Learning and Living in the UAE: A Conversation with Gabriel García Leyva (NYUAD ’20) [He/Him]
August 15, 2021
Under a blistering sun and swept with the salty air of the Persian Gulf, Gabriel García Leyva (NYUAD ’20) [he/him], found himself nearly 8,000 miles from home as he was about to begin his college journey. Growing up in Cuba, he ventured to NYU Abu Dhabi in search of an international education that would expose him to different cultures, people, and ways of thinking. Little did he know he would end up in the United Arab Emirates, a place that would become home during his education and after graduation.
Nestled on Saadiyat Island, NYU Abu Dhabi merges global education with the close-knit community of a small campus. Since its establishment in 2010, the university has produced hundreds of graduates across the arts and sciences as well as 14 Rhodes Scholars in just seven years, more per student than any university in the world. For García Leyva, the impact of NYU Abu Dhabi's academics were further nurtured by the NYU Alumni Club in the UAE, which connected him to industry leaders and career opportunities.
As a student, García Leyva and a couple of classmates created a school-wide mentorship program for those at NYU Abu Dhabi. At the time, he reached out to the NYU Alumni Club in the UAE as a resource for connecting students with industry professionals in their field. That was his first introduction to the club and a first glimpse at the expansiveness of the Violet community outside the classroom. By working with the club as a student, he learned about conducting business in the UAE and its budding start-up scene—which brought him to his first consulting job after graduation.
Now he calls the UAE home. After graduating in 2020 with a degree in computer science, García Leyva spent his first post-grad year working at Accenture and recently started a new role at a venture capital firm in Dubai. García Leyva found the entrepreneur community in the UAE to be particularly welcoming and a great space to launch his career in the region. Continuing his enthusiasm for bringing people together, he went from a student to an alumnus who is actively engaged with the NYU Alumni Club in the UAE where he promotes the Club’s events, which include social gathering, networking opportunities, and guest speaker series with professionals from UAE, Saudi Arabia, and beyond. When asked how the NYU alumni network has shaped his life after graduation, García Leyva says, “there is a strong sense of community with alumni who are ready to guide you professionally and in the day-to-day activities of living in the country.” Though he no longer walks the palm tree studded paths of Saadiyat Island or spends late nights in the library, García Leyva remains deeply connected to campus life and the local alumni community. “Leverage the NYU network,” he tells new graduates. “It’s a community that is always willing to help.”
What motivated you to attend NYU Abu Dhabi?
After growing up in a very homogeneous place like Cuba, I wanted to attend an international university that exposed me to many different people, cultures, and ways of thinking. While I was originally meant to go to the U.S. for college, I learned about NYU Abu Dhabi and the UAE during my application process and decided to apply. The moment I heard about it, I knew it was the perfect place for me. Not only is it home to more than 115 nationalities but the UAE is also a nation of expats.
As you were approaching graduation, what were your thoughts or plans for life after NYUAD?
My plan was to get a job and stay in the UAE after graduation. I wanted to gain the most experience and stay involved in the start-up world.
How do you stay connected to the NYU community?
I am connected with the NYU Alumni Club in the UAE and I have a lot of friends who are still at NYU Abu Dhabi, which keeps me connected. At NYU Abu Dhabi we have a group called Room of Requirements (it’s a Harry Potter reference), where people post questions or issues to get help from the community. Alumni are part of it, too, so I always try to help.
Are you currently involved with the NYU Alumni Club in the UAE? If so, how has it shaped your post-grad experience?
I used to run a mentorship program at NYU Abu Dhabi that connects with the NYU Alumni Club in the UAE. After graduation I remained heavily involved with them and continue to promote events with the NYU Abu Dhabi community.
What advice would you give to NYU graduates, across schools, who want to work / live in the UAE one day?
Leverage the NYU network, we have a strong community here. If someone did not attend NYU Abu Dhabi and wants to work in the UAE, they should reach out to the NYU Alumni Club—they’re very open and welcoming to everyone. If you’re in tech, the UAE is a great place to be. It's very welcoming for start-ups and venture capital firms and I’m happy to connect with alumni who are interested in that field. Oh, and get ready for the heat!