I am trying to choose where to go to continue my education. Should I stay in New York - a place I have come to call home, having been here nearly a decade - or should I try something new, London perhaps? After all, being closer to Arsenal can never be a bad thing.
As part of my decision-making process I recently listened to a podcast called Radiolab. This is a radio show produced by WNYC, a public radio station based in Manhattan. The episode I listened to explored the many factors that make cities distinct.
One of the theories examined was presented by Dr Robert Levine, a professor of psychology at California State Fresno, who says the biggest factor differentiating life from one city to another is our perception of time. His study claims that what contributes most to our sense of disorientation when we travel is having to adapt to another culture's sense of time.
This got me thinking about how we have become oriented in cities. How do we use our time? Are we being ruled by the clock? What is this doing to our cities? To our relationships? To our bodies and psyches?
I used to think that Abu Dhabi functions at a much slower pace than does New York, but I've recently realised that this isn't necessarily the case. Just this Ramadan, when I was back in the capital, a lot of friends seemed to be working longer hours despite the shorter workdays, and getting together with family members was harder than usual, as everyone had a busier schedule. To see even my closest friends now it feels like I need to book get-togethers well in advance. The older I get the more that upsets me. I used to always enjoy the "no formality" aspect of Arabic culture, where you could just show up at your friends' houses unannounced.
Having to shoehorn people into spare blocks of time makes me feel as if I'm missing out on experiencing true quality time with the people I love. It's nice to be busy and have things to do, but when you are "pencilling in" everything into a calendar, from small errands to coffee dates, the value and purpose of that "time" becomes skewed.
Sometimes I feel I'm missing out trying to organise family time, friends time and the rare "me" time. I happen to be quite social, and, trying to see 20 different people in a week, I always feel as if I'm bound to let someone down. It takes me a while to reach a point where I realise I need to just cancel all plans for a day or two so that I can catch my breath.
My life has been a constant chore of organising time into work, gym, sleep and everything else in between. Leisure time is unheard of. It seems I am doing something wrong if I have spare time. But why is that so? Why am I hurrying? I have moments during which I feel like I'm going crazy trying to make time for all the things required of me as a young woman living in the "big city".
Like Dr Levine, I believe time can be a constraint. If you step out of it you appreciate the raw ingredients: people, sounds, colours and movements - the human friction that combine to create our communities. And whether I decide to stay in New York a bit longer or move on, I've started experimenting with my pace so that I decide how fast or slow I want to be and do not let the city decide for me.
Because at the end of the day, even though I may remain ridiculously restless, I'm still not sure why I need to be rushing all the time.
Fatima al Shamsi is an Emirati who this year earned her bachelor's degree in environmental science and human rights from Columbia University in New York.