x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Things you learn at university, even before the term’s begun

University hasn't started yet, but I can already foresee a struggle to keep afloat in a rising tide of homework and dirty socks.

I have just arrived in Cambridge, and see before me only the promised revelries of Freshers’ Week and getting to live by the beautiful Cam river. Term hasn’t started yet, and the reality will probably be struggling to keep afloat in a rising tide of homework and dirty socks, but for now no clouds blot the horizon.

Like every other overenthusiastic fresher, I have been falling over my feet to join hundreds of Facebook groups affiliated to my college, Trinity, and my course, Medicine. The sheer number of students you’re connected to is great. You feel popular because you get a new notification every few minutes. Tiresomely, every group is flooded with advertisements about sunglasses. Salesmen looking for advertising platforms sneak in and post huge pictures of Oakleys with “20% OFF” on them. Why only sunglasses, incidentally – why not umbrellas or wellies? You’re as likely to need to shade your eyes in soggy England as Kim Kardashian is likely to name her next child something sensible.

A student, exasperated with the spamming, emblazoned a pair of sunnies across Isaac Newton’s photo, with the university logo pasted on them. The post bore the legend “Official Cambridge University sunglasses as worn by Sir Isaac Newton, only £59.99 (Dh350). Message me with sort code and account number for discounted price.”

A postscript meekly added: “Some of this may not be true.”

I haven’t even moved into my college at the time of writing this, but from what I’ve heard, it is deliciously quirky. Newton, by the way, was an alumnus of Trinity. The story goes that he’d been sitting under a tree when an apple fell down and he discovered gravity. There’s an apple tree in Trinity that’s apparently descended from that famous tree. I know where I’m going to be doing all of my revision this term, in the hope of being struck by earth-shaking revelations.

On second thought, it’s probably forbidden to sit under the lucky tree – it’s against the rules to walk on the grass in most of the lawns. You earn the privilege of being allowed to walk in one certain garden if your exam results are brilliant. Oh, but even then you can’t, unless you’re wearing full academic dress, including a scholar’s gown.

I am being shown around these novelties by my lovely “college mother”, Penelope. Two older students are assigned to be your “mum” and “dad”, so you have someone to ask questions and help you settle in. Unlike my real parents, who were firmly of the opinion that I was enough of a handful to be getting on with, my college parents have managed to provide me with a brother and a sister: two other freshers.

I am anticipating the adventures that lie ahead. There are all sorts of things to be done, from punting to doing up my room and experiencing the formal candlelit dinners. University marks the beginning of a new life, and I’ve already learnt new things – not least where to look for discounts on sunglasses.

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