This autumn, many young Ismailis in the United Kingdom, like myself, began the transition to university. Although it is a time of excitement and eagerness for independence, many of us will also feel apprehension at the prospect of living away from home for the first time, and being responsible for ourselves.
Suddenly, the idea of managing our own budgets, seeking out a new group of friends, and cooking for ourselves was dauntingly real. So it was greatly reassuring to receive a personal letter from the Ismaili Student Network (ISN) inviting us to join the network, and to attend their ‘Get Fresh' event in early September.
Arriving at the Ismaili Centre, London at midday – a suitable start time for a student event – I was unsure of what to expect. But I found myself at ease among students from universities as diverse as Edinburgh and Nottingham. Moreover, the entire event was co-ordinated and run by students and recent graduates.
Drawing on their experience was extremely useful. We were each presented with a copy of Alykhan Kassam's Ultimate Survival Guide for University, which provides essential advice such as the need to register with a GP, as well as less formal tips on stress reduction (“Place print-out on hard surface and bang head against...”)
Perhaps a better strategy for stress management was offered by Sameer Mawji, whose Student Finance session provided us with the tools to help us budget and avoid finding ourselves in the red. We were each given a blank budget to work through, and assistance with filling it in.
The exercise was an eye-opener, as we were introduced to less obvious costs such as books, gym memberships and travel. We picked up advice from current students, such as how to make the most of student discounts and seeking out the highest interest-free overdraft in a student bank account.
The day also included talks addressing other matters, such as maintaining balance in life. Alwaez Mohammed Sachedina reminded us of the importance of maintaining a balance between the worldly and spiritual dimensions of our lives. Shalina Ibrahim talked about opportunities to offer service during our time at university. Her personal accounts inspired many of the participants to get involved through the ISN or in other ways.
A highlight of the day was the cooking demonstration given by Pinky Lilani, who showed us how to prepare a couple of mouth-watering dishes in minutes. She also generously gave each of us a copy of her book, Spice Magic, along with copious amounts of motherly advice – both of which are sure to come in handy.
This was then followed by an ISN presentation detailing its objectives and the benefits of membership. Each participant received a sheet with their ISN representative's details as well as details of the nearest Jamatkhana, along with a “take-home pack” of items from a list of university essentials to packets of sun lotion (perhaps for those planning a year abroad?) We were also introduced to the “Cookies and Conversation” initiative, as a programme aimed at youth to explore matters of faith. The day finished with a dinner for participants, speakers and ISN representatives, enabling us to establish contacts, share knowledge and arrange to help each other out.
Overall, the day provided us with a great chance to get to meet those heading to our universities, as well as to receive some important information and advice before the start of our university lives. The importance of the network, as a means of meeting new students, and as a web of support throughout our university lives has become very clear indeed, and I am sure the latest cohort to join the ISN will be willing to become involved in as many ways as possible.