In and Of the City of Abu Dhabi
Why NYU... Abu Dhabi?
That’s probably one of the questions I get most frequently whilst out on the road and responding to emails of curious students. The answer to ‘Why NYU New York?’ seems pretty obvious and straightforward to any student who’s potentially thinking of NYU as a destination for the next four years. An unparalleled global education, a breadth of coursework, renowned faculty and alumni that include everything from prominent researchers, Nobel Laureates to Grammy-nominated artists. You’d be hard-pressed to make an argument of why not NYU. So how does the city of Abu Dhabi play into things?
I typically start off by explaining that NYU is three degree-granting campuses that make up one university. That means students have access to an entire network of resources. Fifteen study away sites, unparalleled academic opportunities, amazing faculty and an alumni network that spans 7 continents. But I secretly believe this isn’t really what these students are looking to know when they ask about why Abu Dhabi should be at least one of their choices.
The Pulse of the City
See, NYU’s legacy is not just about an amazing institution bringing together amazing faculty and students to do some pretty world-changing things. It’s about doing all that in New York City. New York has its art scene with Broadway, the MOMA and the like. It has the heartbeat of finance on Wall Street. Cuisine from almost every nationality across the five boroughs. That’s not to mention a strong start-up culture that makes almost any idea a tangible possibility.
It’s almost as if NYC and all the opportunities it affords is the spark that sets its New York campus alive. That’s what draws thousands of students to it every year. And if that’s the case, then there must be something equally as catalytic about Abu Dhabi that makes learning and engaging on our campus there the same kind of one-in-a-million experience.
And there are lots of things that might draw one to a campus in a city like Abu Dhabi.
The Art and Music Scene
One of the very first things I noticed on my first ever visit to Abu Dhabi in 2016 was how invested the community is in building a culture around art in the region. And I’m not just talking about the recently opened Abu Dhabi Louvre or the Guggenheim that’s in the works. Galleries such as Manarat Al Saadiyat, Warehouse 421, the Folklore Gallery, Zayed Heritage Center, and the Etihad Modern Art Gallery (to name a few) all speak to just how much the visual arts are celebrated in the region. The Opera, the Al Hosan Cultural Foundation and the Abu Dhabi National Theater offer both contemporary and traditional vocal and performance arts.
Not to be left out, NYU Abu Dhabi’s Art Center, which is open to the public boasts of 2 theaters, a film-screening room, and a recital hall that has been home to acts such as Francesco De Gregori, Yaite Ramos Rodriguez (aka La Dame Blanche), and Kid Koala. Fun fact: the NYUAD Art Gallery, which hosts a rotation of exhibits from local art collections as well as exhibits from all over the world is one of only two teaching art galleries in the entire Middle East.
If you thought Dubai was the only city in the UAE worth a concert-goer’s dreams, you thought wrong. This year has seen some of the biggest artists in world music from ALL genres grace stages in Abu Dhabi. Travis Scott, Usher, The Killers, UB40, Marshmello, Lana Del Ray, Bruno Mars, Usher, Ne-Yo, Pink Floyd, Metallica, Mariah Carey – the list is truly endless. You will not find a shortage of musical acts to catch in the country’s capital.
Sports and Adventure
Most modern cities do not yield themselves to very many sports, but Abu Dhabi is definitely the exception. If you’re into outdoor sports, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council organizes everything from cycling races, extreme obstacle courses, runs and triathalons. If you’re more like me and prefer to stand on the sidelines and watch others break a sweat, there’s everything from golf tournaments to the Abu Dhabi Formula One races that the city hosts on Yas Island every November. Last year, Abu Dhabi even hosted the Special Olympics. Indoor rock climbing, kite surfing, white water rafting, dune bashing, desert quad biking, camping – there’s something for everyone.
Oh, and did I mention that Real Madrid practices on the NYUAD soccer field whenever they’re in town?
Diversity and Inclusion
One of the reasons people gravitate towards cities at any point in their lives – but especially during their college years – is that it can sometimes be easier to find a sense of belonging. It almost seems contradictory, but cities attract people from different backgrounds and cultures, and become in many ways a melting pot of ideas and spaces that anyone can find their place in. Abu Dhabi is definitely such a city.
Over 80% of the 3 million people living in Abu Dhabi are non-citizens who hail from over 170 countries. This is seen not just in the variety of people you see walking down the street, but in the food scene, in the arts, and in the events that are organized across the city. If there’s something you’re missing from back home, there’s always someone who knows where to find it; and if you want to travel somewhere new, there’s always someone who can show you the unbeaten paths to take once there.
Beyond diversity, the UAE in recent years has really pushed the bar forward in terms of inclusion in the country. In 2016 HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum introduced the term ‘People of Determination’ which would be used in lieu of ‘disabled’ in order to describe people with special needs, introducing new laws to protect their rights and dignity. In 2019 NYU’s former chaplain, Rabbi Yahuda Sarna, was named the first ever Chief Rabbi in the UAE; and during Pope Francis’ visit, plans were released for the first ever interfaith complex which will be home to a mosque, synagogue and church, and will share Saadiyat Island with NYU Abu Dhabi.
Shopping, Food and Entertainment
Fourteen malls, thousands of shops and restaurants, countless cinemas. If you’re looking for a way to pass time and spend a little money while you’re at it, then Abu Dhabi is the city for you. A lot of people ask me if living in Abu Dhabi is expensive. Similar to most cities, you can find a variety of dining and entertainment options. Everything from Michelin starred restaurants to street cart halal rice and chicken. Explore local gems like the burger food truck Salt (say yes to the Lotus Shake), and Nolus Restaurant (Californian fare with an Afghani twist). Or check out Bu Tafish, one of the oldest restaurants in the city named after its Palestinian immigrant owner who got the nickname from the late Shiekh Zayed.
But don’t think you’re going to miss out on any of your cult favorites. The beauty of being a city at the crossroads of the world means we have a little something for everyone. Whether it’s Sephora, H&M, Zara, Ikea, Carrefour, Olive Garden, Ben and Jerry’s, or Nandos – you’re covered.
Insider tip: I have it on good authority that the KFC in Abu Dhabi tastes exponentially better than KFC anywhere else in the world.
Nothing draws young people to a place in droves quite like the promise of the opportunity to drive change. And the UAE is a country that is constantly striving to be at the forefront of innovation. A lot of that happens in Abu Dhabi, which is home to the seat of government. It’s one of the handful of governments in the world that has a ministry focused on climate change. It also has ministries of artificial intelligence, of happiness, and of food security. It has invested in complexes to promote research, creativity and innovation such as Masdar City, and developed a strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. Tie that in with a space agency that will be the first in the region to explore Mars, and the opportunities to contribute to something that will have massive impact on social good are limitless.