By Khadija Meghrawi, Third Year, Medicine
At first glance, having the best student experience and the best faith experience seem like two roads that fork into separate directions. However my faith didn't hinder my Fresher's week, it actually enhanced my experience.
Take a shot every time someone mentions “sober” and “fresher’s week” in the same sentence without a negative. It’s an impossible game because a) it’s an impossible condition and b) we can’t drink anyway. You’ll find it to be one of the few drinking games where everyone is completely sober at the end. Ideal for me and other tee-total Muslim freshers ironically.
This time two years ago, I was frantically google searching Fresher’s Week Guides, and a quick check again this year sums it up: “Bristol freshers week guide 2019 – Clubs, Bars, and What To Do.” As a student of faith, being a fresher but feeling excluded from fresher culture can feel quite isolating. Unfortunately, the timetable of “drink club sleep repeat” that the last week of September brings doesn’t quite have scheduled prayer breaks.
And even when no-one is drinking the alcohol, they’re talking about it. Favourite clubs, favourite drinks, favourite pubs…it seems to be the only way students know how to make conversation. Far too many times I’ve heard crickets chirp after everyone in the circle yells out their favourite pre-drink and then turn to you for an answer.
What is it about being sober that makes people think you’re a killjoy? Maybe it’s the word itself. Even not in the context of alcohol, bad news or disappointment is a “sobering experience”. Doesn’t quite cover renting a bike at 12am with a group of hijabis and riding along the harbourside! Controversial as it sounds, you can have a great time without drinking, I promise. You can even, dare I say it, have fun having faith (quite proud of the alliteration there). You just have to find people who believe you can too.
My faith kept me grounded
That’s the solution – it’s about realising you’re not the only one and finding the people that feel the same. And there are so many groups to find once you start looking. In fact, some of my favourite experiences have been at freshers’ events with the Islamic Society, and Muslim Medics. Going to a screening of Four Lions and trying not to chuckle at the offensive jokes, then looking around and realising the three people behind you are laughing too. Getting lost on the way to the multifaith chaplaincy with those same people for the next event but finding out luckily that you made it just in time for the free pancakes. One of the guys getting way too invested in the game of laser tag and “accidently” headbutting an ex committee girl. Even without alcohol, you don’t miss the full fresher experience, including trips to A&E in this case.
And faith isn’t the only thing you can have in common with people. The great thing about students is that they’re passionate about all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Students for Global Health was another society I became involved with for example, and even if I can’t remember every statistic that first speaker said, it got us talking, and I’ll remember the spontaenous trip to Taka Taka afterwards because we could still tick off that criteria for being a Bristol student without it being 2am after a night out.
Make sure you make space for yourself.
Faith was never something that held me back in freshers. It actually enhanced it. Without my faith, it would have been far harder to find groups of people to get to know and activities to do. It gives you a discussion point, a common cause. There’s a guarantee you’ll find someone to go and find the nearest halal takeaway with (priorities). And yes, there are the more serious issues that you become more aware of as a faith student. Islamophobia, antisemitism and other forms of discrimination that even if subtle are important to stay vigilant of. But this doesn’t mean alienation from student culture, instead you become a part of it even more. You join a movement alongside others from so many walks of life all in solidarity against all forms of prejudice.
And my faith kept me grounded. Instead of downloading a trendy wellbeing app, I was praying five times a day, and it really never fails to clear my head from the anxiety that the constant freshers buzz can sometimes build up into. Even if prayer’s not for you, mental health is important to look out for during this time of change. Make sure you make space for yourself.
So, at first glance, having the best student experience and the best faith experience seem like two roads that fork into separate directions. You might feel like forging a path for yourself in between will be a lonely effort. But to your surprise, if you look down you’ll find it already there: trodden, more well-worn than you expected. Look up and there’ll be a map, and some helping hands to guide you.
Featured: courtesy of Khadija.
Did your faith hold you back in Freshers' week?