The transition from high school/college to university is arguably one of the most important transitions in a person’s life. Although we may deem ourselves to be adults before coming to the university, living alone is an experience that truly solidifies that. On top of maintaining our academics, we’re hit with numerous responsibilities that a mature person will gladly take on. However, it may be useful to at least lend ear to others’ similar experience/journey because it will probably have similarities to yours. That’s the intent of this article, as well as to shed light on the experience from the vantage of a Muslim female wearing hijab. I think it will be useful to simply share my own experience in the hope it will be helpful.
Before Committing to a University
One of the most important things about settling into university is getting a feel of the environment. I would suggest going on multiple trips to your desired university: get a feel for the students – are they more studious? Are they more social? A healthy mix of studious and social? This will help you determine if the personality of the campus agrees with you.
Also, take a look at the places surrounding the campus, this will give you a deeper understanding of the university’s social life. For example, if the campus is surrounded by bars and nothing else, it may not be the most encouraging place for the personal growth you are looking for. Be on the lookout for fun activities surrounding the college too in case you need a study break.
Dorms and Dining Halls
This really just depends on the university you are attending. I know many big universities in the United States require students to live on campus for their first year and force them to have a roommate unless they can afford the more expensive single-dorm rooms. Purchasing meal plans is also often forced when living in university facilitated dorms. This places many Muslims, especially women who wear the hijab, into uncomfortable situations.
When choosing a dorm, I know it may seem natural to start off with a dorm that is your gender only, but from my experience, it didn’t matter much. The boys were allowed in the girls dorm as long as they had a female walking beside them, and they were even allowed to stay the night (please check with your university’s policy on this. Of course, a specified gender facility without the opposite gender allowed is most ideal, but in this society it is a rarity. Mixed-gender dorms usually have female and males on different floors, or even separated by wing). This made it seem like I was constantly living in a mixed-gender facility. For this reason, I suggest trying to live in a dorm where there are a highly concentrated amount of people with your major, since the dorms are never truly segregated anyway. Living among people with a similar major will help with adjusting to the new social dynamics and even with the new load of school work.
If you have to eat at the facilities on campus, be sure to ask around where the halal (if there are any) and vegetarian options are. I know, at least for me, there was a dining hall aimed mostly at vegetarians and even had a small window to order halal and kosher meat options too. The downside was that the halal meat was not readily available, so you had to wait longer to receive it.
Getting Along with Your Roommate(s)
The roommate horror stories are real. The sleepless nights, loud Face-time calls, and the surprise uninvited guests staring at you from YOUR desk when you get back from classes.
Most universities randomly assign roommates. That can really make your college experience less than ideal, especially when the two people hold contrasting ideas and values.
The most essential part of getting along with your roommate is sitting down and discussing expectations you have of another so you create an environment of understanding. If they do something that causes you to feel uncomfortable or feel as if your privacy/property has been disrupted, be sure to speak up.
Do small acts of kindness for another. If you are taking out your trash and notice your roommate’s trash is overflowing, just take theirs out too. Offer some food if you notice they are running low; ask if they need anything from the store. College is hard, and people usually appreciate the help. Make this an opportunity to teach them about Islam through your actions.
They may also do little things that annoy you; try to be patient with them and ignore the small things. It will save you loads of stress.
Women and Hijab
First of all, for every woman, it is important to have some form of self-defense. Join a self-defense class, or at the very least practice screaming and make sure you are able to run out of a dangerous situation. Walk on a well-lit path at night and always be aware of your surroundings. Have your phone in your hand while walking but avoid the aimless scrolling through social media.
As I mentioned before, living in the university residences can be hard. It is even more difficult for the ladies who decide to wear the hijab. Hopefully, these tips can help :
- Buy an instant hijab. Right now. It will save your life for those 7 am fire-drills, in case any men are in the hallway while you are on your way to the shower, and relief from hijab fussing after a sleepless night of studying.
- Always have a hijab, hoodie, and slip-on shoes by the door for emergency situations.
- Buy a long robe with a hood so you can quickly run to the shower (if men are allowed in your dorm).
- Take your showers in the early morning or later at night so it is less crowded.
- Place your hijab accessories in the same spot so you don’t misplace them and spend forever looking for them.
- Pack scarves that are comfortable and quick to put on. Only bring one or two “nice” ones for job interviews/job fairs.
- Bring a professional hijab friendly outfit because you will most likely need it.
- Keep hijab pins, if you use them, in your bookbag and in your purse.
- Don’t use magnetic hijab pins. The wind, your bookbag, pulling the scarf… anything can rip them off
- If it is summer, keep your hijabs and under caps in the fridge until you are ready to use them. They won’t be cool forever, but it will offer some relief.
It will seem like everyone is looking at you in the beginning, and honestly, they are, but don’t worry about it! Usually, they are really curious or thinking about what they should have for lunch. Just smile at them! But if they happen to want to argue with you, being assertive usually makes them stop very quickly. If they threaten you, make sure you get somewhere safe and tell someone who works at the university.
It may be natural to stick with your old friends that are attending the same university or to hang out with people of your ethnic group. This is okay in moderation, but if you are at university to grow, then how are your expanding your worldview? Reach out to people you usually never speak to; compliment people; ask your classmates for help; help other people who are struggling; join study groups; join clubs that interest you; talk with domestic and international students. University is a really good time to meet a bunch of new people, but often times remember, you will be people’s ambassador to real Islam, so uphold your Islamic manners at all times.
Don’t be disheartened if you do not find a good friend group at the beginning of university. I often would have new friends every week during the first month of the semester. Around my 4th month is when things got better – I really started to connect with people then and found friends that stuck from both my classes and clubs.
Enjoy the Ride
During every phase of life, we look to the next one in anticipation. This is a mistake – the college years will go by faster than we expect. They will set some of our most intense memories because for most people, it is our first truly independent experience. Take advantage of the fact that your memories will be with you. Create ones that will be meaningful and don’t follow the crowds that are wasting their opportunity with intoxicants. Take walks around campus, especially to new places you’ve never seen, and then the town. Study in new places, new coffee shops, and restaurants.
Learn, as much as possible…
Remember, society has lifted its burden from you for a short window, so you can intensely learn before getting thrown to the wolves. Don’t imagine the rest of life will be so carefree. Use the time to truly learn a set of skills that will catapult your career. Your classes will only partially contribute to this. More than anything, this has to come from you, sitting down, and focusing for hours at a time, and working through your Major’s problems.