x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

'I took money for granted when I lived with my parents,' student says

Uzma Atcha gradutated from the American University this summer. She says her financial literacy was hindered because she lived at home while she attended classes.

Uzma Atcha lived with her parents while she attended university. 
Antonie Robertson / The National
Uzma Atcha lived with her parents while she attended university. Antonie Robertson / The National

Uzma Atcha, from Pakistan, is a content and community manager for a personal finance website in Dubai. The 23 year old, who was born and brought up in the emirate and graduated this summer from the American University with a degree in international relations, says her financial literacy education was hindered because she didn't study overseas.

I always wantedto study overseas, but it was difficult convincing my parents to let me go. I feel I was at a disadvantage because I did not learn the necessary financial skills. If I needed an extra Dh50 at the end of the week to get a ride home, I could still ask my parents.

I think my parents would like me to be dependent on them for as long as possible because I am the youngest in the family with two elder sisters. In their eyes, I am still the baby even though I have graduated.

They took care of the university fees, which were Dh22,000 depending on how many courses I took and included transport to and from university, but not books. If I had a part-time job, I would help to finance my studies; one job I had paid for an entire summer's tuition and I paid for my text books every now and then, but it wasn't a regular thing.

My parents gave me a fixed weekly allowanceof Dh200 and I'd have to budget how much I spent every day. Most of the time I succeeded, but I was lucky that I lived with my parents if I had overspent and needed subbing for the rest of the week.

My allowance was for buying books, going out with friends and lunches and dinners at college, which were expensive because the restaurants in Academic City and Knowledge Village aren't subsidised. I was paying as much as Dh80 for a meal, which is ridiculous. A lot of students come from abroad and they don't have enough cash for that.

It was tight managing on that budget, but I didn't have the added cost of groceries and rent, so I had it relatively easy. I wanted to study in the UK, not just because it had the best options in terms of degrees, but also because going away teaches you independence. I wouldn't say my parents mollycoddled me, but if you are far away, it teaches you how to make your own decisions and if you are in trouble, that's it: your parents aren't there to bail you out.

Living at home during university changes the whole dynamic. Over here, university life is still in its infancy. The education sector is not as well defined as it is abroad and at a lot of universities here, people care more about what they look like than they would elsewhere. In the United States, for example, you can walk into a lecture in a pair of sweatpants and a turtleneck. Over here, I'd feel uncomfortable doing that because the person sitting next to me would be carrying a Chanel bag, have freshly manicured nails and be wearing Jimmy Choo shoes, so university life here can be very status and wealth-orientated.

Now that I'm earning, I feel more empowered financially. I understand the value of the dirham more and realise that things I took for granted in college that my parents were paying for, I can't take for granted now.