University students develop a special relationship with their cars. The thrill of a recently obtained driver's licence along with the new-found freedoms and responsibilities of life on a campus create an exciting combination that, more often than not, leads these students to end up spending more time in their cars than any other place.
To one particular student, who's relatively new to the world of driving, that notion applies perfectly.
Born to a Bulgarian mother and a Lebanese father, Mira Moussa, a student at the American University of Sharjah majoring in chemical engineering and minoring in international studies, talks passionately about her beloved 2003 Toyota Yaris, which she's been driving for about eight months.
"My car is my home. And for now, I wouldn't trade that with anything else," says the 20-year-old student. "There is so much character in it that's associated with aspects of my life that I can't live without, and that's what my Yaris means to me right now.
Moussa got the Yaris as a birthday gift from her parents after she received her driver's license last year.
"To be honest with you, when I first saw this car, I thought that that's not a car I would get," Moussa says. "The gauges are not in front of me as a driver [it sits in the centre of the dashboard], and it somehow annoys me that everybody looks at them all the time."
The Yaris originally belonged to a colleague of her father, who sold the car before leaving the country.
"When I drove the car before my father bought it for me, I had my limits with it, because it wasn't fully mine," says Moussa. "But immediately after I took it for the first drive when my father bought it for me, this feeling hit me."
The small size of the Yaris makes it a great choice to drive on the busy streets of Sharjah to get to University City every morning.
"It's easy to park and quite simple to manoeuvre. It's perfect for escaping traffic." Moussa says.
For Moussa, the personality and practicality of her Yaris make up for the fact that it's not as fancy as some of the cars parading around the streets of Dubai.
"What I love about my car is that I didn't intentionally do anything to it. Gradually, it started becoming my personal treasure box that can hold anything."
Anybody who knows Moussa can single out her Yaris from a busy car park. Though it looks relatively normal from the outside, from the inside, it's a different story. On any given day, Moussa's Yaris contains items from her everyday life, giving it a real lived-in look.
"You'll find books, chemistry lab coats, a sleeping bag, countless pairs of shoes, clothing garments, pens, even a picnic mat. You name it, it's there," jokes Moussa.
"I have countless memories in my car during the brief time I had it. My friends and I joke around, hang out, laugh, cry, panic, study, escape, and do almost everything and anything in it.
"My close friends know where I always park it on the AUS campus, so it's there whenever anybody needs it," she says.
And though it's certainly at the other side of the spectrum when it comes to the world of fancy driving, Moussa says it's perfect for her right now.
"This is a transitional phase in our lives as students, and the hope is that sooner or later we will get the independence of actually going out and choosing what we really want," she says.
When she does eventually find the means and opportunity to choose her own car, there's one in particular that she'd love to put money down on.
"It was the BMW Z3 that got me hooked at first, but then they released the Z4, and I've been drooling over that ever since," she swoons.
Another car she finds attractive is the Jeep Wrangler. And though it's a bit of a jump from the sleek structure of the Z4, it's the Wrangler's strong sense of presence that lures Moussa the most.
"I love the attitude that it gives you when you glance at other drivers in the street.
"I know that if I get to drive it, with the image of a girl driving a somewhat of a bulky car, the attitude will be just perfect," she jokes.
In her hometown of Sofia, Moussa found it much more difficult to drive than here in the UAE. But not because she's a bad driver; the tight confines and rough roads of Bulgaria are a far cry from the smooth, wide landscapes of Dubai.
"I drove a heavier car back in Bulgaria, my brother's BMW 5 Series. Let's just say it's no picnic manoeuvring it in the streets of Sophia," she says.
"If you want to get anywhere, you have to pass by narrow secondary roads that usually have different cars parked at its sides. And it's not easy to get through that."
It's too bad she didn't have her little Yaris there.