It’s an innocent enough question. I don’t think anyone actually means anything negative by it. I try not to cock my head in not-so-feigned confusion. But somehow the only thing I can hear when I get asked it is, “Why would you leave here, for there?”
I think it’s indicative of the way we’ve been conditioned to see the world, and of how we choose to equate comfort and happiness with familiarity. But for me, the move to Abu Dhabi—the idea of living in a country that isn’t the Untied States—isn’t novel. In fact, I believe my decision to move to Abu Dhabi really began 22 years ago.
I Remember the First Time I Traveled Outside the United States Like It Was Yesterday
My father had decided it was time our little family move back “home” to Ghana. His home that is—or at least that’s how we felt at the time. I had been born in Maryland and knew next to nothing of our parents’ country or heritage. My 13-year-old sister was led kicking and screaming to the airplane, issuing occasional outcries about tropical disease. Me? At the age of 7, I was more excited about the opportunity of an adventure than the fear of being somewhere “different.”
That is the luxury of being a child, I guess. To be able to embrace difference with excitement instead of fear or trepidation. And embrace it I did. My brothers still laugh at me for chasing turkeys the first time I ever visited my mother’s hometown of Koforidua. Can you blame me? It was my first time seeing one outside of the frozen poultry section of Shoppers. Everything was new and exciting. There were so many moments I was unknowledgeable or uncomfortable that provided me so many opportunities to learn.
Those nine years living in Ghana shaped not only how I saw the world but how I saw myself in it. I embraced areas of grey instead of constantly needing things to be black or white. I learned to adapt, without feeling like I had to conform and be any one thing. I figured out what it means to be an “other” and to find my own sense of belonging.
So I returned to the United States at 17 with a new perspective of the world, of myself, and my place in it. I knew travel would always be important for my growth as a human being and my responsibility as a global citizen. Learning about things I had no prior knowledge of became like fitting the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. With each new experience, I’d have a clearer picture. And so I saved up every penny and sought out every opportunity to do just that.
I’ve had the privilege of getting to fit a lot of pieces into my puzzle over the last 12 years. I’ve studied in London, spent New Year’s Eve in Paris, worked in sustainable development in Mumbai. I went snorkeling in the Bahamas, climbed a waterfall in Jamaica, and swam with elephants in Thailand. I once got lost horseback riding in a forest in Viñales, celebrated a wedding in Pretoria, rode a motorbike through the streets of Kigali, and slept by the sea in Muscat. I have seen things, met people, tried foods, and experienced places I still marvel at even years after I’ve left.
But I recognize that these are just glimpses of the possibilities that exist in the world. Mere shadows of an experience in the grand scheme of things. Still, no world experience has shaped me the way living in Ghana for a significant amount of time has.
So When the Opportunity to Move to Abu Dhabi Opened Up, I Jumped on It
I didn’t think twice. I’ve spent the last three years convincing students of all the reasons they should travel across the world to study at NYU Abu Dhabi. So if you asked me why I said yes to the opportunity to leave the United States and move to Abu Dhabi, I could give you a million reasons. I could tell you about what a pleasure it is to work for an institution whose mission and vision I firmly believe in. I could tell you about all the amazing opportunities the University offers. I could ramble on about the amazing faculty and research opportunities. I can list all the facilities and resources students have at their disposal.
Then I could tell you about the beautiful city, its diversity and its growth. I could tell you about all the best places to eat, about the outdoor sports. I could go on and on about all the festivals and concerts and the amazing art scene. I could tell you about the amazing people I get to work with—both colleagues and students. I could tell you how passionate they are about impacting the world for the better. I could tell you how they make this job something to be excited about every morning. I could potentially write an entire book about these things.
But I won’t.
Because this isn’t a marketing pitch. I’m happy to send you a brochure if you’d like one, but this really isn’t about a “place.” It’s about the opportunity to see yourself at “home“ anywhere in the world—about going back to a time where you embraced “foreign” and “different” things with excitement and anticipation instead of fear.
One of the core values of NYU is to give students the opportunities to push back boundaries and to really see themselves as a citizens in a world beyond walls or borders. Our mission is to make students comfortable anywhere and effective everywhere. It’s a value and a mission that resounds deeply with me. I chose to move to Abu Dhabi because it’s another opportunity to expand my ideas of the world and of the people who inhabit it. How many opportunities will I ever have to live as a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country, or live in a country that’s home to over 200 nationalities?
Moving to Abu Dhabi means I get to live and experience a part of the world most people have very limited knowledge of. I chose to move to Abu Dhabi because I have come to understand the value of making myself at home not just in a place but in the world.
Take the Leap
There will be many times in the course of your life where the opportunity might arise for you to do something “different.” It might be studying abroad somewhere else in the world for a semester or a year. It might be ticking off NYU Abu Dhabi or NYU Shanghai as your first-choice campus when you apply to NYU. It might be taking a job opportunity at Google in Nigeria instead of California. Or it might be working with Doctors Without Borders instead of in a cushy medical facility where you get your own parking spot. When they do arise, I implore you to take the leap while you can. Take the opportunity to redefine the world for yourself and your place in it. I can tell you from experience that you—and the rest of the world—will be much better for it.