The Food Scene at NYU Abu Dhabi (a.k.a. The Only Post That Actually Features Salad)

When I named this blog SalAD, the idea that people might think of this as a food blog never really occurred to me. Maybe that says something about my tendency to disregard the obvious and fixate on things of relative unimportance. Alternatively, it may reflect the fact that I just don’t think of salad as being food. This is strange because I’m vegetarian, so my strictly anti-salad stance does pose a problem. I am forced to look for alternate sources of nutrition, like gummy bears (fruit-flavored), or vegemite (this has “veg” in it so don’t tell me it isn’t healthy).

It stands to reason, therefore, that when I got to university, I was terrified. What would I – a hapless animal-lover, the benevolent protector of domesticated creatures – find to eat? Do they even have gummy bears in the United Arab Emirates? Would I have to forage in the desert for food, like (Gummy) Bear Grylls in an episode of Man vs. Wild? In preparation, I began to read extensively about edible plants and tubers. I was all set to become a hunter-gatherer, but without the hunting bit.

As it turns out, that wasn’t necessary.

They have plenty of gummy bears in the United Arab Emirates. Hallelujah.

Seriously speaking though, the food situation here could not be better. I’ve actually started eating healthier. My mother makes me describe all my meals to her with a level of detail that even Nigella Lawson couldn’t handle. In fact, whenever I send my parents a picture of my lunch/ dinner/ snacks, my father makes it his phone wallpaper. My family has a weird relationship with food.

My father's favourite phone wallpaper

My father’s favourite phone wallpaper

There are many places to eat here at NYU Abu Dhabi, but the main dining hall – D2 – is my food haven of choice. D2 has seven main counters: The Grill (burgers and steaks), Hot Wok (stir-fried and fried-stirred), Home Baked (pizzas), Feel Good (my arch enemy, salad, and mostly vegetarian food), Meal Club (a selection of miscellaneous items), Grab and Go (deli sandwiches and basically anything that can be grabbed and gone), and Global Street (street food from around the world). This is in addition to gorgeous desserts and a beverage counter with apple-flavored Fanta, which is one of the most exotic things I have encountered in this country. D2 also has a somewhat efficient home (suite) delivery system that operates until 12 am, so the only thing we need to make this legit is one of those delivery drones – we could call it R2-D2.

What seriously impresses me about D2 is the sheer variety of the food on offer. There are at least 8-9 different vegetarian options at each meal, and the number of non-veg options is maybe four times the number of vegetarian options. Being a member of the minority food community, I had prepared myself for four years of “Take it or leave it” and “Please, sir, I want some more”. I was glad to see, however, that gruel was not on the menu, and that the veg food included things like pasta, rice, falafel and hummus, curries, gratins, casseroles, and yes, salads. The non-vegetarian majority, of course, has no complaints – if anything, they wish that they could get their fancy tuna done “medium-rare” instead of “well done” or “medium” (the two ways in which meat is cooked at The Grill). ‘Hoity-toity little non-vegetarians,’ I think bitterly as I shovel uncooked leaves into my mouth (kidding, I still don’t eat salad). Also, the selection at lunch differs from the selection at dinner, which is really impressive for a school with less than a thousand students.

Definitely not gruel.

Definitely not gruel.

Buuuut maybe, just maybe, you’re not the type of person who’s easily impressed. “Whatever,” you say, shaking your head. “It’s just variety. Even restaurants have variety. What’s the big deal?” But you, my friend, haven’t been to the Marketplace.

I’ll introduce the Marketplace with a slight digression: I started watching Masterchef Australia around five years ago, and this has had two unexpected consequences: 1) I pronounce butter like an imbecile (“Butttttaaaah”) and 2) I have fallen into the habit of describing food as “gorgeous”, “beautiful” and “flavoursome”. So do pardon me if I offend your semantic sensibilities, because these are the only words I could possibly use to describe the food at the Marketplace.

