NYU Abu Dhabi
💼 Bachelor: Political Science, Social Research and Public Policy
⏳ Aug 2014 — May 2018
📍 Abu Dhabi,
✅ Student Visa
NYU Abu Dhabi
📍 Abu Dhabi,
💰 Need-based financial aid
🤓 2,000 Students
🌏 80% International
I'm originally from Soroca, a smaller town in the north of Moldova, not the capital. The school I attended is considered one of the best in the town, but it's a public school. Unfortunately, there weren't many external resources available to enhance my English education or help me prepare for tests. Basically, we followed the standard curriculum and took the national exams. I didn't have the opportunity to pursue IBs or APs or anything like that. Also, coming from a not-so-wealthy family, I didn't have access to many tutors during my school years. However, I was always passionate about learning and enjoyed studying on my own. I was a bit of a nerd, to be honest. This is how I reached the point where I am now. I put in a lot of effort, participated in volunteering activities, and had the chance to interact with English-speaking individuals. We often had American visitors, such as the Peace Corps or Flex program participants, who sparked my desire to study abroad.
6-week FLEX Program
During those interactions, I stumbled upon this cool opportunity called the FLEX program, which took me to the United States. It was a six-week program that I joined during the summer. Just to give you some background, the program was initially created for folks from Belarus who couldn't stay for a whole year because of government rules. But in 2011, the year I went, they opened it up to participants from other regions too. It was pretty neat because they only picked two people from each region to attend the six-week program.
Application Journey to NYUAD
When I first started looking into college options, I often felt overwhelmed by the whole process. The SATs and other requirements seemed daunting, and I wasn't sure if I could meet them. Then one day, our principal told us that a former student from our school was going to NYU Abu Dhabi. It caught my interest, and I wanted to learn more about the school. That student ended up giving a detailed presentation about NYU Abu Dhabi, and it blew me away. However, this happened when I was in 10th grade, so it was too early for me to apply, and I ended up forgetting about the school for a while.
But later on, during the application phase, a professor approached one of my friends and reminded them to apply. That jogged my memory, and I realized that I wanted to apply too. However, the application process was quite challenging because our teachers weren't familiar with it, and we didn't have counselors to help us with recommendation letters or transcript preparation. We had to figure out the Common App on our own, set up counselor accounts, gather the required documents, translate our transcripts, and make sure everything was in the right format. Looking back, I'm amazed at how we managed to navigate through it all. Luckily, we had the support of a Peace Corps volunteer from the US who helped us with the process, which was a relief.
In the end, I submitted my application for early decision and was thrilled to receive an invitation for the candidate weekend. Interestingly, I was the only person from Moldova starting at NYU Abu Dhabi in 2014.
Stats and Extracurriculars
I didn't bother with any standardized tests. I explained that it was a hassle and expensive for me to travel to a different city and stay overnight just to take those exams. It didn't seem practical to me. Even without the tests, my GPA was consistently high. In our grading system, which goes from one to ten, I maintained above a 9.5 throughout my academic years. That put me in the honors category, and they even featured my pictures among the top-performing students each year. I genuinely enjoy studying, but I don't think NYU Abu Dhabi solely focuses on academic performance. I believe having a decent grade above 8.5 or so would be considered.
Besides, I was quite active in various competitions like math and physics contests in the region. I was always running around, participating in extracurricular activities. I included the diplomas and certificates I received from these contests in my application. On top of that, as I mentioned earlier, I was heavily involved in volunteering. I even started volunteer programs in my town. Whether it was organizing trips to orphanages or donating toys, I made sure to highlight these community engagements in my application. But I think the main point I emphasized in my essay was my desire to be part of a global network of individuals working towards positive change. The essay was crucial in the selection process, I believe. NYU Abu Dhabi has a specific mindset and student profile they're looking for. You can be incredibly smart, but if you don't value cultural exchange, you might not find the experience fulfilling.
Interestingly, there was a counselor from NYU named Lubov who visited our region at some point. It was the only year she came, and luckily, I had already submitted my application by then. I had the chance to meet with her, and she seemed to have a positive impression of me. I think that meeting might have influenced my chances of being accepted. The counselors do have some say in the decision-making process.
Support from NYUAD
The support we received from NYU Abu Dhabi was truly amazing. It's something that still surprises me and my friends whenever we reminisce about what we got. The best part was how the university guided us every step of the way. They handled our visa applications and even delivered our tickets right to our mailboxes. We didn't have to stress about making appointments or figuring out housing, food, or transportation. Everything was taken care of for us. On top of that, the stipend they provided was generous enough that I could save some money during my studies. It gave me a sense of security for the future. I could even go out and explore the city, eat at restaurants beyond the campus, and truly have experiences that exceeded my expectations.
