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Before, During, and After NYUAD (Class of 2018, Mech Eng)

Jul 28, 2022
7 mins read


💼 Bachelor - Mechanical Engineering
⏳ Jan 2015 — May 2018
📍 Abu Dhabi,
🗣 English
Student Visa
NYU Abu Dhabi
NYU Abu Dhabi
Liberal Arts
📍 Abu Dhabi,
🗣 English
💰 Need-based financial aid
🤓 2,000 Students
🌏 80% International

Sharing my personal experience studying at NYUAD and sectioning into: (0) before (mostly about IB, so, not NYUAD), (1) during (Academic, friends, traveling), and (2) after

Note that I attended 2015-2018 and I can't speak to what or how things have changed. This is a personal account so do see it as one of many data points ~ 100s of students enroll every year. I studied Mechanical Engineering at NYUAD, then Industrial design at RISD, now trying to launch an early startup (a.k.a. pseudo-unemployed ~ haha). I am interested in a broad range of things and NYUAD helped me continue to pursue them: a liberal arts education is a big plus for any generalist.

Helpful pamphlet from June 2017
Helpful pamphlet from June 2017

( 0 ) Before NYUAD (highschool/IB)

My family and I moved to Doha in 2006, from Beirut. I transitioned from a Lebanese national curriculum to an international one (International Baccalaureate) in grade 9. I'd say there were many helpful things in that transition, which I believe set me up for a successful NYUAD/liberal arts application and education. Firstly IB emphasizes values like curiosity, open-mindedness, risk-taking, and many others, all of which are a good foundation for learning and personal growth. The learning was also more about quality than quantity of learning. Learning how to learn >>>. There were subjects of study like Theory of Knowledge (an IB requirement), visual arts and music (not usually offered in the national curriculum), and extra-curricular activity/community service requirements. A good example is subjects like History and Geography, which I struggled with immensely at Lebanese schools because I find it hard to memorize stories I have little interest in. In IB these topics were taught with a global and critical perspective which was far more appealing than getting tested on how well I recite sequences of words. With all that said, I wouldn't say IB is sufficient or required. I know many who have studied their national curriculum and got accepted (Lebanese curriculum and others). If you are studying IB, I would say its values very comfortably carry over to NYUAD's values. I had applied to schools in the UK and NYUAD and chose NYUAD. Absolutely happy with my choice.

( 0.5 ) What should have been "During"

Undergrad at NYUAD is an 8-semester (4 years) program. I started in January of 2015 instead of Fall of 2014 because the country (NOT the university) did not grant me entry. They also didn't grant me or the university any justification. It felt like someone in the government, made a mistake and didn't want to admit they were wrong: at the expense of my semester😞 The University tried their absolute best to resolve this (special thanks to the Dean of Students at the time and the Vice Chancellor for Global Ed and outreach <3 ). Unfortunately, the authorities kept it a mystery and I missed my first semester just like that. This was a sobering reminder that entities (in this case I refer to the United Arab Emirates, not NYUAD), rather than rising to the level of their ambitions, fall to the level of their systems.

My best guess is that, from the immigration's perspective, the political climate between the UAE and Lebanon made it such that it was an acceptable precaution to reject an 18yo student's attempt to study in a university that they approved and funded. It was hard on me and my parents to be faced with the uncertainty of the situation, I was very sad and my parents were very angry, understandably so. Missing a semester was not just a matter of spending 4 months at home but also meant getting the rose-tinted glasses, that NYUAD so carefully crafted, get stomped by the immigration officers.

In December, I was mentally prepared to go to NYU Poly (now NYU Tandon) in New York. I get a call from NYUAD telling me my visa was accepted (!?) I put my ego aside and chose to go. I had wanted to go there for the education, the like-minded student body, and the global network. I did not change my decision because I believe that national identities /any other source of division (perceiving the world in clusters of "us vs them") are not a game I'm interested in playing. I did not give into it, and it did not matter to me that the UAE immigration officers did. This is not a revelation to anyone with a weak passport. Governments everywhere will be selective and risk/blatantly discriminate, to varying degrees. Education is one of the few ways to navigate this planetary chessboard, so absolutely do it!!