The Marketplace is basically one big restaurant, but it contains five mini-restaurants within it – Innovation Kitchen (kebabs and shawarmas), Create (burgers and wraps), So Deli (soups, salads, sandwiches), Goodness Me (delectable smoothies like the one in my dad’s phone wallpaper) and Amishi Mishi (the delicacies of the Far East). The food’s relatively pricey at the Marketplace, but it’s worth it. I like to treat myself here every once in a while, but I know a considerable number of people who prefer to eat here than at the D2. For non-vegetarians especially, there’s much more here in terms of variety. My personal favorite is Goodness Me, because their shakes are unbelievable. My dad, despite never having tasted one, agrees – smoothies are usually his food of choice for his phone wallpaper.

Speaking of smoothies, I can’t end this post without an obligatory nod to the foremost symbol of consumerism, the one place that symbolizes ‘Murica, and freedom, and opportunity, and all things great and glorious about the world that we live in.

Starbucks.

No American University would be complete without Starbucks, and NYU-AD has two. Recently, the Pumpkin Spice Latte created much furore – is it more spice than it is pumpkin? – and that kept us occupied for a few days, but now we’re back to our usual no-drama caramel macchiato. We have pretty much every drink that Starbucks has to offer, and depending on how judiciously you use your food currency (“Dining Dirhams”) you can even get it for free. Free Starbucks. I can hear you swooning. Okay, I’ll do you a favor. Here’s a picture:

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I hereby give you permission to make it your phone wallpaper.

Have a great day!

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In Which A Nerd talks About How Much She Loves Homework. And Hippos.

A couple of weeks ago, I promised to tell you more about the classes I’m taking this semester. I implied that this information would be conveyed to you soon. Well, this unspecified period of time, also known as “soon”, has finally arrived. It is Eid al-Adha, and this five-day break from classes would appear to be the perfect time to revisit the past three weeks of classes here at NYU Abu Dhabi (wow, I’m such a nerd).

Classes can be broadly categorised into two main types: Cores and Electives. Electives count towards majors. Cores are the courses that make the Liberal Arts program a Liberal Arts program. They are at the very core (ha ha much pun so fun) of the education system here at NYU-AD. Every student is required to take 8 cores over the period of four years, along with electives that count towards their intended major(s). More specifically, each student must take 2 cores from each of four categories or “pathways”: Pathways of World Literature, Structures of Thought and Society, Ideas and Methods of Science, and Art, Technology and Innovation. The defining feature of cores is encompassed by the word “interdisciplinary”. It is not a core unless it involves a variety of different subjects and perspectives. Disclaimer: The core curriculum is currently being reviewed and is bound to be refined further in the near future.

Here, I feel compelled to give an obligatory nod to Foundations of Science. Normal people – Arts and Humanities/ Social Science majors – must complete around 12 electives, along with the 8 cores, to obtain their degree. The opposite of normal people – Science and Engineering students (with the exception of Computer Science students) – need to complete four to six Foundations of Science courses in addition to course-specific electives and 8 cores. To the best of my knowledge, the only skills you need to take FoS courses are:

  1. Whining.
  2. Beginning and ending every conversation with, “I humbly request that you bask in my unparalleled magnificence because I am an FoS student. Please, please, no applause.”

I jest, I jest, a lot of my friends acquaintances take FoS.

Although I would have liked to take a Psychology or Literature elective this fall, I’m doing 4 cores. Why? In the university hierarchy, freshmen fall dangerously close to Neanderthals. Seniors get to choose courses first, then Juniors, then Sophomores, and Freshmen are relegated to the leftovers. Since the class size is so small – 15 students maximum – the most popular courses (i.e., Introduction to Psychology and Foundations of Literature) are filled before most freshmen can get their hands on it. This only happens in the fall semester, of course, and that’s because most students, and a lot of those course-hungry seniors and juniors, study abroad in the spring. So I should get these courses in the next semester, but for now, I’m completing 4 core courses.

And I absolutely love it.

