While you’re pretty reliant on a car in Dubai, university in the UK is a different story. The first culture shock is how much you are required to go about by foot. The art of walking long distances is not just confined to a treadmill in Fitness First, but to actually get to places – lecture halls, Boots pharmacy, the supermarket. Then there’s the paucity of lifts and escalators, which means I’m huffing and puffing as we ascend the fourth flight of stairs while my unperturbed companions throw me curious glances.
It’s strange, although not necessarily bad, to discover that motor vehicles are not allowed in many parts of central Cambridge. We ordered Domino’s Pizza as comfort dinner once, only to receive a call from the delivery person informing us his motorbike wasn’t permitted in front of our college. We trotted a fair distance down the street in the pouring rain, resplendent in pink pyjamas and hastily thrown-on trench coats, to fetch our large pepperoni.
What people do use here are bicycles. These may be exceedingly good for the environment but cycling against a sub-zero chill wind is about as pleasant an experience as finding a scratch on your Maserati. Besides, bike theft is a huge problem in Cambridge. All right, I’m just trying to find excuses for the fact that I am a softy who teeters and wobbles all over the place, then falls off the seat when attempting to cycle a hundred metres.
An obnoxious wit poked me in the shoulder the other day to relate a joke he assumed I would keel over laughing upon hearing. Apparently a rich kid from the Middle East goes to the UK for uni. He calls up his dad and says: “Dad, I feel embarrassed driving up to lectures in my red Ferrari, everyone else including the professors takes the train.” The dad answers: “That’s shocking, I don’t want you to be embarrassed, son. I’m transferring a million pounds to your account – go buy a train.”
All you can do is smile tightly, nod, then wonder if you have any money to call a taxi because your legs hurt from having trekked to the physiology lab.
Back in Dubai for the holidays, I was once again dependent on the parents for transport. Many of my friends were driving to school in their last year, having begun their training at age 17 and received their licence on their 18th birthdays. It’s a tedious process, involving hours of driving practice, theory lectures, a theory test, a parking test, an internal driving test and finally the real road test.
Being excessively lazy, I kept putting off getting training, which meant that my road test was the day before I was to leave for university. I failed it, conveniently enough, which meant I had to do more classes and another test this December, which I failed yet again. Thankfully, the third attempt yielded a happy ending and that miraculous card entitling me to complete independence on wheels anywhere in the UAE. All I’m waiting for now is my red Ferrari.
The writer is an 18-year-old student at Cambridge who grew up in Dubai