While sitting on the plane, I remembered the moment when I received my Candidate Weekend email from New York University Abu Dhabi which confirmed that I was among the lucky few who were invited to visit the university and experience Abu Dhabi. It was an incredible opportunity to know the university better. I laughed a little as I recalled jumping around the house and waking my parents up, who were blissfully taking their afternoon nap. They were more than delighted. I was more than excited.
The plane lands, I collect my luggage and head off to the meeting point with my fellow Pakistani students. There were five of us. As soon as I arrive at the meeting point, I realize what the weekend is about. It’s about diversity. This becomes evident as I start conversing with Raul from Romania and Victor and Samuel Ball from the U.S. The extraordinary fact was that I could associate myself with them in so many ways. It’s true. Globalization is taking place. You can call me “Exhibit A.”
I reached the hotel and was directed to the Mezzanine which acted as a common room for all the candidates. As soon as I stepped in, I grabbed a Ferrero Rocher (I was very hungry.) And then, perhaps, the best part of the weekend began: getting to know people from all over the globe. I conversed with people from cities I had not even heard of before. Actors, researchers, globe trotters, workers, debaters, athletes, film makers, they were all there. My roommate played the double bass and had actually conducted an orchestra (how cool is that!) The usual introduction was something along the lines of: “Hey! I am [insert name here] from [insert country here] but I was born in [insert another country here]. But I am currently studying in [insert ANOTHER country here] and love [insert something you haven’t done before.]”
I am a naturally shy person. Or so I thought. I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself talking to and opening up to complete strangers. I felt comfortable and enthusiastic and energized. Perhaps it was the buzz in the room, or maybe it was the amazing talent or maybe I had decided that I was going to make the most of this weekend. Whatever the reason, I found almost pulled into every conversation and it was a pleasure talking to such overwhelmingly friendly people from all across the world. They were interested in my story and I was interested in theirs’. The socializing went on for four hours, as far as I’m concerned. I maintain that it was the best part of the trip.
There are so many highlights that I wish to share while there are some that I’ll keep locked in my heart. Some of the former include listening to John Sexton, President of New York University. The man is an amazing speaker and has the aura of a lovable grandpa. He established this by giving me, among many others, a trademark John Sexton hug! But just listening to him and absorbing his vision for the university was inspiring. He really believes in NYUAD. More importantly, he made us believe in NYUAD too. The faculty was equally inspiring. They all were extremely dedicated to the university. You could feel their energy and commitment even though our interaction was limited to a couple of hours.
We were divided into groups during the weekend, and would travel as such. Each group was assigned two “Peer Ambassadors” and one “Global Academic Fellow.” Fujairah, the group I belonged to, had the most hilarious, eccentric and enthusiastic PA and GAF’s there could be: Brenda, James and Louise. They made the journey all the more memorable. They were more than happy to get to know us. But all of their enthusiasm was genuine and not just instructions on behalf of the university. I also had the opportunity to meet current NYUAD students. They only cemented what I had come to believe: NYUAD was a top notch university with an interesting yet inviting environment.
Oh. And one more small detail. I met Gordon Brown. No big deal, right? I mean, he was only the former Prime Minister of United Kingdom, right? (TEE-HEE)
But in all seriousness, it was amazing to meet him. Our conversation went like this:
Me: HEY! I’M USMAN FROM PAKISTAN!
GB: Pakistan! Right. You know Usman I was there a few months back.
Me: Oh. That’s wonderful. Hope you come back again.
The last line was said awkwardly, but I’m glad I got to meet him. I had planned to take a picture with him, but he was busy.
There is so much more, but I’m afraid that’s not relevant to the blog. Why, you ask? Because while visiting the Grand(-est) Mosque, dancing under the desert stars, visiting the luxurious dorm rooms and dining in the second most expensive hotel in the world was brilliant, this trip was defined by my fellow Candidate Weekend-ers and the people we got the chance to meet. It was a fantastic, moving experience and one that I will never forget. NYUAD is an incredible institute, defined by incredible people.
I titled this article “wonderstruck” because it’s how I describe the weekend. Upon googling to see if it is actually a word, I found out it is a perfume released by Taylor Swift. The word also appears in one of her songs. Disturbingly, I knew all of this beforehand. But I leave you with lyrics that portray my sentiments:
‘This night is sparkling,
Don’t you let it go,
Dancing all the way home,
I’ll spend forever,
Wondering if you knew,
I was enchanted to meet you.”
Girly, I know. Don’t judge me.
(And good luck to each and every candidate. May your dreams and aspirations become a reality! 😀)