Most people gasp and offer commiserations when I tell them that I’m doing 4 core courses, because that’s as intense as it can get. Weekly papers, daily readings of Aristotle and Immanuel Kant, and hourly snack breaks. And I’m just a young and inexperienced freshman. My goals for the semester should be to 1. Wear clean clothes and maintain decent standards of personal hygiene (at least on the weekends) and 2. Not set myself on fire. I shouldn’t be reading Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy or Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo. Firstly, I can’t pronounce Descartes, and secondly, I can’t say “St. Augustine of Hippo” without picturing Gloria the hippopotamus from Madagascar.

“Guys, do you wanna move it, move it?”

My first core is called “Identity and Object”. It belongs to the Art, Technology and Innovation pathway, and it contains a Writing Workshop, which means we meet three times a week as opposed to two. The extra class involves learning about writing: how to create a strong thesis, close-reading texts, building an argument etc., and every student is required to take at least one writing workshop core. This particular course is an absolute delight. It centres on the relationship between material culture and the construction of identity. It’s archaeology-centric, and I’m a history lover, so I enjoy every minute of it. Until now, we’ve spoken to a museum curator, we’ve watched Indiana Jones movies and spoken about stereotypical representations of the past, and we’ve discussed how our own family heirlooms have helped construct meaning in our lives, amongst other things. Almost everyone in the class is from a different country, so discussions take interesting turns as we discuss Western and Eastern stereotypes of other cultures and their pasts. The experience is made even better by our professor, who is unbelievably nice and equally knowledgeable.

My next course, “Laughter”, a Pathways of World Literature core, is the course that was made with me in mind. Not really, but it is meant for me. This course is my life. It’s all about humor and laughter and it’s taught by a theatre professor, so we do these hilarious activities and then talk about why they’re funny. We’ve watched Singin’ In The Rain, a multitude of stand-up comedy videos, and our next project is to make a vine video. I cannot get over how awesome this class is. I want to take it for the rest of my life, if I can. I hope I can, somehow.

Much books, very knowledge

Much books, very knowledge

Next, we have “Thinking”, from Ideas and Methods of Science. At the end of every Thinking class, I feel like I’ve just attained enlightenment. I feel like I know so much more about the world and about the human mind following that brief 75-minute period. This is the class that involves reading Descartes, but no matter how complex the reading, the professor is one of those people who makes everything seem so interesting. I often get back from class and do some research of my own, just because the topics of discussion, to put it in colloquial terms, blow my mind. They really do make me think (another pun, fun fun).

And finally comes “Emotions”, from Structures of Thought and Society. Emotions is difficult (the Hippo class, remember?), but the sense of accomplishment you feel when you’ve been able to distil ten readings – including Aristotle, Abelard and Homer – into a 3 page essay is unparalleled. And the subject matter is genius – is “sentimentality” bad? Are emotions useful? Have they always been useful? What is love? If you want to know, just take Emotions.

I know that it sounds like I’ve been placed to advertise these classes by my professors (btw, professors, if you’re reading this, please pay in cash, not card). But honestly, I don’t know if any other semester will beat freshman fall in terms of how enjoyable the classes are. Will the classes be even better next semester? Or will I yearn for the days of St. Augustine of Hippo?

Regardless, there will always be a bright side: no FoS.

New Dawn, New Day, New Life: First Week of University at NYU Abu Dhabi

If you’ve been very observant, and you probably haven’t, you would have noticed that there was an unexplained eleven day lag between my last two posts, titled “Marhaba Week: Day 5” and “Marhaba Week: Day 6”. I’d like to blame it on the UAE weekend system – weekends are on Fridays and Saturdays here, unlike the Saturday-Sunday system I’m used to – but that is probably not a convincing enough argument for this curious dilation in the passage of time.

You know what is a convincing argument, though? Interstellar.

But more relevantly, college.

I’m not very sure where to begin, actually. Julie Andrews tells me that “the very beginning” is “a very good place start” (thanks for that valuable input, Julie), but it’s all sort of hazy now. I remember waking up and being handed free donuts the minute I walked out of my dorm. “HAVE A GREAT FIRST DAY OF COLLEGE,” someone beamed as they threw a donut at me, with entirely too much enthusiasm for 8 am on a Sunday morning. But that’s just NYU Abu Dhabi for you. Excitement, and sugary American treats.

