For those of you who are observing, Ramadan is a very special time of the year. While you might be used to the traditions surrounding it back home, observing the fasting month abroad could be an entirely different experience! Our columnist Novelita W. Mondamina (Veli) shares her experience observing Ramadan in Southampton, UK, while still carrying out her duties as a student.
Now that we are about two weeks into Ramadan, I am reminded of my Ramadan experience when I was a graduate student at the University of Southampton, UK, back in 2016. It was my first Ramadan abroad, which was exciting but also daunting at the same time, as I needed to make sure that I continued doing well at school.
Ramadan fell in June at that time, which means summer in the UK. Southampton, or Soton as we call it, is known as one of the warmest cities in the UK due to its southern location. Thankfully, however, Soton’s summer wasn’t too hard on us; it was sunny and crisp, and the temperature ranged between 12 and 17 degrees Celsius. It was a friendly weather for those who couldn’t drink or eat anything during the day.
However, being in that part of the world during that time of the year means longer days. As Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, I had to start fasting around 3am and could only break it around 9.30pm. That’s over 18 hours of fasting, more than the typical 14-hour I had been accustomed to back home.
For graduate students, June also meant preparation for final projects. Having to give your all to complete your academic task while fasting 18 hours per day was challenging, to say the least! I’d like to share with you how I did that with the help of my friends, but first, let’s talk about how to adapt to Ramadan abroad.
Adapting to a different kind of Ramadan
In Soton, Ramadhan felt like any other month. Muslims are a minority there, so you’d still see everyone around you eat and drink and carry on with their activities like normal. Luckily, the university is very inclusive as it embraces diversity in the student body. They provide prayer room for all religions. Every time I came in to the musalla (prayer hall) during Ramadan, I could feel the warmth of the holy month.
However, being away from home meant that I had to conquer homesickness. I missed family moments during Ramadan. Every time sunset of Maghrib was approaching, I always thought of “pasar Ramadan” that I used to see in Indonesia. We could buy some snacks or maybe a heavy meal there if we didn’t have enough time to cook for iftar (evening Ramadan meal). In Soton, it was better to cook for ourselves or share food between Muslim friends.
I also had to adapt to the different timing of Ramadan-related activities in the UK. The evening or Isha prayer only began at about 10.30pm, while suhur (pre-dawn meal) at 2am. As there wasn’t so much time in between, it could be quite tricky to arrange our schedules. If we slept after Isha, there was a chance that we would oversleep and miss suhur. Obviously, suhur was essential to provide us with the energy needed to go through the day. After all, classes were going full-time as usual. But sometimes we could still be full from iftar that we didn’t feel like eating much during suhur.
How could we best navigate this situation?
Nifty tips and tricks to survive Ramadan abroad
If you’re a student abroad, Ramadan means a new daily routine that you have to adjust to. For many people including myself, Ramadan is a sacred moment during which we shall evaluate and improve our faith. On the other hand, we also still have our own responsibilities, in this case as a student. It is therefore important to implement a “win-win” solution, in which time management is key.
This strategy might work better if you do it in team. For example, in order not to miss suhur, my house mates and I agreed to take turn to stay awake at night. We could work on our final project proposal then, or just relax and watch a movie. We then would sleep after dawn and wake up around 7.30am to get ready. Classes and supervision were usually done by 3 or 4pm, so there would be plenty of time until iftar.
A number of options were available to kill time: we could prepare food for iftar, rest and take a nap, or continue doing our assignments. It was also important for us to maintain communication between house mates to ensure everyone has had iftar or eaten suhur.
How to keep us awake during waiting time to suhur? Not eating too much during iftar is one solution. Eat in smaller portion, but a bit more frequently throughout the time that we have between iftar and suhur. Too heavy a meal can often lead us to a food coma. If this happens, we won’t be able to work on our assignments properly or we’ll probably sleep in during suhur.
More generally, it is essential to create to-do lists in order to keep our work on track while having an altered daily routine. Write down all the tasks that you need to complete in a given day on a scale of priority. This will help us accomplish things while in a somewhat compromised capacity due to fasting.
Group iftar and Eid al-Fitr celebration
That being said, it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of student life and miss on appreciating the special month. Don’t forget that there are festivities that we could only enjoy during Ramadan! Group iftar is one. This activity made up for the traditional Ramadan moments that I usually had with family back home.
It was quite difficult to get Indonesian food in Soton. So the best option was to cook ourselves and have a potluck session for a group iftar! Same thing for Eid celebration. At the end of the holy month, the Indonesian community in Soton, students or otherwise, celebrated Eid together by gathering in an open field and sharing our tasty, home-cooked Indonesian food.
All in all, I am very grateful for the memorable Ramadan I had in Soton. Who knows, I might have a second chance to experience another Ramadan in the UK. But for now, let us stay safe at home and get ready to welcome the holy month of Ramadan!
Photos provided by author.