cynicism and doubt to applause from organizations like the Human Rights Watch and an academic world which is supposedly calling involvement in this first generation a "less than a once in a lifetime experience." It's true, there is an undeniable aura of possibility pervading Abu Dhabi. For one thing, unlike in Dubai, the government prides itself upon it's long-term plans for economic and environmental sustainability, and with projects like the Cleveland Clinic's new facilities and the zero carbon emissions city of Masdar in the making, the future looks promising. It's an exciting time to be in such a truly cosmopolitan city where something unique is always happening (camel races, concerts on the Corniche, or sandboarding, anyone?), and the people are so diverse that on the beach I saw abayas, bikinis, and everything in between.
I am by nature I person who overanalyzes every aspect of every experience, struggles with decisions, and always second guesses even the ones I'm satisfied with. And yet, here I have no doubts. I have rarely been as sure of anything as I am that becoming part of NYUAD is worthwhile. It was not even on my radar until recently, and the option sort of fell into my arms since I only applied after being nominated here at UWCiM. But it fits on so many levels that I can't deny the connection...not to mention that it gives me a chance to make use of the fact that UWC is such a similar community by drawing upon my experiences here. And then there are the full scholarship, study abroad, research, and other intrinsic benefits of being at a university like NYU! It is a sacrifice in some ways, since I won't be serving with City Year in Cleveland as planned and will be away from my family for much of these four years, but I can't think of a better place to add another dimension to my identity. There are many more aspects of the city, the university, and the decision that promise to keep me on an intellectual and emotional high for quite a while...ask me and you'll have real difficulty getting me to shut up! I figured I'd start with this post in order to fill in those of you back in the States who haven't had more than pieces of the story until now and to hopefully start some conversations about what promises to be historic and, for the vast majority of people involved, life-changing.
By the time I got the offer of admission (and finished leaping around in circles and screaming in the park with Shaked), I was already at peace with the decision. About the only thing that would have changed my mind would have been getting struck by lightening on the way to the post office. I wasn't, so as of today the card is signed, sealed, and sent off. The commitment is made. I'm moving to the Middle East and couldn't be more thrilled...but I'm gonna need a new name for the blog.