I did the IB, and I’ve always been told that the IB is the hardest it’ll ever get. International Baccalaureate, meet University. University is where you have to stay up five nights to complete two papers in the very first week. University is where you bring Homer’s Iliad to breakfast in the morning and fall asleep with Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? next to you at night. University is where my mother has to Skype me to remind me to stay hydrated.

As I said in my last post, my brain has turned into rot over the vacations, and suddenly, it’s been thrown into the fresh fruit market. “But I shouldn’t be here!” It cries. “I’m not ready for this! I’m supposed to be watching Grey’s Anatomy! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME, SUPRIYA.” I’ve read three books in two weeks, done at least twenty readings, five short assignments, two full-length essays, and I’ve been doing PE. If only I’d done some crossword puzzles during the vacation, or climbed some stairs.

But, to be honest, I absolutely love my courses. My courses are called “Laughter”, “Emotions”, “Identity and Object” and “Thinking” (more on these courses in a later post). I’d expected at least one of them to be a dud – what freshmen can hope to have four absolutely amazing courses in the very first semester? Looks like I got lucky.

I say that now, but this time last week, I was lying on my bed in fetal position, listening to Mozart’s Symphony number 40 and praying that this storm of work was just a hallucination induced by stress. That was until I realised that the work was what was causing the stress, and that this was, consequently, a circular argument. Darn it. This meant that I had to get out of bed and start working again, all while fending off an imminent panic attack and staying hydrated (it’s like my mom can sense when the water composition of my body changes). It was hard.

But then two miraculous things happened: tiramisu, and Catdog.

I was literally dragged to Tiramisu Night – I mean literally, a friend grabbed my hand and pulled me while I resisted and screamed for help. Tiramisu Night was hosted by the Italian faculty fellow in residence, Goffredo and Francesca Puccetti, at their apartment, and was intended to give the residents of the A2A buildings – that’s where most freshmen stay – a chance to meet the delightfully friendly couple, roll around in their gorgeously furnished home and eat their authentic Italian tiramisu. I had heard about Francesca’s famous tiramisu long before I even arrived in NYU Abu Dhabi this Fall, but the real deal exceeded my imaginative power. My current vocabulary is nowhere near sufficient to describe the joy that the tiramisu gave me. It blew my mind. It was a life-changing experience. I would imagine that this was what the Buddha felt when he attained Enlightenment.

And then I met Catdog.

Catdog trying to hide from me, what a cutie

Catdog trying to hide from me, what a cutie

I’ve never thought of myself as a cat person, but apparently, I am. I was returning to my room after Tiramisu Night, and I met this little fellow on the way. There are two cats on campus: one is a cat genius and so he hangs around the dining hall for food, but this one is a little dull – which I could relate to – and it was love at first sight. For me, that is. As I reached out to pet him, he hissed and ran away and hid in some bushes. I decided to name him Catdog because I wanted to let him know that he could be whatever he wanted to be when he grew up. A cat. A dog. No discrimination. Watching Catdog bare his teeth in annoyance as I tried to come closer made me feel much better. For the first time, I felt unconditional love.

Looks like university’s turned me into a crazy cat lady.

Marhaba Week Day 6: In Which An End is A Beginning

It’s the last day of Marhaba Week and I am in a mobile clinic. Has NYU Abu Dhabi finally realised something that my mother realised that fateful summer day when I started to talk to pigeons and tried to fly? Do they…know?

Not yet. This was a standard procedure, involving medical tests to obtain the UAE student visa. Not that we’re here illegally now, of course; we’ve been here on a temporary visa, and these medical tests – if passed successfully – will knock down the penultimate barrier standing in the way of its permanence.

The final barrier is the fingerprinting.

