August 9, 2009

A kampung in Belfast

Belfast is a small city with a ‘community’ feel



Malaysian students feel right at home in Queen’s University Belfast, writes NURJEHAN MOHAMED

THE smell of curry and fried chicken would almost make you think you were back in Malaysia, if not for the fact that it is a cool 20°C and home is about 10,000km away.

Welcome to Belfast, the Malaysian way.

The host is Taufik Hairudin, a fourth-year medical student at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. Taufik is also president of the Queen’s Malay Club (QUC).

For students leaving home for the first time to pursue tertiary studies, homesickness is a phase that is unavoidable. But it helps to have a friendly face to ease your transition.

“QUC watches over the welfare of Malaysian Malay students in Belfast.

“We pick new students up from the airport, help them with accommodation and point out where the mosque and halal food outlets are,” says Taufik.

QUC was initially an Islamic society but because the university does not provide funding for religious or political-based clubs, it became the Malay Club instead.

It organises events for festivals celebrated in Malaysia, a number of which are Islamic, and groups for religious studies and prayers.

When there are other activities, such as celebrations for public holidays and sporting events, it would collaborate with the university’s Malaysian Society and invite Malay students from other countries to join in.

“The Malaysian Malay community in Belfast is small, about 60 to 80 students. It is a small city so we all know each other,” adds the 24-year-old.

Computer Science PhD student Edzreena Edza Odzaly, 31, says being small in number makes Malaysian Malays more united.

“There are more Malaysian Malays in Manchester but they would not necessarily know each other,” she says.

She adds that the support found in Belfast helps new students adapt quicker to the foreign environment.

This togetherness also enables students to get a sense of home despite being half a world away from Malaysia.

There are a few “Malaysian Malay houses” — homes occupied solely by Malay students — in Taufik’s neighbourhood, which is a 10- to 15-minute walk from campus.

Nik Amalina Nik Saidina Omar, 24, another fourth-year medical student, says walking is the favoured way to get around.

“At first, we found it difficult to walk all over the place because we’re not used to doing so in Malaysia.

“But now, even a half-hour walk is a normal thing,” she says, adding that students sometimes walk to the city centre — which is about 20 minutes’ away from the university.

It helps that the weather is conducive for the activity; the 18oC to 20oC weather a few weeks ago was considered quite balmy by residents.

“We were initially concerned about studying in Belfast because of horror stories we heard about how Westerners treated Muslims after 9/11,” says Taufik.

But in the time he has been in Belfast he has never felt threatened or marginalised as a Muslim from a predominantly Malay country.

“Like all cities, there would be areas that you avoid for your own safety but overall Belfast is a safe city,” says Nik Amalina.

The hospitality of the people also makes students feel at ease.

“I was walking down a street with a friend from Dublin and everyone we passed greeted us.

“When my friend commented at how I seemed to know many people in Belfast, I said they were all strangers who were just being friendly,” says Taufik.

“The hospital where we do our medical attachment in the third year also has a good working environment and we feel at ease approaching anyone, even a senior consultant,” says Nik Amalina.

Being a small minority, not many Irish know about Malay and Muslim customs.

But, as Taufik explains, after he told his Irish friends about his dietary restrictions, they invite him out to a cafe for coffee rather than a pub for drinks.

“Halal food is not impossible to get here but it isn’t as easy as in a place where there is a large Muslim population.

“And some of the hospitals also provide halal food because they have Muslim staff,” says Taufik.

As students, Taufik says it is important to have an environment conducive to learning and the small Northern Ireland city provides just that — good weather, clean surroundings, efficient services and friendly people.

While the students miss Malaysia, especially Malaysian food — including fast food, which is not halal in Belfast — the community they have in Belfast helps them feel at home.

The favoured mode of transport in Belfast is your own two feet

Source :

Kampung - Village