Individual student at an FYD section Image Credit: NYUAD

Abu Dhabi: Starting university is always a big step in one’s life, even more so if the student decides to pursue studies away from home in a country he or she has never been to before — and this is where New York University Abu Dhabi’s (NYUAD) office of first year experience comes in, helping new students adapt to their new environment in Abu Dhabi.

“What we do is help first year students to adjust not only at university, but to the UAE also. We have a lot of international students who are coming here for the first time, so what we want to do is familiarise them with how it’s going to be living and learning in Abu Dhabi,” said Samantha Neugebauer, associate director, first year students with NYUAD.

“The issues we face are not really unique to NYUAD or the UAE, I have worked at other institutions in the US and the experience was very similar [with first year students]. A lot of our students are travelling far from their homes and away from their families, so it’s only natural that some of them will need some time to get over their homesickness and we are prepared to help them with that,” she added.

Neugebauer explained that the office works in several different ways to assist the new students, including trips across the UAE, and class bonding sessions.

“We organise regional trips in the UAE made up of random groups of 15 students and they will go to historical sites or new innovating places in the UAE — by the end of the day, each group will have gone to a different place and they will be able to share their experiences with one another. We are planning to have a trip to Dubai and Sharjah after Eid Al Adha with a group of 325 students,” she said.

“If the student is facing an issue and comes to our office, we try sort out what type of problem they are facing — whether it’s a homesickness issue, or a room-mate situation that is not working out well, or specific problems in one of their classes. After we pinpoint what the problem is, we are then able to navigate and find the solution,” she added.

Neugebauer also said that it was important for universities to have support networks at their campuses to help first year students.

“I think it is crucial to have an office like this. Many first year offices serve the function of connecting the dots for a student who is having a hard time adjusting. Students who have come to our office and received help have gone on to taking student leadership roles,” she said.

One student who did receive support from the office of first year experience, Supriya Kamath, from India, said the experience was very positive in helping her adapt to both her university and new city.

“First-year dialogue — one of the programmes of the office of first year experience, was integral to my freshman year experience for several reasons. I have always been a bit shy, so the intimate setting of the first year dialogue and the comfort of being in a small group really helped me open up. I felt like I had found a home away from home in the NYU Abu Dhabi community,” she said.

“The sessions also helped us understand the UAE’s customs and culture, which made me feel more grounded in my new surroundings — as a freshman, being in touch with the city was essential because it was the first step towards making college feel like home. I enjoyed learning about Emirati culture from an Emirati peer in our group. In addition to this, time-management sessions and trust-building sessions were timely and useful as we navigated both academics and college life,” she added.