At New York University Abu Dhabi, feelings of nostalgia are rising faster than the temperatures outside. This week marks the end of the school's inaugural year. But rather than stress over finals, my roommates and I are poring over photos of everything from desert camping trips to our National Day celebrations, and contemplating what's changed since we hung them.
As a student in the Class of 2014, I chose NYU Abu Dhabi for reasons beyond the size of the dorms or the royal treatment during recruiting visits (including unbelievable dinners at the Emirates Palace). And I admit I was suspicious of what I feared might be a great publicity stunt for an institution - rather than an ideal experience for a student interested in an enriching college career. Yet after weeks of incredible conversations with my peers, and a truly infectious enthusiasm from faculty and staff, those early fears have subsided.
My greatest struggle this year was not overcoming homesickness - I am an American who graduated from high school in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Rather, it was adjusting to life at a college full of expectations. We were a student body with no concept of what an American college experience looked like, with no upperclassmen to turn to, and professors who insisted we could be for education what the Human Genome Project was for biology. Talk about pressure.
No matter how intense the stress became, though, I always felt honoured to live in a community where I could knock on any door and expect to find someone willing to offer their time and talents.
It has not always been easy to adapt culturally. Language barriers and general unfamiliarity with the region have also forced us into interdependence and insularity. But now that we are firmly established, students are eager to branch out.
We've made acquaintances through the film festival, volunteering in the community and local festivals and concerts on the Corniche. There have been exchanges with other universities, and the signs of early friends are emerging.
I remember a dinner during our first week in Abu Dhabi, during which NYU President John Sexton asked everyone present to turn and hug the people around them. More recently during a workshop reflecting on our first year, someone commented on remembering how students during those first days filled the dining hall tables in the order they arrived, rather than separating by national affiliation or cliques.
These connections with the people around me are inspiring, and have proven to be NYUAD's true gift. Certainly there are risks in such a bold endeavour, and mistakes are sure to be made. No institution is perfect. But if these are not the boundaries that higher education is meant to push, then what is its purpose?
The hope for NYU Abu Dhabi lies in the fact that the possibilities of globalisation are made real in our daily lives. There is a dichotomy in our interactions, which range from seeing the effect of the Egyptian revolution in a classmate's face to bonding with friends from other continents who grew up watching the same cartoons.
Recently, I completed a course in translation for which half of the class was in New York, connected via video conference call. Just a year ago I would not have imagined a college experience in which I could not always see my classmates clearly enough to recognise their faces or during which my partners for group projects would be located oceans away. However, that experience might be an analogy for the state we live in, on a bridge between worlds.
Whatever the admissions literature may say, the NYU Abu Dhabi experience is neither simply that of an American-style liberal arts education nor that of living in the Middle East. It is a place that brings those two notions together. I don't think of it as the "world's honours college", as it bills itself. I just think of it as home.
Leah Reynolds is a member of the Class of 2014 at NYU Abu Dhabi. She blogs at parallellifeabudhabi.blogspot.com