The UAE government fingerprinting office is unbelievably efficient. It must be noted, however, that my frame of reference is Indian government offices, where the completion of any task warrants a whole day and a picnic basket. Still, I was really impressed by how quickly the tedious process of collecting our fingerprints and palm prints and mugshots (kidding, “photographs”) was completed, especially considering that the really nice mugshot lady let us take multiple pictures of ourselves until we were satisfied with how we looked. For many of us, it was our first photo shoot. Some girls had to be dragged out of the booths as they cried, “Let me take a selfie!”

Vogue shoot finished, we returned to campus for an optional session of “Athletics Open Play and Fitness Centre Fun”. I wish I could tell you more about this, I really do, but most of the time I was hiding in my room hoping that nobody would break in, take me hostage and throw balls at me – they referred to it as “playing basketball”. I love the fitness centre staff, I really do, they’re so much fun, but nothing terrifies me more than sports – with the sole exceptions of bananas and dancing. What I can tell you, though, is that everybody who attended enjoyed it thoroughly, and many friendships were forged over friendly games of foosball.

The other highlight of the day was our second mandatory floor meeting with our Resident Assistant. I think I have fallen deeply, madly, hopelessly in love with our RA. The agenda for the meeting was to discuss potential floor events, and after suggesting karaoke, High School Musical movie night, and Cold stone Ice Cream on the Corniche, she came up with this idea of giving us gift coupons every time we attended one of the events. “Are gift coupons okay?” she asked us. We looked stunned. “If you don’t like gift coupons, I could buy you anything else! Just tell me what you would like,” she said, slightly taken aback by our silence. “Are you…” one girl ventured tentatively, “are you really giving us incentive to do fun things?”

And that allows me to transition smoothly to the next event of the day, which was the Inter-Residence Hall Council’s Ice Cream Social. Once again, as if music and soda and lottery tickets weren’t enough to make us attend, we were being given incentive in the form of ice cream, macaroons and chocolate. As we swayed under the palm trees, licking melting ice cream off our wrists, praying for a win in the lottery – so we could get more free stuff – we were told about all the opportunities and events offered and hosted respectively by the Inter-Residence Hall Council, or, as we call them “They Who Bestow Ice Cream On The Masses”.

The ice cream however, was a fleeting distraction, allowing us to avoid, for a few brief seconds, an overwhelming truth: classes begin tomorrow.

I have spent the past three months at home, allowing my brain to slowly but surely degenerate into this little puddle of rot, spittle and Grey’s Anatomy. The closest I’ve come to be intellectually stimulated is looking for my Monopoly set and then eventually giving up. The last few days have certainly prepped me for being receptive to vast amounts of new information, but then again, so did every single episode of House ever. Digesting the information is what I’m apprehensive about. The four classes I’m doing this semester are titled: “Laughter”, “Emotions”, “Thinking” and “Identity and Object”. All of these are core courses, which means that they are interdisciplinary, they don’t count towards any majors per se, and they’re hard. Every time I’ve told a student that I’m doing four cores, it has evoked a gasp, sympathy, and then commiseration.

I’ve decided to go to bed early and wake up fresh for a new chapter. To quote Darwin, “Survival of the fittest, dude.”

Until next time! If there even is a next time. Who knows what university will do to me.

*Happy thoughts, happy thoughts*

Marhaba Week Day 5: In Which Abu Dhabi is Basically Switzerland

Dubai. Abu Dhabi. Dubai. Abu Dhabi. Abu Dubai? Dabu Abai? Dubai Dhabi?

To a large majority of the population that does not reside in the Middle East, all of the words above refer to the same place: a small cluster of very tall, glassy buildings somewhere in the vast sands between the continent of Africa and the Indian subcontinent. There is sand. There are camels. There is oil. There are shopping malls. There are oil-drinking camels that like sand and going to shopping malls. All of which is proof why Dubai and Abu Dhabi can and should be used interchangeably. Just like Las Vegas and Los Angeles, both of which, if you hadn’t noticed, begin with an L and end with an S and have two words.

All of the above leads me to my point – today, we visited Dubai (or is it Abu Dhabi? Hmm).

