NYU Abu Dhabi Candidate Weekend

I took part in NYU Abu Dhabi’s candidate weekend in 2013. Back then I wrote a blog post documenting my journey to share with others. Unfortunately I closed down my blog several years ago. I’ve decided to repost my experiences (with original captions) to make them available once again.

With the completion of Saadiyat Island, the Candidate Weekend experience has changed quite drastically over the past few years. This post is by no means an up-to-date or accurate depiction of what the Candidate Weekend experience is today. With that said, I think it still captures the spirit of the weekend.

This post is intended for prospective students and parents, but also to current students and alumni to remind ourselves what the Candidate Weekend experience used to be like.


Day 0 — Travel to Abu Dhabi

Jan. 30th, 2013 — Getting ready to head out of Futako Station on the 15:47 express train to Shibuya.
The Narita Express arriving to Shibuya station. Many people don’t know that the NEX passes through Shibuya since the platform is hidden away. A significant amount of time and effort is required to move from the Denentoshi to the JR platform.
The renewed Narita Express cars were quite impressive. Since the train was not packed, most passengers got a whole row to themselves. The ride stopped several times to pick up more passengers so the total duration was approximately 70 minutes. Unfortunately, a subscription was repaired to use the Wi-Fi on the train.
Terminal 1 at Narita International Airport. What does this sight make me think? Economies of Scale. The check-in counters are not separated by airlines but by the class passengers are seated in. Star Alliance has the whole South Wing dominated allowing them to be more resourceful than an individual airline.
It turned out that my flight was delayed by 20 minutes.
Since several friends urgently required photos edited for their college application, I took this time to try to transmit their photos before I headed out of the country. The large terminal windows beside the Subway sandwich store is one of the few places with both power AND a strong internet connection. The Wi-Fi gave me a stunning upload speed of 500KB/s.
The large banner advertisements hanging throughout the airport are usually a spectacle (though this time’s advertisements were not quite the fun I was expecting).
“Beef-spaghetti” was served for dinner on-board the AIr China flight which was literally beef put on top of noodles. Although it was quite an odd combination, the quality of the individual components made up for its unique mix. The flight was was packed with mostly Chinese passengers so the general atmosphere inside the plane was an unfamiliar one. “Curtesy” seemed to be approached in a different manner than inside of Japan.
The roofline at Shanghai International Airport gives off a similar feel as their Olympic Stadium (Bird’s Nest). Since the Air China flight from Tokyo departed 35 minutes late, the layover time was cut down to 1 hour 30 minutes. The layover included passing through immigration, customs, re-checking in with Etihad, and going through security.
Next to the immigration officer was a device with four buttons used to evaluate how travelers felt about the services they received — A subtle method to inject a little more pride into their work. (security was shouting at me as I took this photo since it was inside a security checkpoint)
A meal on-board the Etihad Airways flight from Shanghai to Abu Dhabi. Etihad is an airline company owned by the UAE government. Their services are considered par with Emirates. Silver Utensils.
During takeoff and landing, the cabin lights cycled through the colors of the rainbow. All the furniture inside of the plane was light brown pale based — a very subtle and elegant color scheme.
Jan. 31st 7:00am — Arrival to Abu Dhabi airport. The four candidates including myself were a part of the second batch that arrived to Abu Dhabi. More candidates arrived throughout the day, mostly in the afternoon. A handful of students also flew into Dubai instead of Abu Dhabi. The two candidates in the middle are from China and next to them is a student from Mexico. The four of us headed to the hotel to wait for the 80+ students to arrive.

Day 0.5 — Early Arrival to Abu Dhabi

The hotel we are staying at is the Cristal, a 4-star hotel located in the business district of Abu Dhabi. The room is very large and the air conditioning is surprisingly kept moderate. It appears that I have a roommate who will be arriving later in the day.
Each one of us were given a drawstring bag which contained a lifetime supply of NYUAD goods including: a 300 page “mini” Abu Dhabi visitor’s guide, dozens of university brochures, pad paper, 100 Dirhams (2500 yen) worth of book store coupons, their course book, magnets, pens, etc….
Two tours were given to the candidates that arrived early. The first tour of the day was from 11:30. Less than 10 students arrived to the hotel at this point, so one of the ladies involved with admissions took us on an adventure to a nearby cafe. She told us that we could order any drink or a light meal from the menu as we pleased. I went ahead and ordered both an exotic drink and a strawberry tart. The university is committed to cover all costs associated with the trip.
A groupshot of the candidates at the mini-lunch. In the photo are students from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Mexico, United Kingdom, China, Poland and Japan. We spent about an hour discussing political and cultural occurrences in our nations from banishing drug cartels, to the current state of education. Some serious diversity was experienced with only a few hours into the candidate weekend.
A photograph of a street in Abu Dhabi with some sculptures between the roads. The base of most buildings are thin at the bottom but expand from the second floor up. Germany has similar architecture to take advantage of property laws but the buildings at Abu Dhabi are probably built this way with different intentions.
Sama Tower where all the students live.
The second tour of the day was from 3:00pm and over 20 candidates arrived by then. This time we went for a tour by the Corniche, a waterfront area that extends for about 8 kilometers.
The name of this odd sculpture is Wendy. Wendy says, “I clean the air, I keep you cool, and I am recyclable too.” Wendy uses large fans to spread mist which lowers the temperature around her. Almost like a large scale air conditioner.
After a walk by the Corniche, we stopped by a Cold Stone to pick up an evening snack.
Since Japan is five hours ahead, jet lag starting to kick in from around 18:30. By the time we arrived back to the Cristal, the hotel was packed with much more candidates.

