'It feels like home': how NYUAD is attracting students from Texas to Afghanistan

Top students from across the world are flocking to the capital

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , OCT 12   – 2017 :- Left to Right - Gabi Branche from Trinidad and Tobago , Al Reem Al Hosani from UAE and Maryam Khalili from Afghanistan first year students at the New York University of Abu Dhabi campus on Saadiyat Marina District in Abu Dhabi.  (Pawan Singh / The National) Story by Haneen Dajani
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When Katherina Klaunig from Texas was looking at universities, even she never imagined she may end up in Abu Dhabi.

“Why would I go all the way from the US to Abu Dhabi for college? People always question why would you do that. I would have never imagined it also," she said.

But after visiting New York University Abu Dhabi for the first time during candidates’ weekend – where shortlisted students are invited to spend time there to get to know the university and the city - she had made her decision.

She is just one of a number of students joining its campus from an increasingly diverse list of countries.

Last week, NYUAD welcomed 361 students into its Class of 2021, a diverse group of young men and women representing 88 nationalities and speaking 71 languages. About 11,500 applicants from around the world applied.

UAE Nationals and Americans make up the two largest groups of students by nationality, while for the first time, the class includes young people from Iceland, Liberia, and Tajikistan.

For Ms Klaunig, the high quality of education and enthusiastic professors was behind her choice.

“They are passionate and all the students are overly engaged," she said.

“My smallest class has five people and the largest has 14 people, so definitely there is more attention.”

Also the diversity is like nowhere else, where the student body consists of 15 per cent Emirati, 15 per cent American “and the rest are from all around the world. Since everyone is a minority there are more fields for interaction."

“NYUAD has a more international student body and liberal arts education and because it is so young, students have a lot of power and influence and being part of how the university should look like,” added the 19-year-old, whose triplet sisters are back in the States.

Katherina's decision is a reflection of how the diverse student body at NYUAD is a key strength in attracting the best students.

From Trinidad and Tobago, Gabi Branche was looking for a university where she can engage in many activities and mix with as many nationalities as possible.

NYUAD has a raft of modern facilities, including this Olympic-sized swimming pool, which is open to the public on Saturday mornings. Courtesy NYUAD

“For the past two years I have been living in Germany, going to an international school that accepts students from 90 countries and focuses on sustainability and global mentorship.”

Then one of her teachers at her school back in Trinidad and Tobago, told her about NYUAD and when she did the research she realised it has all those elements.

She has been playing hockey, five types of dance, debates, piano and volunteer programmes since she came two months ago.

“When I came here for candidate weekend, I really liked the school, and all the activities and even the application process here was a lot friendlier that I enjoyed having the multiple layers.” The 19-year-old said the stages of the admission process are more of a holistic process.

The NYUAD director of admissions, Anna Dechert, said the outreach style followed by NYUAD where they go in person to identify top students at schools in any region of the world, and then fund shortlisted students to visit campus ahead of making their final decision, enabled them to beat Harvard in numbers of students who say yes to their offer.

“After the candidates’ weekend is when we make our final decision about who to admit. And of the students we admit 80 to 85 per cent say yes to us. "That rivals Harvard's yield, which is typically the highest in the world," she said.

“This year we both got around 82 per cent, last year Harvard got 81 and us 83."

And even though some get admitted by Oxford and other top universities, “they see it as a more compelling option, and every year we have students who reject those top universities and choose NYUAD”, she concluded.

Maryam Al Khalili, 17, from Afghanistan was glad to find an environment that is similar her culture and traditions back home.

“I am from Afghanistan and the UAE is an Islamic country so I feel at home, and the culture and traditions and they have comparable norms and values.

“And Abu Dhabi is delightful for me," she said.

“I thought before that I would study at either the American University in Paris or the American University in Kazakhstan.”

“But when I heard about NYUAD it was my first choice and I only applied there,” she added.

For Al Reem Hosani, an Emirati who is from Ruwais, NYUAD was the closest place to home where she could feel she was “in a different world”.

“And the main reason I chose it is because I found more chances to travel with it abroad, more than other universities in the UAE.”