Studying overseas during the festive season can be difficult for many overseas Singaporean students, especially if they are away from their family. Atiqah Abdul Rahman, 3rd Year Medical Student in the University of Glasgow and Radiya Jamari, University of Oxford share their experiences as they spend their first Hari Raya in the UK.
How did you feel knowing that you were going to celebrate Hari Raya overseas this year?
Even though I have been studying in the United Kingdom (UK) for the past 5 years, this was my first Raya away from home. With exams looming just a week after Eid, it was difficult for me to truly take a day off and celebrate Eid.
This year marks my first Hari Raya away from home. I consider myself lucky: for the past three years I spent in London completing my undergraduate degree, the end of Ramadan had always roughly coincided with the end of my exams. This meant I had the good fortune of being able to ‘balik kampung’ to celebrate Hari Raya – a luxury I knew many of my Chinese friends did not have, since Chinese New Year tended to fall in the middle of term-time. This year, however, my exam timetable warranted that I would spend Hari Raya stuck in Oxford, where I am currently completing my postgraduate degree.
How did you prepare for Hari Raya while you were overseas?
My friends in the UK encouraged me to join in their Raya dinner, and we all decided to cook a Raya dish that is special to our family. As most Singaporean students are back home to enjoy their summer break, the Eid dinner that we organised involved friends from other countries such as Brunei and Malaysia.
It was truly a unique experience, as even though we are neighbours that share a common cultural root, our Eid cuisines and practices were quite different. It was my first time trying Kelupis, a glutinous rice roll cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in Nyirik leaf. This Bruneian dish is an Eid staple which most families would enjoy with peanut or curry dip. As for me, I cooked Kuah Lodeh, a vegetable dish that gets its distinctive milky yellow hue from turmeric and coconut milk. The dinner became a cultural exchange that all of us immensely enjoyed and took delight in. To ensure that I cooked it perfectly, I video called my mother and we chatted for the entire hour I spent creating the dish. It felt bittersweet cooking ‘alongside’ her, as she prepared the exact same dish for my family’s Raya feast.
Lontong was one of the dishes Atiqah prepared for her celebration.
Months prior, my Singaporean friends and I had made a pact, “Radiya, how about you plan Chinese New Year for us, and we plan Hari Raya for you?” Deal, I said – partially oblivious to the skewed division of labour this implied. Our Chinese New Year celebration consisted of a pretty simple tze char-style dinner, but my friends were quite happy.
For Hari Raya, we decided to meet for a short study session before celebrating as exams were approaching. As I stepped into my friend’s living room, the familiar tune of Rahimah Rahim’s ‘Selamat Berhari Raya’ filled the air. “Feels like the Raya vibes at home, right?” my friends queried as I laughed. While slightly comical, I appreciated my friends’ valiant attempts at recreating the festive atmosphere. After studying, we celebrated at my favourite Asian restaurant in Oxford, where I fulfilled my craving for rendang – a Hari Raya staple.
Radiya Jamari celebrated Hari Raya with her Singaporean friends, at Zheng’s, a halal Asian restaurant in Oxford.
How is celebrating Hari Raya overseas different?
Experiencing festive occasions like Chinese New Year and Hari Raya overseas has made me realise that the significance of our cultural celebrations lies not so much in the extravagance of our festivities, but in the strengthening of our personal ties of kinship. These ties become particularly important when living abroad, as they keep us grounded and offer a sense of reassurance in the absence of the familial support systems we rely on back home.
Back in Singapore, I used to consider Hari Raya routine. However, missing out on the Hari Raya visits this year has made me more cognisant about the value of taking the time to check on our family and friends.
I am grateful that celebrating Hari Raya, both at home and overseas, has given me the opportunity to forge deeper connections – across races, and across generations – with the people who have made the celebration more meaningful for me.
Despite not being able to celebrate Raya with my family, my friends have truly made a home away from home here in Glasgow. They are my support system for when revisions prove to be too difficult, or when I simply needed someone to chat about the things I miss back home. Regardless of race or religion, we all band together and celebrate each other’s festivities.
Atiqah celebrated Hari Raya 2019 with her friend in the UK.
Selamat Hari Raya, Maaf Zahir dan Batin! (I seek forgiveness (from you), physically and spiritually) May this Syawal brings immense blessings and happiness to you and your loved ones.