Day 1 — Visiting Downtown Campus

Our day began by heading down to the Down Town Campus. This is NYUAD’s main campus but is also a prefabricated temporary building. A total of 84 of us had arrived and we were split into smaller groups. Each group had one staff member and two “peer ambassadors” (current NYUAD students) that acted as chaperones.
Each one of the candidates were required to give a short introductory speech about an object they brought from home. Students who spoke different languages were asked to speak in those languages as well. One of the girls brought her grandfather’s diary which included his experiences from escaping his country during the holocaust.
We also had the opportunity to listen to NYUAD’s vice-chancellor Alfred Bloom describe his passion and vision for the program. Alfred Bloom is the individual responsible for bringing Swarthmore College to its current prestige. His educational experience is also impressive as he has a Bachelors from Princeton and a Ph.D. from Harvard.
The map is a representation of where the students come from. My guess is that this is only of their inaugural class since it does not have a pin in Japan.
Students are free to use the library’s A1 printers for academic purposes. All the walls throughout the building were generally white (good thing I’m used to that). The campus was also split into a north and south side. The library may seem small but if a particular book is needed, it can either be airmailed from NYU’s library in New York or will be put on order.
All of the candidates were asked to sign up for sample classes before arriving to Abu Dhabi. The course I was assigned to was “Time in Our Society” which covered the evolution of clocks. We looked at time from a philosophical standpoint, thinking about the roles time plays in our society and what kind of values arise from it. Classes from the disciplines of literature, engineering, and sciences were also offered.
Lunch was served in the courtyard between the two campuses. We were never left hungry during the weekend as the university would have food prepared everywhere and all times. The lunch tables each had a “major” assigned to it so that students with similar interests can converge. Each table also had a current student and faculty seated so that students can gain more insight into the major of their choice.
A professor from each department gave the candidates an introduction about each major offered in the college. A Q&A session followed.
in 2014 when the main buildings will be completed. The new campus will accommodate approximately 2,200 undergrad students and 200 graduate students. Full sized football facilities as well as tennis courts are planned to be built next to the campus. An Olympic sized underground pool is also under construction. Saadiyat Island is UAE’s latest development project and will be the home to several golf courses as well as the new Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum.
Some students rode the camels.
Climbing up the sand dunes is not as easy as it appears. As you get higher, your foot sinks in more, making it a very tiresome process.
Behind this struggling individual is the “base camp” where we will be eating dinner. Around the desert, Land Rovers could be seen driving up and down the sand dunes.
The dinner in the desert was followed with a dance. The desert got cooler but was still manageable in shorts. One layer of clothing was enough to keep us warm.

Day 2 — Last Day of the Weekend

Our day began with a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which is the largest mosque in the UAE. The mosque includes designs and materials from all over the world. Different colors of marble was collected from various nations.
Since the mosque is a significant Islamic house of worship, all women were asked to wear headscarfs throughout the tour. If a headscarf accidentally falls, they will be warned by a nearby guard. This was one of the moments where the candidates strongly connected to the local culture.
Throughout the tour we were fortunate to be accompanied with a guide. Inside the mosque is the world’s largest carpet which was woven by hand by over 1,000 carpet knotters. The carpet is over 30 tons and was transported to the country using several cargo planes. The chandelier hanging is made of millions of Swarovski crystals.
The times for the quarter prayers were displayed on a digital clock. The time differs according to when the sun rises and sets throughout the year. The quarter prayers can be heard throughout the city, five times a day over the loud speakers. The second set of dates on the clock is the date of the Islamic calendar.
The candidates got to experience the rare sight of rainfall in Abu Dhabi throughout the day. After our visit to the mosque, the candidates headed back to the down town campus to get to meet NYU’s president, John Sexton. He was an extremely friendly man, and took the occasion very casually (with his Perrier bottle in one hand and sitting on the table). Every single individual n the room could feel Sexton’s passion about the grand vision of this newly established program.
Each candidate was given several hours to complete a writing assignment, Interviews with faculty members and admissions staff were also conducted at this point. Candidates were allowed to work anywhere throughout the campus so many candidates used this opportunity to go explore the campus. NYUAD does a great job of balancing out serious moments with the amount of fun.
Tables are put out in the patio area between the North and South campuses so that students can study or have a meal outside.
The dorm rooms are currently in a 49 story building known as the Sama Tower until the university moves to the campus currently being built on Saadiyat Island. The room in the photo is for two students. There are also quads which accommodate groups of four students. Each floor is divided by gender and there are also lounge areas on each floor.
The last moments with all candidates were spent at the Emirates Palace, a “7-star hotel” which is currently the world’s second most expensive hotel. The general rule of thumb inside the hotel is that “everything that looks like gold, is gold.”
Though Japan may be known as the land of vending machines, one will never come across one of these in the island country. This “GOLD to go” machine sells gold products such as watches and gold bars. The machine itself is also covered in gold leaf.
Each candidate was given pre-assigned seats for the farewell dinner at the Emirates Palace. The dinner was out last opportunity to converse with all of our peers since many of them needed to fly out of the country as soon as the dinner was over. The meal was followed with a “farewell song” led by current NYUAD students.

