FRESHMAN FOCUS: Manson Tung learns Arabic, admires lavish NYU Abu Dhabi lifestyles, but misses American fast food

(Photo used by permission of Tung)
While on the annual NYU Abu Dhabi trip to Dubai and Sharjah, Manson Tung, ’16, stands on the tallest observation deck in the world. The Emaar building, which caught on fire on New Year’s Eve, the Dubai Mall – the largest mall in the world – and sand dunes are in Tung’s background.

Find out what the members of the class of 2016 are up to in their first year of college. A college freshman is featured in the Freshman Focus every week.

Manson Tung, ‘16, attends New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He is interested in majoring in political science with a concentration in urbanization and maybe a minor in economics.

Q: What classes are you taking?

A: Microeconomics, Business Politics and Society (a course for upperclassmen), Arabic, and Wealth of Nations (a core class).

Q: Are you required to take Arabic?

A: No, but I’m choosing to because I feel that it would be strange to move to the UAE and not learn at least a little Arabic.

Q: When are classes?

A: Sunday through Thursday. That’s the work week here because Friday is the religious day off.

Q: How big are your classes?

A: Smaller than at SCDS! My econ class has 10 people, Business Politics and  Society has 12 and Arabic has six.

Q: How many Americans are in the freshman class?

A: About 20 of the 320 freshmen are American, but I’m the only minority American.

Q: How many countries are represented?

A: I think around 65.

Q: What surprised you about UAE?

A: This school really breaks your preconceptions. Honestly, the idea of UAE women head to toe in black, who are oppressed and can’t drive, talk or interact, is completely wrong. The Emirati girls I’ve met are very kind, and their intellect is out of this world.

People always think that a nation with “Arab” in the name means that the country is restrictive. Honestly, though, I feel safer here than I do back home.

There’s basically no crime. People leave their laptops out for two days, and nothing happens. It’s so different from how my sister went to college. (At UC Riverside) she had to bolt her laptop to the desk.

(Photo used by permission of Tung)
Tung sits by a #MyNYUAD sign, the university’s social media slogan for the year.

Q: How was it adjusting to living  in the UAE?

A: I had a hard time adjusting to college at first, but now I’m loving it. Saying I’m going to live halfway around the world and then doing it are very different things.

Q: What do you miss?

A:  I miss my family and the food. I miss Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A and In-N-Out Burger. Oh, and pork! I really want a pulled pork sandwich.

Q: How’s the food?

A: The food at NYUAD is just okay. At first I was in heaven, but even endless pasta, curry and pizza got tiresome. I like to eat at local restaurants when I have time.

Q: What do you like to do in Abu Dhabi?

A: I like to walk along the Corniche Beach and to eat at local places, but there isn’t much to do, quite frankly. There isn’t much free time either, though. It’s pretty much impossible to get off campus on weekdays because of homework.

I try to head up to Dubai when I can because there is a lot more to do.

Q: What’s in Dubai?

A: Huge shopping malls. You pretty much eat and shop. I spent one day completely in Dubai Mall.

I’ve been to that mall twice, and I still haven’t seen all of it. There’s an aquarium, ice-skating rink, two giant fountains, a light show, a souk and the biggest candy store in the world, all inside that one mall.

I think mall culture here is so strong because the malls have really taken the place of town squares.

In Europe there are town squares with cafes that spill out on the streets. The malls are so big that the halls are basically streets, and the restaurants spill onto the hallways. The malls have everything.

Q: How’s the weather?

A: When I got here it was 120 degrees, but now it’s only around 105. It’s a dry heat, and at night it’s humid. I’ve acclimated though.

I’ve been told winter is an amazing time of year, and the weather is usually around 75 with blue sunny skies and next to no rain.  

(Photo used by permission of Tung)
Tung, fourth from the left, eats at a buffet at the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai with some friends.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about NYUAD?

A: The people and the discussions that I have. There are points of view that I wouldn’t get if I weren’t here.

My classmates are really impressive. If you Google them, they’re featured everywhere. Some of them have world records, and others have their art hanging in really famous museums. I remember reading about one of the students in a magazine in China.

A lot of the students have multiethnic backgrounds and speak multiple foreign languages.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Everything on campus is a 10-minute walk away, but I feel like I get less done here in a day than I did in a morning back home.

Q: What extracurriculars are you doing?

A: I’m assistant director of external communications for the Beyond Borders Consulting Club (we organize events with big name speakers and casing work shops). I’m also involved with the Stern Political Economy Exchange (which is basically networking), the Business and Finance Society and the Chinese culture club.

It’s really easy to join clubs here because the student body is so small.

Q: Have you made any freshman mistakes?

A: I locked myself out of my dorm twice, but a security officer can help you get back into the dorm, so it’s no big deal.

Q: Have you made any foreigner mistakes?

A: I didn’t realize that Slovakia and Slovenia were actually two separate places, so my friend Anna almost threw her coffee at me (she’s a very patriotic Slovenian).

I tried to give a handshake to my friend Fatee when we first met, but I forgot that it’s not acceptable for men and women to touch in traditional UAE culture, so she immediately jerked backwards.

There’s a running joke around some of my friends that I can’t stop smiling or greeting people in the hallway, but really it’s an American habit I can’t break.

Q: Is it true that the UAE is very wealthy?

A: The wealth at the school is somewhat understated, but it is true that Emiratis have very high living standards.

It’s very common to see students with Cartier bracelets and Rolex watches. I would say most students have a designer backpack, but the Emirati girls take it up a notch.  Goyard, Hermes, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Prada and Gucci are  common. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to school in a fashion show.

Also, I had a golden cappuccino once, which is a cappuccino with gold flakes in it.

(Photo used by permission of Tung)
Tung sits on a sign that says “New York University Abu Dhabi” in Arabic.

Q: Where are you living?

A: I have a roommate, and we share a bathroom. I share a living room with a microwave and dining table with three other people. We have solid oak furniture, which means you can’t move it because it’s so heavy.

Q: Do you have advice for the class of 2017?

A: Be open-minded. I never thought that this could be possible. I pinch myself everyday because I’m sitting in Abu Dhabi with so many smart and diverse people around me.

Reach as far as you can, and trust in yourself and college counselors. Don’t be scared off by admission rates.

Apply where you actually want to go. I remember getting my first deferral letter, and I started to apply to any school that would take an application. That’s the wrong philosophy. Frankly, you won’t end up going there. And you’ll waste a ton of money on application fees.  

By Nicole Wolkov

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