We were the first batch to move and study at the new campus, starting from year one all the way to year four. When we first got there, the convenience store was tiny, barely five square meters in size. But as the years went by, it grew and transformed into something huge. The city itself also expanded, and now when I think about studying there, so much is happening with new projects and buildings. At the beginning, there were only two hotels on-site: St. Regis and another part of it. If we needed to go to the nearest grocery store, we had to go to St. Regis, and it was crazy expensive. Nowadays, the campus has changed so much, and it offers a lot more amenities. It's hard to imagine why anyone would need to leave NYU Abu Dhabi compared to when we first started.
Experience of moving to a new country
When it comes to moving to the UAE and adjusting to the new location, it turned out to be much smoother than I expected. I had this idea in my head that it would be a very strict country, to the point where I didn't even pack any skirts, thinking I would need to cover up all the time. But when I actually arrived, integrating into campus life was surprisingly easy. Even outside of the university, people seemed open-minded and progressive, which was the opposite of what I had imagined and what others had told me. So, in terms of culture shock, I didn't experience much. I fell in love with Abu Dhabi within the first month, and I genuinely enjoyed my time there.
Academically, it was quite challenging because I had never studied in English before. Back in my previous school, I used to be one of the top students. But when I got to campus, I quickly realized that everyone was incredibly smart, and their English skills were impressive. It made me a bit self-conscious and guarded. The first semester, especially academically, was tough for me. I took a social sciences course on social research, and we were studying sociologists from the 1700s. The readings were so difficult that it would take me hours to understand them. I remember moments of reading and crying out of frustration. However, after about two months, I started adapting and figuring out what I needed to do. I started connecting with others and realized that they were facing similar challenges. Gradually, I began to settle into the academic environment. I'd say it took about two months for me to feel more comfortable.
As for the people, I had no issues at all. I genuinely loved everyone I met. I was constantly amazed by how open and friendly people were, and how easy it was to find like-minded individuals in different areas, whether it was through extracurricular activities or simply in our ways of life. My group of friends now consists of people from various nationalities, and it's truly wonderful. I believe that not many people, outside of those at NYU Abu Dhabi, would have such a diverse and amazing group of friends.
Study away in 4 new countries
I got to study abroad in both Paris and New York, and I honestly can't choose a favorite because they were both amazing in their own ways. In Paris, I went for my social research and public policy major because they had a wide range of courses to offer. But I ended up taking journalism and diving deeper into the French language. I focused more on subjects that interested me rather than just sticking to my major requirements. I even took a literature course. It was such an incredible experience, and Paris will always hold a special place in my heart. One of the courses I remember well was about the migration of Muslim communities to France and the challenges they faced in integrating.
Moving on to New York, it was a completely different experience. There were so many opportunities and choices for classes that it could be overwhelming. Balancing time with professors and classmates was a bit challenging. During my semester in New York, I also interned with a congressman and later worked for a think tank that focused on cyber security and diplomacy. There was just so much to do and explore. I ended up staying in New York for almost nine months, and time flew by without me even realizing it.
I also had the chance to participate in a J-term program in Florence, where we studied migration and race. And I did another J-term program that included a field trip to India. We visited a liberal arts university in Pune and did social science experiments that tied directly into my capstone project. It was an incredible and somewhat crazy experience!
Besides academics, I also traveled to various places like Sri Lanka and several European countries. I never felt like I was lacking in experiences or opportunities to explore new places, even though I consider myself somewhat conservative compared to others who traveled even more extensively.
After finishing my bachelor's degree, I knew I wanted to pursue a master's program in diplomacy. My plan was to go back to Europe for further studies. One of my professors at NYU told me about the Graduate Institute in Switzerland. I knew I couldn't afford the program without a scholarship, so I expressed my interest in going to Switzerland. She immediately recommended the Graduate Institute as a great fit for me. It was the only school I applied to. The career development center at NYU also played a big role in helping me with my application statement. They gave me valuable feedback and support throughout the process. I asked my professors for recommendation letters, and they provided me with guidance in my search.
Since I didn't want to jump straight into the job market, I didn't apply for any jobs. I did have a few backup options for other master's programs, but those were only considered if I didn't get into the Graduate Institute. Luckily, I applied early decision and got accepted, so I didn't need to think about Plan B and C. I consider myself lucky in that regard. It may seem like everything went smoothly, but I know that circumstances can be different for everyone. I actually wrote a post about my experience during that time to share some insights.