Day 3 — Journey Home

I stayed an extra day since my flight left a day later than most students. The photos are taken with my iPhone since I did not have my camera this day.

View of the Marina Mall from the outside. We had lunch at the top of the tower located in the center of this photo.
I had lunch with three students from Kazakhstan who also had flights leaving later than the rest of the candidates.
View of Abu Dhabi from the top of Marina Mall. You can see that there is a lot of construction happening building new skyscrapers.
The largest flagpole in Abu Dhabi is located by the Marina Mall. There are many boats at the marina with the Abu Dhabi skyline in the background.
Waiting at Abu Dhabi airport for my flight back to Narita.
On my direct Etihad flight back to Japan writing up my captions for my blog. There was electricity for all of the seats so I was able to work on my laptop without worrying about power.

Thoughts from the Weekend

Final dinner with my group from candidate weekend at Emirates Palace.

New York University Abu Dhabi is built ground up with the desire to create an “ideal” institution for higher education. With the financial support from one of the most prosperous regions on Earth, everything in the college is built to nurture the best citizens in today’s global society. The vision is to gather diligent, competent, and ambitious students who will be the forerunners of tomorrows society — future global leaders.

With 15,489 applicants competing for an enrollment of 150, the university possesses the ability to nitpick the kind of students they decide to enroll. Not only does the university look for high academic standards, but they also peek into qualities that cannot be represented by words or numbers on a traditional application. By physically flying “finalists” all the way to Abu Dhabi, the candidate weekend allows admissions officers to glance at the social aspects of each applicant. Staff members and current students have the opportunity to see how well candidates can interact with each other. Can they speak confidently? How about their personality? Are they arrogant? Are they respectful? Do they have an outgoing personality? Shy? They are looking for important qualities of an individual that cannot necessarily be answered through the traditional application process, but which can become quite apparent over a two day period of constant interaction with students from all around the world.

Without doubt, my weekend in the United Arab Emirates was an exciting one. Never in my life have I stepped foot onto soil (sand) in the Middle East prior to this invitation. The quantity and quality of food served during my four days was a tremendous luxury. Abu Dhabi as a city was nothing like Tokyo but definitely pleasant. The locals were very respectful and my friends were spot on when they told me that the city was as safe as Tokyo. A weekend full of new experiences without a doubt.

The most apparent feature of the people I met were that they were extremely outgoing and kind. As cliche as it may sound, kind and outgoing were the two words that best describe the people I interacted with. Coming from a single sex school with only 50 students in my class, trying to converse with nearly a 100 candidates, students, and faculty over the course of two days was a rather daunting experience.

Having to find common ground with individuals from around the globe was extremely difficult. With that said, what kept the conversations going were not our commonalities, but rather our disparities. One of the most memorable conversations I had was with a girl who traveled from Zimbabwe. She described her first hand experiences about the hyper-inflation which occurred in her country. An anecdote that really struck me was about when she lined up to buy some bread, when she was at the back of the line the price was 500 million Zimbabwe dollars. By the time she would get to the front of the line, a loaf of bread inflated up to 1 billion dollars. Conversations like these occurred spontaneously throughout the weekend, and were definitely a memorable part of the weekend.

As glamourous as the whole program seemed, there were certain things I came across prior to my visit that set off some alarms inside of me. For example, not a single image of their “new campus” could be found on the internet. Never have I came across a large scale project that had such little, if no press, as Saadiyat Island. Over my weekend not only was I able to see the construction with my own eyes, it far exceeded my vision of what the campus might be like.

Another concern was of the upcoming no-confidence vote of NYU’s president, John Sexton. He is clearly the reason that the campus exists today and without his lead, the project could suffer some serious implications (or so I thought). First, the gist I got was that the vote would not pass in the first place. From the limited explanations I received, the movement is led by a minority that is rather expressive of their opinions. Second and more importantly, everyone at NYUAD seemed onboard and enthused about the project. Whether it may be the faculty or the students, every “entity” of the college is committed to nurture this ambition into a viable institution of higher education. Even if John Sexton leaves the helm for whatever reason, the project has enough momentum to keep progressing, and maybe even create a new standard of what a university is all about. New York University Abu Dhabi may be what carves the future of education.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Mead

Epilogue

I was incredibly fortunate to get accepted to NYU Abu Dhabi as a part of the Class of 2017. I have no regrets about my choice to attend NYU Abu Dhabi. I’ve met incredible people, worked on amazing projects, and grown in unimaginable ways.