Living away from home may be a new experience for many students, particularly those travelling for the first time. As you settle into university life, you start getting used to routines around your university schedule, attending classes and extracurricular activities. Being in a foreign country, you may also be curious where you can keep to your own cultural practices, be it by observing your dietary needs, lifestyle-based customs or even find spaces to observe your religious rights. So to help you with that, we have put together a few tips on where you can find the familiar comforts of home while you experience your student life in the UK.
Nearly 10%** of the student population in UK universities are Muslims, so be rest assured that food and beverage services in UK universities are set up to serve the dietary needs of Muslim students. Each university will have customised menus to include halal food items so do check with your own university cafe or restaurants for the options available. University restaurant staff are also trained to handle food according to Muslim dietary laws.
Aside from that, halal food and ingredients from Asia or the Middle East are easily available in major supermarkets and neighbourhood corner shops. There may be one that is within walking distance to your campus accommodation. Speak to student associations to find out where the local chains are.
Alternatively you can drop into any of the major supermarkets to pick up your own selection of ingredients if you prefer to cook, which for most students is the budget-friendly option. Supermarkets that cater to Muslim kitchens include Morrisons, which has an extensive range of halal meat that is clearly labelled for the customer. Tesco offers halal ingredients in its physical shops as well as on its online channels. This includes meat, sweets, yogurt, cheese and soft drinks. If you want halal ready meals, then try Marks & Spencer, which rolled out this range of products in November 2019.
As you know, living in the UK offers you the opportunity to taste dishes from all over the world, ranging from affordable meals to posh plates that cater to all sorts of tastes. But, sometimes when you’re homesick, you crave for mum’s nasi lemak with chicken rendang and petai sambal or that simple chicken curry that can be replicated in your own student kitchen. Don’t fret about finding ingredients as there are many ways to start filling up your larder with curry powder, ginger, galangal or bird’s eye chillies from well-stocked Asian shops. Most of these mini markets are budget-friendly so not to worry about busting the bank when picking up your favourite soya sauce or instant noodles. These shops also sell homeware, kitchen tools and appliances for your cooking needs.
There are also plenty of choices if you’re after meat-free dishes as most UK supermarkets are well-equipped to meet the vegan and vegetarianism demands. Find your soya mince or tofu supply for your stir-fries and curries in supermarkets or Asian grocery shops. You can also try out the multiple flavours of vegetarian meats from mock sausages to burger meats. These mock meats are typically made out of mushrooms, garbanzo beans and other legumes, and vegetables. Trendy food markets such as local farmers’ markets are also go-to places if you want to shop like a local or simply fill your belly with street food on offer.
Places of worship
Each university has customised facilities to cater to the multi-faith student community, so feel free to explore the campus grounds to find spaces that work for you.
For Muslim students, take note that most universities offer separate prayer rooms for male and female students with attached ablution facilities. Some universities like University of London employ a Muslim imam to lead Friday prayers, while others universities have active Islamic societies that organises events or talks and related activities for its Muslim members.
If you are after services for other faiths, there are Buddhist centres, Gurdwaras, chaplaincies and Hindu temples open for worship. Do check with the university student services or students union affiliated societies who can give you information on the centre closest to you, whether you are living on or off campus. Please be reminded that during current times there may be local rules about taking part in masses or gatherings. Prayer sessions that may be allowed need to adhere to local standard operating procedures and comply with social distancing rules. The events may also be organised virtually through Zoom gatherings or live stream sessions.
British universities are secular but are mindful to offer multi-faith prayer rooms. You are encouraged to use these spaces for prayer, meditation or calm contemplation. They all offer opportunities for students to relax and explore faith and spirituality. Usually these rooms are free and require no booking, staying open during operating hours of the university. Some campuses offer quiet rooms as well for your use. Always check with your own campus for specific information.
However if multi-faith prayer rooms do not suit your needs, there are also extensive directories for you to research for nearby facilities and about other religious communities around London, and within your own local university community.