The bus takes about an hour and a half to get from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, or as I like to call it fondly, “from my desert to that tall building”. We left at 1 pm, and reached the Dubai Mall at around 2:30 pm. Dubai Mall is one of the most famous malls in Dubai – of course, that’s partly because its name is ridiculously unimaginative – but mostly, its because it’s the entry point to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, at around 830 metres. This was our destination – from making us feel on top of the world with free donuts and ice cream and Starbucks – more on this later – NYU-AD was literally taking us to the top of the world.

Each of us was handed a ticket to the 124th floor of the building, and we were herded into the elevators. “Elevator straight to heaven,” whispered one of my fellow NYU-AD students. “That’s not ominous at all,” another replied. I just prayed, as my ears popped and I suddenly discovered a new fear of crowded elevators – another one to add to the list.

The ride lasted for precisely 60 seconds, and then there was light. I was convinced that it was the light at the end of the tunnel, and I had already begun to roll into fetal position, when I realised that it was the light from the viewing platform. We were at the top.

And I stepped into heaven.

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I’m terrified of heights, which is funny because I live on the 20th floor of my building in Mumbai and now I’m at a Global Network University, which basically gives me a lifetime of frequent flier miles. Strangely however, I didn’t feel terrified at all on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa. Slightly terrified on the 125th (terror is directly proportional to distance from the ground) but all in all, it was actually really nice. Of course, the price of the souvenirs made my highly dramatic alter ego want to throw herself off the building, but what can you do.

Many selfies and – whatever the opposite of selfie is – later, we were ready to head back down again. 60 seconds brought us back to the reality of this mortal world, the inconstancy of this fleeting life, and dinnertime. We headed to Abdel Waheb, a Lebanese restaurant on the waterfront right across from the Burj Khalifa. Seated near the water, we were served four courses of traditional Lebanese food, and were able to witness three beautiful fountain shows during the course of the meal. Amusingly, the fountain shows were accompanied by Bollywood music, and of course, my fellow Indians and I took credit for the music which we had written and performed ourselves. The Lebanese food also served as an excellent conversation starter; it allowed us to discuss the relationship between food and politics in the Middle East (“hummus” sounds a lot like “Hamas”).

At the end of a lovely meal we returned to board our buses back to the university – but not until we got a chance to experience the Dubai heat, and this is where the difference between Dubai and Abu Dhabi becomes relevant. Abu Dhabi is hot. Dubai is killer. The humidity in Abu Dhabi is so high that glasses and phone screens become fogged up when we exit our air-conditioned buildings. The humidity in Dubai is so high that I could drown in my own perspiration. The air is literally entirely water vapour in Dubai. As one friend wisely pointed out, “I realise how pleasant Abu Dhabi is only after visiting Dubai.”

Finally returning to Abu Dhabi was like going to Switzerland in the summer. My relief at having returned in solid state was so great that I wanted to sing “the hills are alive with the sound of music” from the sand dunes.

But you know what? I think I’ll go for Demi Lovato’s “Too cool for the Summer” instead.

Marhaba Week Day 4: In Which We Inquire About Gucci Abayas

For the last two months, incoming freshmen at New York University Abu Dhabi, myself included, have been fretting over several things. These include: the Math Placement test, the restrictive airline luggage allowance, and even their own feelings of excitement, which they claim is getting in the way of their (alleged) ability to be functional human beings.

Most significantly, however, they’ve been fretting over the summer reading.

Every year, NYU-AD assigns summer reading to incoming freshmen, and the book is then discussed at a summer colloquium held during Marhaba Week. Our book was “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia Butler, a science fiction novel set in a post-apocalyptic world, featuring a female protagonist with very strong ideas about religion and philosophy. The book wasn’t too bad – personally, I found it quite interesting because I enjoy dystopian fiction – but the Class of 2019 is predominantly made up of 18 and 19 year olds, and there’s nothing we like to do more than moan (especially the Brits, by their own admission). Throughout the summer, the Facebook group for incoming NYUAD freshmen has been flooded with comments such as “I hate the book”, “I hate the beginning”, “I hate the ending”, “I hate the middle”, “I haven’t read it but I hate it” and most often, “Wat iz buk?”

