Senior Manson Tung applied to New York University Abu Dhabi. He was selected as one of approximately 500 students to attend Candidate Weekend (March 3-6) held at the Saadiyat Island Campus in the United Arab Emirates. Tung will receive his admission result on April 1.
Q: What is this program?
A: (NYU Abu Dhabi) is the first international degree-seeking outpost of an American university. Every year they have four Candidate Weekends, and they fly in select candidates that they think will fit Abu Dhabi and are also very competitive in their field. We will be evaluated, have interviews, take classes and live there.
Q: What’s the purpose of the Candidate Weekend?
A: The overview is that they want to make sure that you are the right fit for Abu Dhabi and that Abu Dhabi is the right fit for you. What they want to see is how many people applied to NYUAD because they can click a box and how many people genuinely want to go there for four years of their life.
Q: How did you feel when you found out you’d been selected?
A: So I got an email, saying that I was going to be invited to Candidate Weekend. It was on a Friday night, and I was right about to fall asleep, and every night before I go to bed I check my email. I just rocketed out of bed, and I just couldn’t stop beaming and screamed for my mom, saying “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!!”
And even just getting to this step, even if I don’t get into the university is such an honor, and I just feel so blessed and at the same time very happy that I was able to get this far.
Q: Why did you choose to apply?
A: I’m drawn to NYU Abu Dhabi is because it is so special, it’s so international, and the global outreach that I will be able to do, from having all these students plucked from around the world, will allow these insights that I think will be unparalleled.
And I also think it is great that the Middle East is right where Africa and India and China can all meet. Interestingly, Abu Dhabi makes more money from its sovereign wealth than from the oil. So it’s not just a one-hit wonder. That’s part of why I am drawn to Abu Dhabi.
Q: What do you like about the school itself?
A: I’m drawn to the school particularly because I think NYU has always prided itself on being contemporary, contextual and also urban.
Abu Dhabi has been able to create something both worldly and westernized and international, but at the same time it reflects the fact that it is in Abu Dhabi and that you are not going to school in D.C. and you are not going to school in New York City. So it’s done a really great job of bringing in that Islamic heritage to the school. For example, they have taken it upon themselves to create the largest electronic catalog of Arabic scripture and literature anywhere in the world, and they’ve made it all free so that scholars from around the world can really take a small slice from a NYUAD education.
Q: What attracted you to the Middle East?
A: Honestly I’ve always had this fantasy of going to the Middle East since I was a child because it’s a very fast-moving, fast-paced society and economy there, and they’ve also done a lot in terms of infrastructure – modernization and urbanization – which is one of the things I’ve always been enamored with.
I was also drawn to its geographical location, (where the West has traditionally met the East), as Abu Dhabi is really well positioned to be a power broker in terms of location.
Q: What’s Abu Dhabi like?
A: In Abu Dhabi what they’ve done is they’ve developed slower, and they’ve been able to maintain the cultural heritage that’s there, things like the original Islamic forts that were there. They also have an appreciation for nature.
They have Ferrari World, which is the world’s fastest roller coaster; they have Yas Marina Circuit where you can go race a Formula 1 car; they have Corniche, which is like their version of a nice little seaside gathering place. It’s really just an exciting place because they have done so much modernization.
Q: What do you know about the campus?
A: And then there is (the campus) itself. The location is unparalleled. It’s on a island which is called Saadiyat Island, and it’s going to be next to the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. It’s pretty much going to be all of the best works in the world plucked together and brought to an island.
Q: Is this your first time visiting?
A: Yes. When I was applying for this, my mom was perplexed because she knew I was infatuated with the UAE, but at the same time she was like, “You’ve never been there, you’ve never visited, you don’t even speak the language.”
But really I think I’m drawn to the fact that it’s something that is so special and something that is so different. I do think that there will be an importance and a power within the Middle East long after the oil is gone. And I think that NYUAD is a way for Abu Dhabi to position itself to take full advantage of that future.
Q: How long is the flight?
A: My flight is from Sacramento to LAX; then LAX to Abu Dhabi. The LA-to-AD portion of the journey is approximately 17.5 hours and is one of the longest commercially flown routes in existence.
I’m flying Etihad, which is super exciting because they were voted best airline in the world for several years running now, and Etihad is of course the national carrier of the UAE.
Q: Where will you be staying?
A: I will be staying inside one of the residence halls on campus. If I’m not mistaken they’re still growing the campus and growing the student body, so there are empty dorm rooms.
Q: What sort of events will there be?
A: They’re giving us a reception at the Emirates Palace (a traditional Arabian feast under the stars in the desert with camel), which I’m stoked about, and a tour of one of the largest mosques in the world, Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which is one of Abu Dhabi’s most notable attractions.
Q: What does your schedule include?
A: The Thursday that I arrive, March 3, is arrival at either Abu Dhabi International or Dubai. Friday we will have sample classes, we will have a tour of the Saadiyat Island campus, and we will have a discussion of academics. And then we will have the desert dinner.
Saturday we’ll have the Abu Dhabi city tour, so we’ll be becoming familiar with a very new and urbanized city. (We have a) campus-life discussion, and then we have a reflective writing session and then a conversation with the faculty before a formal farewell dinner. Sunday we depart.
Q: What societal differences have you noticed in your research for this trip?
A: In Abu Dhabi, the law is quite heavily based on Muslim ethics. Therefore, drinking is illegal, smoking is illegal, fraternization with the opposite sex is illegal, because obviously it is an Islamic country. If you are a female candidate, they expect you to dress conservatively, and for guys they said no bro tanks, no “chubbies” and overall to be more conservative than you typically would be.
When we visit the Sheikh Zayed mosque, the women have to wear a full abaya (robe).
I think that the level of religion within everyday life will also be an important difference. I know that you can hear the call to prayer five times a day in Abu Dhabi, which is, of course, a really special and different thing.
But the UAE is a very westernized, urbanized and a developed nation, so I do think that while a lot of the cultural context will be different, the city will still be very cosmopolitan and global in nature.
Q: What are you most looking forward to?
A: Getting to meet some of the applicants because they will be the student body. I think it’s really exciting just how cosmopolitan are they from being drawn from all around the world.
And, of course, I am excited to visit the campus and to see something tangibly that I’ve only ever seen in printed materials or online.
And of course I’m also excited to meet the professors because I think that they bring a level of education that is really unparalleled in the Middle East. Because the school’s so small you can get a really close interaction with the professors. I learned at Country Day that those connections to your teachers were really important and that being close to your teachers and being in a classroom with a smaller amount of bodies was really helpful for learning. So I am really excited about seeing that connection in action.
And mainly I just really want to see this side of the world – to be entranced by it and behold it with my own eyes.
—By Grace Naify