17 Ali Goes to University
(By Chris Rose)
Ali couldn't wait until September. Finally, his life was going to change. June had been terrible, with all those school-leaving exams to do. He spent July waiting. The exam results finally arrived in August. He was worried when the envelope with the exam results in it arrived at their house one morning. He didn't think he'd done very well in his exams. He wasn't the most intelligent or studious boy in his school, he knew that. However, it was really important for him to do well. Ali absolutely had to get out of the small town where he lived. He had to do well in his school-leaving exams so that he could go to university and get away from his hometown.
For Ali, going to university wasn't a chance to develop his education or to pursue academic interests. It was a chance to get away from his hometown and his parents, to meet lots of new people, to stop being a child and become an adult, to become a new and totally different person. The town he lived in was a very small town in the countryside. It had one school and one pub. There were a few shops on the main street. There wasn't anywhere for young people to meet, so they spent time walking up and down on the main street. Everybody knew everybody else in his town. There was never anything new, or different, or unusual. It was boring, very, very boring. Ali couldn't wait to leave. The town was too small for him, he thought. He had other ideas. He had big ambitions . He didn't really know what his ideas or ambitions were yet, but he was sure he had them. And when he went to university, he was going to find out what they were.
His hands trembled as he opened the envelope. He took out the letter,and sighed with relief. It was OK. He hadn't done brilliantly, but his grades were good enough. He had got a place at the University of Rummidge . The course started in September.
When he got off the train at the main station in Rummidge, he felt free at last. Rummidge wasn't the oldest university in Britain, nor the most prestigious , but Ali didn't mind. For him, it was a new world, a new start.
Life in Rummidge was fantastic. He was away from his parents and his hometown. He spent his evenings going to bars and clubs. He spent his days asleep, mostly. He studied as little as possible. He had to do some exams at the end of the year, but that was a long way off yet. He didn't worry too much about his parents, either. He felt free and independent for the first time in his life.
Being free and independent, however, also meant that Ali had to cook for himself and do his own washing. This was a problem. Up until now, Ali's mum had always done everything for him. His problems were solved, however, when Katia appeared.
Katia was a girl who shared the same apartment with Ali. One evening, Ali was in the kitchen and trying to cook pasta. He didn't know what to do. Katia walked into the kitchen and cooked a delicious simple meal with spaghetti and tomatoes and olives. Ali was amazed.
Ali and Katia started to meet quite often. He started to miss a lot of his lectures and classes. He forgot to write the essays and do the assignments he had to do. Eventually his tutor called Ali into his office.
Listen, Ali, said his tutor, "If you don't start working harder, you will fail your first year." Ali wasn't that worried though. He could catch up on the essays, and he was sure that if he studied a bit before the end of year exams he would pass them. He may not get great grades, but it would be OK.
One day, there was a knock on the door of his room. It was Femi. Femi was a girl from Africa who was doing the same course as Ali. He hadn't spoken to her much.
You've been missing a lot of classes recently.
So what? said Ali, "They're boring. Everything's boring."
Why don't you go back home, then? asked Femi.
Home's boring too, said Ali.
I'd love to be able to go home, said Femi, "but I love it here too. I'm lucky to be here. You don't know how lucky you are." Femi sat down and began to tell Ali her story. She had been the brightest, most intelligent girl in her class at school, and she had hoped to be able to go to university. However, she was from a small town, her parents were not rich, and it was very unlikely that she would be able to follow her dream and go on to study at university. When she finished school, she would have to find a job and work until she got married. That was the way things worked in her country. But she had not given up, and continued to study. Eventually she won a grant to be able to come and study in the UK.
I love it here. I love the freedom and independence you have. I never get bored for one minute.
Ali didn't say anything while Femi told him her story. But he was listening very carefully.
When I finish my degree, I hope to be able to do a Master's degree. Then I'm going to go back home and be a teacher. I want to be able to make a difference in my country. Yes, it might be boring compared to here. But I think about all those people who haven't been as lucky as I was. I think about the people who don't have a chance to get out. And I know that if I don't do something, it will always stay that way.
Femi's story affected Ali a lot. He felt a bit ashamed and embarrassed about his ignorance. He realized now how lucky he was, and how little he understood how lucky he was.
The final exams are approaching. Ali didn't really know what to do after the exams. He hoped he was going to pass them. Perhaps he could go to Africa. He could perhaps meet up with Femi there. Or perhaps he could go back home. He could go back to his boring, little hometown, and he could try to make a difference there.