Well, today was the big day – the summer colloquium. Divided into small groups, we discussed the book with a facilitator and talked about why we loved or hated the book. Touching upon topics such as the protagonist’s philosophy and her development as a character, the discussion proved more interesting than the book itself. I liked the fact that the professor, our facilitator, didn’t allow anyone to dismiss the book with a simple “I hated it” – he prodded them to find out exactly why they disliked the book and why they disagreed with the protagonist’s opinions or actions. This opened up a much larger range of topics for discussion and paved the way for balanced critique. Even those who didn’t even know that such a book existed could contribute to the discussion using their existing knowledge of post-apocalyptic fiction.

This was followed by another set of rotating sessions, beginning with a tour of the magnificent library, its “quiet” rooms and the Library café – which has a Starbucks (doesn’t get more New York than that, capitalism ftw). We were also acquainted with the system by which we can order books from the exhaustive library in NYU New York. Next was the session on academic integrity. We expected the usual lecture on the sins of plagiarism and copying, and this was what we got – except it was made one thousand times better by Academic Administration Vice Provost Chuck Grim and his sense of humour (ironic for a man named “Grim”). “Why do people cheat?” he asked us. No answer. He switched to next slide on his power point presentation – there it was, the answer, in large bold letters. “They’re evil”.

The final session was an introduction to the GAF Program. Global Academic Fellows, lovingly called GAFs, are mentors trained to assist NYU-AD students with writing, the social sciences, arts and engineering. Anybody having trouble completing an essay or requiring a review of certain course material can just visit the Academic Resource Centre, home of the GAFs, and all their troubles will be put to rest. For lack of a better word, it’s adorable how much NYU Abu Dhabi looks out for its little, close-knit student community.

Speaking of NYU-AD looking out for its student community, another idea, which I found heart-warming, was the First Year Dialogue (FYD for short). FYD is compulsory for all NYU-AD freshmen, and to quote from a document provided to us by the Office of First Year Programming (we just had a session on plagiarism so I hope I’m citing this correctly), “The content of FYD includes relevant topics for first year students as they transition into university life and the culture of the United Arab Emirates…FYD is a seminar for students to explore their own development as well as recognise their own academic and social priorities as they navigate their new university life.”

To put it plainly, FYD is basically a support group. We’ve been divided into small groups of around 9 people each, with two mentors per group, and we meet every Monday evening. It isn’t a “class” per se; in fact, we’re to meet at the apartment of one of our mentors (we also get to play with her cats). It’s very informal and is meant to help us navigate our way through life in university. Sessions are planned for every week, for example, week 1 is “Cultural Myth Buster” – wherein each of us busts one “myth” or stereotype about our home country, and week 4 is a career preparation workshop. In the first session, we discussed our fears and hopes for university. FYD also includes one-to-one meetings with our mentors, which makes me feel very well looked-after here.

Later in the evening, we had an introduction to the UAE. We sat in circles, eating dates and drinking Arabic coffee, Emirati style, while conversing with local Emiratis about the way of life in the UAE, cultures and traditions, their opinions on these traditions, and even asking questions about what souvenirs we could take back for our families. All questions, regardless of how ignorant we sounded (“Do you have brands for abayas, like Gucci abayas?”) were welcomed and patiently answered (“Lol no”).

The day ended with a dance party, which I did not attend, since I’m terrified of dancing as well as watching people dance. So the only way I can describe it is with assumptions and generic phrases such as “sounded fun”, “might have been cool” and “great”. Some people I met later said that it was their favourite part of Marhaba, but let’s be real – it’s just moving body parts to strange sounds at high decibels at a nocturnal hour. “But it was fun!” *scoffs* I’ll take Parable of The Sower any day.

Until tomorrow!

Marhaba Week Day 3: In Which the Russian Glee club is born

Who is Albert?

Marhaba Week Day 3 began with this fundamental question, posed to us by the Registrar’s Office. Who is Albert? What did he do? Is he, like, chill? Why are we talking about him?

