My eldest daughter went off to university in September 2014
… having spent the last 10 years at school in Dubai.
I was concerned to say the least! Would she be ok, how would she eat, manage her finances and deal with the weather ? Read my honest account of what it was like including some important bits I wish I’d known before I dropped her off at university!
Just to warn you, there are no recommendations for student recipe books, but plenty of real life What’s App pics of how her self-made meals evolved!
From freezer/microwave ready meal – shop bought macaroni cheese…..
to much more healthy chicken salad with spinach, red peppers and lettuce!
Our kids were 7 and 10 when we moved to Dubai in 2006. Up until then we had lived in London. We return to London every summer, so they are used to London life, tubes, Oyster cards, supermarket shopping and housework; they therefore have a somewhat realistic idea of what uni in the UK would entail. (apart from the weather as we always returned in the summer!)
Why did we choose the UK to send her off to university
The familiarity of the place, connections to friends and family and the obvious academic reputation of the college were strong decision makers. It was also important for us to be able to travel to and from the country of choice quickly and affordably. Just under a 7 hour flight was acceptable as was the 3 or 4 hour time difference.
We also opted for Reading University that was just 40 minutes away from family in Central London, which is our base when we stay in the UK and again very easy for the kids to come back to if need be at any time.
Train travel in the UK is very expensive, so do factor in this and journey times to and from airports as well as it’s likely your kids will be catching flights back home at least twice at year or more in their first year.
What will they need to PACK when they go off to university
…Well that would depend on whether you have a son or daughter!
Upon arrival at the college it was apparent that the girls needed way more “stuff” evidenced by the number of suitcases, boxes, and trolleys. We had 4 suitcases, 4 boxes and some bags all loaded onto 2 large trolleys provided by the college.
The boys on the other hand towed their one pull along suitcase and a medium sized rucksack; mums simply clutching their handbags!
Hair-care items are deemed essential for girls! Pack for the weather and the boring mantra of lots of layers is a good one. Uniqlo in the UK is great for good quality affordable basics.
According to my daughter, ditch the heels (everyone wears trainer type walking shoes to go out etc) so the heels have now been discarded and sit in the under bed storage area.
We opted for self catering so of course bought a sensible selection of cooking pans: one small frying pan (sausages, omlettes) medium wok (stirfrying chicken, noodles and rice) and a small boiling pan (pasta, porridge)
None of them worked! Many students were in the same predicament; apparently they had to be pans that worked with induction hobs! So all were useless. So she shared initially and then I bought her one smallish wok type frying pan that is induction friendly (15 pounds from John Lewis Home range)
Don’t be tempted to buy a selection of knives; one sharp medium knife works for everything (unless you are like her Chinese flatmate who has an impressive and all purpose meat cleaver!)
What is a good idea though is to send them off with a NutriBullet.We have bought 3 of them, one for home, one for my husband’s office and now one for uni !
Just throw in some fresh strawberries, milk and some banana for a healthy, fresh drink/snack. We gave her one to take back at Christmas but wished we had done it before. This item was a great hit with the rest of the flatmates too and still worked in the second year.
Finances when they go off to university?
Each to their own with this one, but we opened 2 bank accounts each with their own debit cards (not a credit card) at the same bank. This way there is always one card and account that has an emergency stash of money in case the other is stolen or shock horror, they have “run out”
Unfortunately we were not eligible to open a student account (lots of benefits like 30 % off rail travel and very generous, interest free overdrafts) as despite still owning a property etc in the UK there is no official document (UCAS offer letter or Uni enrollment letter) that states the home address as being in the UK! But you may get lucky…
Initially do give your child more than their weekly allowance as they will need to buy (expensive) text books and want to do things like join the gym (very reasonable at 160 pounds for the year) They also end up buying more ready meals than you would like in the beginning, but they soon get bored! Freshers Week means more money too, usually well spent.
One of our friends from Dubai bought a small safe, we of course did the same (40 pounds Robert Dyas) but apparently it isn’t used! Important documents seem to live in a desk drawer. But this would be very useful if you were moving into shared private accommodation. She didn’t use it the 2nd year either.
