x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Settling in to my new home at university

Studying in the UK, you get used to economising very quickly because students here are brilliant at living within a budget, a concept Dubai students don't quite know the meaning of.

It’s been great fun getting settled in, with household things to buy and rather more tedious paperwork to get through. I was excited about seeing my new room for the first time, all the more when we were directed into a gateway opening up to castle-like buildings made of weathered stone, with graceful spires and perfectly kept lawns. As luck would have it, I’m in the Wolfson building at Cambridge, a ziggurat-shaped modern (well, 40 years old, ancient by Dubai standards) concrete and glass affair that slightly takes away the medieval charm of the rest of the surroundings. Perhaps I should stop dwelling so much on architectural satisfaction, because it’s the modern accommodation that has en suite facilities.

My room is much nicer and more spacious that I could have hoped for. The windows are huge and let the sun in on the rare occasions it shines. There are wooden chests of drawers with cosy lamps, and a grey carpet which is awfully grim but at least hides dirt and stains well. I even learnt how to operate a finicky radiator and the bed was beautifully made. If only the room could have stayed as neat and tidy after a week of me inhabiting it.

It was slightly impersonal, though, so I have covered the pinboard with photos of family and friends, with no room left for lecture timetables, which would have been more practical but less cheery. From the recesses of my suitcases have emerged a pink leopard-print fleece, a rosebud-embellished duvet cover, Cat the stuffed cat and Muffin the teddy. The next lot of bric-a-brac I buy could do with a touch more sophistication.

An atmospheric painting to hang up on the nail was found at Oxfam, the second-hand charity shop, for £2.99 (Dh18). You get used to economising very quickly because students in the UK are brilliant at living within a budget, a concept Dubai students don’t quite know the meaning of. It’s high time we learnt not to live beyond our means; people somehow automatically assume you’re loaded and own an oilfield or something if you come from Dubai. It’s a good idea to hastily affirm how middle class you are before everybody expects you to treat them to dinner.

Then there are other things to worry about: I didn’t think to put the carton of milk in the communal fridge until after a couple of days, when the delectable aroma of sour milk found its way to my nostrils. I know, fridges do exist where I come from, but then again everywhere here feels cold enough to be a freezer in October, at least to somebody with an internal thermometer set at 45°C.

Despite the blips, I was pretty proud of my room, until I saw a senior’s room – sorry, set – with an oak-beamed drawing room full of sofas, a majestic view and even a fireplace, although a blocked-up one, because of fire safety regulations. I suppose my room is a good reflection of whom it belongs to: a still-unsure fresher finding her moorings, not quite the old hand yet.

Lavanya Malhotra is an 18-year-old student who grew up in Dubai