Albert is New York University’s Student Information System, the one-stop shop for all your NYU needs. Like the faithful Jarvis from the Iron Man series, Albert is always there for you, whether you’re registering for classes or checking for your financial aid allowance. Like all enduring friendships, however, Albert takes some getting used to, and the first session of the day walked us through the nuts and bolts (especially nuts) of the system, as well as a glossary of exclusive Albert terminology such as “add”, “drop”, “swap” and “shopping cart”.

Subsequent sessions explained NYU-AD’s Study Abroad program and how to apply for the January Term, or “the J-term” in fancy NYU lingo – three weeks of intensively studying one single course, either abroad in NYU’s global sites or in Abu Dhabi itself. We were introduced to NYU Traveler, which, in my opinion, is one of New York University’s best ideas. The website not only allows students to plan and book discounted travel outside of required study abroad programs, but also contains a system for registering students’ travel destinations – this allows NYU to notify students in the area in case of an emergency, for example, a natural disaster. In some ways, I find the service quite comforting – I like knowing that there is someone keeping an eye out for me as I explore exotic foreign lands, and I’m sure my mother will be delighted.

A session with the Office of Public Affairs and a session regarding community standards proved to be extremely helpful, especially considering the scepticism with which some people regard the Middle East. Many people that I’ve encountered seem to believe that the laws here in the UAE regarding dressing and public displays of affection are suffocatingly strict to the point that it infringes on one’s liberty. This is not true. To briefly summarise what I’ve learned from these two sessions, what is most important is to respect cultural values and norms, to respect a government that is assisting this oasis in the desert and its wonderful facilities, and to use one’s discretion. For example, going to downtown Abu Dhabi wearing nothing but a spaghetti top and barely-there shorts most likely won’t get you into any sort of legal trouble, but it certainly offends the cultural sensibilities of local Emiratis, and violating cultural norms in any country, in or outside the Middle East, is unwise. Throwing on a jacket doesn’t harm anyone, and for the record, is likely to be worth the effort. Not only will you be respectful of traditions, but you will also be shielded from the unbearable cold that is characteristics of all indoor spaces in Abu Dhabi; here, the general rule of thumb for temperature regulation is that if it’s forty degrees Celsius outside, it’s minus forty degrees Celsius inside.

The idea of respecting cultural difference was further discussed later on during a session on intercultural competence. We had already participated in an introductory session the day before, wherein we were asked to provide phrases to describe our African-American facilitator, Alta, whom we had just met and knew nothing about – the highlights of the day were “No ring”, “Single”, “Available”, “Likes Michael Jordan” and “The next Oprah”. Queen Latifah was also in there somewhere, of course. While this activity demonstrated the human tendency to link personal tastes and preferences to race, an IDI assessment that we were made to complete showed that the class of 2019, as a whole, demonstrated a tendency to search for commonalities and gloss over cultural differences rather than admit that these differences existed and embrace them. This, Alta promised, was completely normal for a group of people our age – of course, we would tend to avoid conflict by talking about things that all of us agreed on rather than highlighting differences between us. This however, isn’t the final goal – true intercultural competence can only be achieved by understanding that everybody isn’t the same and accepting that undeniable fact.

Following an opportunity to talk to the Deans of the various academic departments about our courses choices and queries relating to the courses that we had been allotted, we were introduced to the fitness centre and the amazing people that worked there. Fitness centre services are entirely free, as is the amazing sense of humour of almost every member of the fitness centre department. “Your can do it this way, you can do it that way, or you can do it the Bradway,” boomed Chuck Bradway, fitness coach and my “Speed and Agility” course instructor.

(Please pass me, Chuck.)

The day ended with the Variety Show – the official Marhaba week talent show. In my opinion, this was the best part of the week. Unfortunately (perhaps thankfully) I won’t go into details, but I will say that there was singing, dancing, ridiculously good beatboxing and on-point imitations of Elmo from Sesame Street *cough*faculty member*cough*. At one point, all the Russians stood up and began singing in sync. If Russia had a Glee club, this would be it.

I actually think I’m going to join.

Dasvidaniya!