• The Arab Crossroads Studies major at NYU Abu Dhabi offers unique opportunities to gain in-depth understanding of Arabic language as well as the history and contemporary culture of the Middle East, while also encouraging students to travel globally.

A ballerina, a dentist, a diplomat. This was the progression of my career choices between the ages of 7 to 17.

Since I knew I’d likely pursue a foreign service career when I “grew up,” I wanted to apply to international opportunities. I planned to apply to universities offering international relations. Still, NYU Abu Dhabi started to look more and more like the perfect choice for me, even though the University doesn’t offer that major. You can read more about why I chose NYU Abu Dhabi.

As a first-year student at NYU Abu Dhabi, I felt committed to majoring in Political Science. Of course I was open to exploration, but I was certain this would only affect which minors I added to my academic plan. 

Then I took a class taught by Professor Monica Marks called Feminism and Islamism in the Middle East and North Africa. Typically a demanding course for junior students, I reveled in the chance to delve deeper into the intricate politics of the region. My interest was fueled by two things. First, I was studying about the area where I was living—Abu Dhabi. Secondly, I was learning about a region I had previously known very little about. I was excited to read 20+ pages of readings for every class! I also enjoyed discussing and writing about the subject.

A statue in a gallery at the Sharjah Art Foundation
An exhibit at the Sharjah Art Foundation
Exterior of a building in Sharjah
Visiting Sharjah

Declaring the Arab Crossroads Studies Major

Writing an article for our student-led newsletter, The Gazelle, heavily influenced my decision to major in Arab Crossroads Studies. In the article I explored why we had such a small group of Arab Crossroads Studies graduates. I talked to current students, alumni, and faculty members about the program. I learned about student experiences in the major and how faculty members crafted and taught the courses. And I learned about the different career paths alumni have taken after graduation. 

Everyone I spoke to mentioned students being able to choose their academic focus within the major. For example, you could focus on history, politics, or literature. First, students take three foundational courses: Emergence of the Modern Middle East, Anthropology and the Arab World, and Intro to Modern Arabic Literature and Society. And after completing these courses, students select from a wide range of electives to suit the academic path they’d like to take. Arab Crossroads Studies follows the fundamental mindset of a liberal arts education, promoting a diverse and holistic education.

Still, I have to admit that every class I took within Arab Crossroads Studies ended up being the best class I had ever taken at NYU Abu Dhabi. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

In hindsight it makes sense to me that I chose this path. Coming from a post-Soviet country, our educational system doesn’t discuss the Middle East region or its complexities in detail. Now it seems only natural to choose courses and opportunities to learn about the region where I was studying.

Learning Arabic

Learning languages has always brought me joy. My academic aspirations always included expanding my linguistic abilities. I became enthralled with Arabic when I arrived in Abu Dhabi. I was surrounded by students from around the Middle East, all speaking different dialects of Arabic. It was so different and distinct from the other four languages I knew. And with the prevalence of Arabic on NYU Abu Dhabi’s campus, the words yalla, habibi, and bas became part of every student’s vocabulary.

In the beginning of my time at NYU Abu Dhabi, my interest in Arabic was a fascination with the newness of it. But then I was exposed to Arab culture through classes, interactions off campus, and visiting other emirates. I visited art galleries and exhibits. I saw on-campus performances in Arabic like Hekayah, which commemorated culture and heritage in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Al Raheel, a student theatre production. My fascination transformed into determination to learn Arabic.

Performer ZigZag Ghanim holds a mic in front of a giant screen
ZigZag Ghanim performing at Hekayah

Globe-Trotting Encouraged

As NYU Abu Dhabi students, getting exposure through international opportunities is a vital to our education.

This fall I’m attending NYU Paris. There I’ll work on my Capstone thesis focused on North African immigrants in France through the lens of education. While my project is in its beginning stages, I would not have thought about it without Arab Crossroads Studies. After taking Anthropology and the Arab World, I wanted to focus on ethnography as my main research area. In addition, I wanted to look closer at immigrants in France.

Trust the Process

At some point I realized the best way to experience NYU Abu Dhabi was to “trust the process.” From the moment I got accepted to the decision to switch majors based on what I found interesting, it’s been a whirlwind adventure. I wouldn’t change a thing.

So often we get sucked into the pressure of academics and the focus on our future. As a result, we forget that our undergraduate years are not only about getting an education but finding out more about ourselves. We’re meant to learn everything we can get our hands on.

My advice? Explore with an open mind and be willing to accept where that path may lead.

Amina’s home campus is NYU Abu Dhabi where she is pursuing a double major in Arab Crossroads Studies and Political Science with a Peace Studies minor, but she is originally from a tiny Eastern European country – the Republic of Moldova. She’s particularly interested in studying languages (she’s currently learning her fifth!) and in the intersection of education and conflict resolution studies. When she is not working, she loves exploring independent bookstores, looking for the next flower bouquet for her room, or sharing a cuddle with her dog.