Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Need Advice

So I've been living in Holland for around 5 weeks now, and so far it's been a pretty good experience. Of course it was stressful to find an apartment, buy furniture & accessories, find my way around The Hague, and just get used to being on my own. However I thought it would get better once I started meeting people and once I got used to the university I'm going to be doing my Masters at, Leiden.

I signed up for 2 introduction programs: one was for 5 days, the other for 10. The 5-day one started yesterday and it didn't really go very well. All the new students were put into groups, and I was part of a mixed Dutch/International group. The people in my group were really nice and friendly, and it was lots of fun until I realized that from 6:30 pm onwards, the program revolved around drinking and partying.

Islam isn't the only reason I don't drink alcohol: I generally didn't drink it before I became a Muslim either, because I hate the strong taste of it. I also hate partying/clubbing - I would rather go out for coffee or have a dinner party. I hate loud, smoky, atmospheres where everyone is drunk.

Because it was part of the program, I found myself in an awkward position: leave, and be the one person who left; or stay, and not enjoy myself at all. I stayed, but today I quit the program. Most students at Leiden clearly love to party, and that's just not me. People I've asked advice from so far have just said that the kinds of people who dont like to party wouldn't have signed up for this program anyway, and so I'll only get to meet them later, in classes and so on.

The problem is the other introduction thing I signed up for starts next Monday and I've already paid for it. In the morning and afternoon it consists of Dutch language, history, culture, etc, so I really want to do that. But at night it consists of pub crawls, drinks, and dinners. So yeah. Should I just not go to those? Or find a way to enjoy myself there? I just don't want to be the one awkward/weird person that always leaves and never goes to the social events you know? It's a small group of 54 people so people will obviously notice if I'm not there. Plus I would like to go out and meet new people and make friends.

Being a Muslim in a non-Muslim country is a little harder than I expected. Being the only one who doesn't drink; being the only student (it seems) who doesn't like to party; having to make sure everything I eat is halal; having to explain that I'm fasting - these are all things I took for granted in Cairo.

I really hope I'll meet people who are more like me once classes start. Maybe the kinds of people in these programs just like to party and drink. After all, they're mostly Bachelors students.

Anyway, the question is what to do about next week's program. Any advice?


SirAdib.com said...

I'd say its better to just stay away from the social areas that would affect you spiritually.

I've done it too many times.

Anonymous said...

I completely understand how you feel! I have come across this same problem at my job. When people want to get together outside of work it is always at a bar or a club or involves drinking in some way.

At first I just declined offers, then people stopped asking, and I also became the "anti-social" outcast of my office. I am sooo not like that too !!! Anyways, I just accepted it but it really made me hate my job.

Now, at my new job, I have made the decision to socialize but on my own terms. For example, I ask people to go for walks around the pond we have at work during our break. But yet, I still will never compromise myself and go to a club or a bar. Even if I were to order orange juice, it still just feels wrong for me to be in a bar, so I understand you not having a good time if you did end up going..

It is a strange situation, all I can advise is to be the forward one when it comes to making friends, and invite people to study together, get coffee together, do constructive things together, like going hiking, to the museums, etc... and of course meeting fellow Muslims helps also :)

When I converted to Islam was when I noticed how enmeshed drinking is with socializing, especially when first getting to know people. Alcohol has become the official ice breaker..There are people out there who do more than that, you just have to get in with the intellectuals, you know, the one's who enjoy meeting over coffee and discussing all things under the sun :) In college, I met many professors and students going for their masters/PHD's who also happen to be older and more mature; and enjoyed going to lunch or having people over for dinner & conversation. This is my favorite crowd of people :)

Good luck with making your way through socializing and being true to your identity, and good for you!

WhiteOrchid said...

I think you shoould go to this introduction program but leave before the partying begins. There's no need for you to cut yourself off completely. Just don't be with them when they drink or stuff. Sure they'll notice you've left but anything could happen if you join them ( not to say you'll succumb to temptation, but you get what im saying yeah? :)

I'm hoping to transfer to a uni in England for my final year which begins in September, inshallah, and I am really worried about these issues as well :S

Sarah the Seeker said...

Aw... I really sympathise, it must be quite a shock if you've never seen anything like this. Northern Europe is just like nowhere else when it comes to drinking. It pervades nearly everything. It really upsets me how much pressure young undergrads are under to drink themselves senseless, without even realising it. Like sheep, people just do what's expected.

This is why I think I would recommend avoiding the drinking sessions, and also being frank with people about your reasons. This is a chance to make people think and give them another perspective! Be proud of what you think about alcohol - you are the sensible one!

I'm sure you can socialise on the programme during the day, so I think still do it. The dinners might be OK too, most restaurants will have a vegetarian/fish option, and the drinking is not the main focus so it's easier to deal with. You might also be able to spot people in the group who are not so into the drinking, who might be open to going for a coffee instead.

I'm not one for avoiding bars completely, it depends on the situation. I have some friends who drink very moderately, and I am happy to be with them in "civilised" places that serve alcohol. But I feel that being around people who are drinking to get drunk is a waste of time. I can be friends with them to some extent but not join them for nights out. You will learn to judge and assess situations as you get more familiar with the culture; you will know how to avoid what you are not comfortable with.