( 1 ) During

The first class I joined was a month-long course called "Design and Innovation" and I absolutely loved it. It was what NYUAD calls a "J-term". J-terms are offered every year and often involve studying abroad during January. On my 2nd J-term, I studied in Berlin, and on my 4th in Shanghai. Weather aside, traveling is mind-opening. I am not sure how generous the university now is with fully funded travel abroad opportunities, but even just one or two trips will be worthwhile ~ something to investigate from newer Alumni! My 3rd academic year was spent at NYU NY. I was more convinced then that my decision to stick to NYUAD was the right one (I mean no offense to anyone who studied at NYU Tandon). The electives I took in New York were excellent: a course on the "Politics of Food, Hunger and Sustainability" at Gallatin, "Environmental Art Activism" class by Natalie Jeremijenko, a Web Design course, and a Utopia/Dystopia literature class where I read books that became my fav fiction novels/writers (Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, Huxley's Brave New World). I would have cringed at the image of myself in a parallel universe where I had chosen to do my undergrad in the UK where I would study JUST engineering, blissfully unaware of how much I don't know about other things.

In general, despite the heavy requirements of a mech eng major, I still managed to sustain my breadth of interests and a portfolio diverse and interesting enough to get accepted at a great U.S. university for a grad program in Industrial Design ~ something I considered studying instead of Mech Eng in my high school days.

Just like any other university (even the top ones), the professors' ability to teach ranges from excellent to horrendous. Thankfully excellent ones outweighed the horrendous ones in my experience. The class size is also small enough to accommodate questions. Very few courses are taught in the auditoriums and even those have breathing room for questions. The professors are generous with their time, by your 3rd/4th year, you begin to get a sense of what they actually work on/research.

This is very contextual advice, but if you are not too committed to pursuing mech engineering in grad school / if you are a curious generalist, I would recommend general engineering over mechanical. If I could go back in time and change my major, I would have hands down chosen general engineering or computer science or a combination of both. I say this because there is a depth + breadth of specialized knowledge that mech engineering covers that is not handy, eg you don't need to know how a jet engine works unless you intend to design one. You can buy a ticket and board a plane without that knowledge.

The student body at NYUAD is very inspiring, diverse, and smart. One of the biggest social downsides of engineering or other demanding majors in my opinion is it leaves you with little time to hang out. There are tradeoffs between sleep, socializing, and learning. Some of my regrets are skipping quality time with people because I knew I hadn't polished my knowledge of certain things. Forming meaningful relationships have a more lasting impact than polishing accumulated knowledge because the truth is you have a lifetime to stack and polish what you know.

I rarely felt this but I heard that many did: we felt intimidated by being around many clever people. Wherever you end up going, you should not be discouraged by the fact you go from being the smartest in your class to being average. You have a tremendous opportunity to learn from others and grow. But on the other hand, you might (out of habit or need to feel competent) compare yourself to others. If for whatever reason, your environment nurtured your sense of self-esteem in a way that relies on extrinsic rewards and competition, it would be very helpful to change your mindset. Others are collaborators, not competition. Compare yourself to yourself. This is the only sustainable approach to personal growth: not just for NYUAD, but for any discipline or social context.

(2) After

I've studied/lived in the US since graduating in 2018 as a permanent resident. I've kept in touch with many classmates, my close group of friends, and grew closer to many that I didn't spend as much time with. The pros of the NYUAD alumni network is that they end up all over the globe. The cons of the NYUAD alumni network is that they end up all over the globe. Any alumni network will develop an attachment/identity to where they studied, but my guess is NYUAD's is a bit more cohesive than average because there is a lot of overlap in the shared experiences, a more intimate class size, campus, city, and study abroad experiences. About the “prestige” of studying there: there is something humbling about not having a prestigious name support others’ first impression of you, and having it be the other way around instead. It also makes it feel amazing when, every now and then, a non-NYUAD person tells me they know someone who studied there. I have met at least 3 "someone who knows someone" from NYUAD, in academic conferences, entrepreneurial circles, and friends of friends.

Finally, I think it also says a lot that the founders of borderless are NYUAD Alumni. In other words, the need and desire for a platform like Borderless emerged out of NYUAD rather than MIT, Harvard, Stanford, etc. But I digress, I am not here to compare. Good luck and godspeed! ⚡

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