We think it is better to transfer money weekly or twice a month as opposed to montlhy after the first month or so. Many students do supplement their allowance with a part time job. This hasn’t happened in our case yet, but who knows? They quickly learn to get the 2 for 1 deals with their on line food shop, which in some cases is delivered to the university!
Accommodation choices for students off to university
Again each to their own on this one and each uni has its own set up, but from talking to others, it seems that the self catering arrangements for the premium end of the accommodation spectrum is all the same. So that entails a private room with it’s own shower room (this will be a similar size to your maid’s bathroom in Dubai)
Rooms are very well equipped with shelves, desk, wardrobe, wall hooks, bright large windows etc, but they are on the small side so really need to be kept organized and neat in order to find things.
My daughter is in one of 8 rooms that comprise one flat of many in a low rise modern building overlooking a green area. There is also a large bright kitchen and dining space for all 8 students to share.
You can choose mixed or single gender accommodation. We chose mixed and got a very comforting (for mum!) 6 girls and 2 boys, some boys chose mixed and got only boys!
It costs around 150 pounds a week (that’s outside London) and you can pay in installments, 40% first term, then 40% the second term and then the final 20%. I paid for the first installment over the phone with my credit card.
Update September 2017
Eldest daughter has graduated from uni with a BSc in Consumer Behaviour and Marketing and has just started working in London at her first full time job! Big Tick and Good Luck to all.
The younger daughter is off to London to study next week, has a smaller room but it costs nearer 240 UK pounds a week! But it’s walking distance to college and it’s ensuite.
Freshers Week is much more expensive but does include a day trip to France!
It’s easier booking your flights back to Dubai all at one go based on term time, the flights don’t get any cheaper, especially at those peak times.
The Lebara package I speak about below is still UK pounds 15 but now includes a whopping 6 GB of data, never runs out!
Moving in day?
My daughter opted to move in a day earlier than the suggested slot for her building as it suited us a bit better. The good part was you can nab your choice of kitchen drawer and up and down cupboards and set up house in a relatively calm environment as it’s quiet.
The bad part was when you leave them (one other girl had also arrived early) it can be quite lonely, but the next day everyone else will arrive and all will be friendly chaos. By the time I was almost back in London on the first night she was “chilling in the kitchen with the French girl” and also explored the Uni bar with her that first night!
Advice to your darlings when they go off to university?
Make as many friends as you can, join plenty of societies and make sure some of them are sports related so you stay fit. Communicate with home on a regular basis and never be afraid to talk to parents or siblings about anything at all.
Stay as organized as possible, it’s easy with all the apps there are now, even the banks have their own apps so you can monitor your spending easily.
Mums, stay as busy as possible so you don’t miss them too much between the holidays; December is only round the corner! Do try and eat fresh food sometimes and don’t be afraid to experiment, that’s the only way to improve in the kitchen and generally feel much better!
Communicating with them when they go off to university
Everyone has their own way of communicating, but opt for the cheap as possible or free for the most part especially in the beginning. There are a whole load of phone packages available in the UK and so much cheaper than here in Dubai, but we opted for the 15 pounds a month Lebara package, seems to work ok.
We mainly use What’s Ap for messages, pictures and voice messages, Facetime for the Apple devices and Skype as well. I would love to hear about what ways of communicating work best for you. A far cry from when my husband was at uni in the UK and called his parents once a week in Kenya from a local phone box using coins!
His dad wrote him letters informing him that they weren’t rich and by going to university he could really make something of his life with a good career so not to muck about! The same advice still applies, only now dispensed by regular Face Time chats!
For any students thinking about college in the United States, I urge you to watch the fascinating and award winning documentary Ivory Tower, I watched on my return to Dubai from London last September.
If any of you have any other tips then do drop me a comment, I would love to know. And if you think this article may be of use to any soon to be uni parents or students then please share. Hope you found it useful, I would LOVE to have known about the induction pans before hand!
Oh and stay subscribed for how ‘We survived year 2 sharing a private house with besties’…. SO DIFFERENT!
All the best and if anyone has any questions I’ll try and answer them here!