Don't despair... not everyone in Europe is a binge-drinker, although I can see why it seems that way at first... they make the most "noise"! Look out for the ones who are like you. I'm sure as you say, your fellow Masters students will tend to be more mature. When I did my Masters I made some really good friends, many of us were a bit older and more settled. (Ironically the PhD students seem less mature!)

Congratulations, by the way, for getting onto a Masters course; mashallah that is an achievement. Striking out on your own in a new country is a brave thing to do, as well. I pray you make some great friends too!

Faith in Writing said...

I think just go to the parts you want to (lectures etc) but excuse yourself when it comes to pubcrawling. I don't think you should be looked down on for that, and if you are well, that's their problem. You WILL find people more like yourself in good time, I'm sure.
When I was at uni, 10yrs ago now,we had the same thing. EVerything at the college where I lived revolved around drinking and partying. EVen where I lived the responsible people made us do boat races (sculling wine and punch). And at my old work place people always thought I was so "straight" because I never talked about going out drinking. I got over it at uni and I only drank occasionally after that.
But you'll always find friends like you, and, like me, I have friends who go out drinking and partying but I see them at other times. I go for coffee or lunch or we have dinner occasionally.

Jasmine said...

I say: go to your course and don't make being Muslim a burden on you! At Uni, I went to everything in my first weeks for the first hour or two and didn't drink - just cokes.
I would say go for long enough to say hello to people, and then dash off soon after it kicks off. The partying only lasts for the first 2 weeks to break the ice, and then people gradually split off into their groups : the coffee drinkers, the clubbers, the sandwich eaters etc etc. The first two weeks is like doing a little PR campaign - making yourself visible, making yourself known: representing yourself and finding out who people are and where they hang out etc. Friendships I think are made in the classes themselves. The best friends I made at Uni were the ones who were in my tutor groups, we'd go for cofees and chat about our work and so on. So...I say be patient with it.

It worked to my benefit at Uni (not being able to be there for the whole time I mean) - I used to go and literally run up to everyone and say:"Hi, sorry I can't stay long, but I wanted to say hello before I left! I'm Jasmine - give me a shout if you fancy a coffee after the lecture" with a big smile - people remember you and appreciate it because they are all scared about being able to get on with people as well - and 70% of them are only drinking there out of peer pressure and a desire to make friends. I would wager a bet that at least 10 out of 50 are secretly hoping they don't have to do this partying stuff for long. ;0)

Thats all just my opinion, and I have not been there, seen these people or met these people and I could be very wrong in what I say.

Ultimately - do what you feel is best, and make sure you don't do things out of negatives like fear and worry or anxiety - but rather out of positives like it will benefit you, be good for you, be healthy for you and so on.

Nothing is better for you then to hold your head up high, be yourself and represent what you believe in ALL SITUATIONS because post-graduation, the world will be full of these situations and you can't avoid everything for your whole life ;0D


Anonymous said...

I would agree with what others said: go to the day programme and avoid the night socialising. This is how I live my life as a Muslim in Europe. Later on you will be able to suggest dinners instead of parties or maybe just join the colleagues for the first part of the evening when you're at restaurant and leave once the head to bars and clubs.

With time people will accept you and your life style, and i strongly believe this is the best dawah we can give.

Good luck and don't despair.


Mrs. S said...

Definitely one option is to just attend the day sessions and skip the nighttime festivities. Another option is to just go for an hour or so, not drink but still put in face time. This is usually what I did during college. My husband developed his bar game skills, and spent a lot of time playing darts and chatting with his not-so-drunk friends.

We both have friends who drink, and alcohol is always involved in my office’s functions. I just use my work events as an opportunity to network. It helps that most people don’t binge drink at work. When our friends have parties we just don’t drink at them, and if we meet them for “drinks” we usually choose a more upscale place that isn’t exclusively a bar or a restaurant.

It’s not perfect, and I know some people will say it is haram to even patronize a place with alcohol, but it boils down to personal choice and your level of comfort.

Good luck!

xoxo, nadia said...

It would be alright to leave before the partying starts.

But, if you find another program that you like more than this one, and it doesn't consist of partying then go for it.

my tutor makes all of us bring some snacks for the class each week. i didn't eat what everyone else brought because it wasn't halal and when it was my turn, it was during ramadhan. so i made sure i brought enough for everyone and that's when people noticed that i didn't eat anything.

they never used to notice haha. that's how i got the chance to explain to the class about ramadhan :D

Candice said...

I agree with most of the others: Go during the day and take off for the party parts. I do that and people don't seem to mind. They respect my choices and I'm sure it could be the same for you.

I also have a few friends and acquaintances that don't drink though so maybe that helps the situation.

I think you should finish the ones you signed up for and stick to less party groups in the future :p BTW, congrats on starting your masters!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hey everyone,

Thank you so much for posting! It really helped me feel better about next week. I think I'm going to go to the morning/afternoon stuff and then see whether to go in the evening. On some nights there are non-drinking activities, so I might go to those and skip the drinking activities, like the pub crawl.

I have to skip Monday evening anyway to go to the airport so hopefully people will be understanding =)

Thanks again to everyone who commented, I really needed help :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

SirAdib - that's good advice. In the end my spirituality comes above what people think of me.

Sarah Elizabeth: drinking is definitely very enmeshed with everything in Europe. It's very normal to have a drink with every meal/at every outing. There's nothing wrong with that of course.
Like you said, when I meet more people I can ask them to do stuff I like, that doesn't involve clubbing or bar hopping.

WhiteOrchid: while there are many upsides to living in Europe, this is definitely one downside. I hope things go well in England!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah the Seeker: yes, drinking really does pervade everything here. I just need to find people who don't like drinking to the extent that everything they do revolves around it. Like you said, there is so much pressure on undergrads to drink and party, so you can't even tell who likes it and who doesn't.

Faith in Writing: I'm sure that with time I will find people more like me, inshallah :) And yeah, I think it'd be weird for me to go to the events like pubcrawling.

Jasmine - lots of good advice :D I will definitely make sure to socialize a lot, and I'm sure with time I'll find people who like the stuff I do. Like you said, life will be full of these situations, so I should confront them now instead of push them away.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Natalia - I think that's what I'll do: go to the parts that don't revolve around drinking and partying, and leave when I start to feel umcomfortable. Where in Europe do you live?

Mrs S. - showing up for a bit at these events is probably a good idea. I could then just make an excuse and leave when people get too drunk or when they decide to go to a party or something.

xoxo, nadia: well I'm probably also going to have to explain about Ramadan, since the last 2 days of the program I'll be fasting =) But I hope that won't be a problem. Most of the people are international students and should be open-minded. Inshallah there will be other Muslims there too.

Candice: yeah, I'm sure most of the people there won't have a problem with me not drinking/partying. Inshallah with time I'll meet people more like me.

FutureGirl said...

I say always do what you think is best and let no outside element such as another's opinions or potential opinions, thoughts or potential thoughts, feelings or potential feelings influence you in any way shape or form - this is the secret to happiness!
Aviod over-thinking - do what feels natural: and when you get to a moment that feels unnatual - desist. ;0)
Love and smiles, FGxx

Sara said...

Just attend all your classes than you need to and be very anti social- thats what I would probably do.

Umm Omar said...

eeew, this is tough. I've been in this same position many times and it's so hard to do the right thing, whatever that is. Because of the program I was in in college and even grad school, I was among a cohort, so naturally, all of us got to know each other well and became somewhat friends over the years. For me, it wasn't just the drinking and those types of social events, but it was the language (like constant swearing), manners, and general behavior that was all opposed to the type of lifestyle I tried to live. I was social and involved, but I kept my distance at the same time. Yeah, I'm not going to be as "tight" with them as the others, but what can I do? As Muslims, we don't compromise our beliefs to complement anyone. Also, whenever they would ask me to do something I didn't want to do, like go out to a bar or something, I would try hard not to be apologetic or quiet. Instead I would say something lighthearted (and serious) like, "no thanks, I like having lots of brain cells." They would laugh and get the point at the same time.
Be strong, honey and just be yourself. Insha'Allah, your peers will respect you for it, and you never know, maybe you'll influence another to follow your lead.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

FutureGirl - you're 100% right but it's hard to do that a lot of the time, because inevitably you always end up thinking about what other people think of you :S Need to work on that!

Sara - well I went to all my classes today and talked and chatted to people, but didn't go to the social events, mostly because I had to say bye to my family who are going back to Cairo, but also because I didn't really want to be in a position where everyone's drinking. So hopefully I'll be able to keep it up.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Umm Omar - that's pretty much what I did today - went to all the classes and socialized but didn't go to the dinner thing, but mostly because I had to go to the airport to say bye to my family.
On some nights there are nice events - movie night, games night, BBQ, etc, so I think I might go to those. On other nights there are drinks/pub crawling so I'll probably skip them.

G said...

Well I have a theory. A lot of people drink not because they want to party but it helps loosen them up. Some of the best conversations I've had have been with people who have had a couple of drinks, because it relaxes them enough to drop away some of their insecurities. It might be hard to imagine but most of these conversations have happened in parties.

So I would say maybe you should try to go to some of these dinners. You don't have to go to clubs if you don't want to. But you should just know that being in a club doesn't necessarily mean you have to drink and dance the night away. Some people just like the music, the crowd and a good drink while sitting down for a chat.

Besides that I think you should go through with he program because the mornings sound amazing. I am sure that even if you do not go to the party scene, you will definitely find people who aren't into it too. Many people will go in the orientation just because that's the "way it goes" as you said. It could be peer pressure.

Of course if you don't like to be around people who are drinking then just chose the events you want to go to. That is in no way antisocial. Sooner or later you will find people with same interests. The most important thing is not to over think things and stress yourself about it.

Making friends need time, especially when you are interesting enough not to fit into the "I'm a partying drunken college student."

I really see amazing social times in your future!! Don't give up and don't pressure yourself into anything that makes you uncomfortable!!