When I first came to Laurier Brantford, every face I saw belonged to a stranger. I didn’t complete high school in Canada, so I didn’t have any high school friends to speak of. I didn’t attend O-Week because I didn’t think I needed it (although, in hindsight, I think O-Week is probably the best start to university life). And to top it off, I didn’t live in residence. On my first day of class, I was an island in a sea of unfamiliar faces.
Given the current global attitude towards Muslims and the fact that Brantford is a small town with a predominantly white population, I was a little worried. No, I was terrified. I thought I was the only Muslim student on campus. I thought it will be difficult to find halal places to eat. I thought it would be impossible to perform my prayers when I’m on campus. I thought my hijab would attract unwanted attention.
Much to my pleasant surprise, all my fears proved to be baseless. During my first two years in Brantford, I learned that this quaint little town is more welcoming towards minorities, such as myself, than I had anticipated.
Brantford is like an onion and, as I peeled away at its layers, I discovered that the town has a sizeable Muslim community. Its mosque, conveniently located near the campus on Icomm Drive, boasts a congregation that is actively involved in the larger Brantford community. Members of the mosque often join the congregations of other churches around Brantford in running soup kitchens. On festive occasions such as Eid, the mosque’s congregation shares its celebratory feast with the local community.
I also discovered that this town of less than 100,000 residents is home to a multitude of racial groups. It may not seem that way at first, but try going to the local YMCA Immigrant Settlement Services’ (ISS) annual family potlucks. Every year, the ISS invites new immigrants around Brantford to showcase their unique cultures through song, dance, food sampling and exhibition booths. During my first year volunteering for the ISS, I was amazed at the number of countries that participated in the event. There was Russia, China, Bangladesh, Somalia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, to name a few. I never thought Brantford could be so ‘colourful’!
Likewise, the student community is just as vibrant, with students from a variety of different cultural backgrounds. I began meeting more and more of them as I began going to class and interviewing people for my assignments (I’m a Journalism major). Two of my closest friends on campus are from India and Pakistan. That’s not to say that students of colour only click with each other. I get along famously with the rest of my classmates. As it turns out, they are as curious about my culture as I am about theirs. The locals hold a similarly curious attitude. I’m constantly asked about where I come from, how I came to be in Canada and why I wear the hijab. Even now going into my third year at Laurier Brantford, I still seem to stand out from the rest of the crowd. And I must say that, despite all my initial anxieties, there’s something appealing about being different. I think I enjoy being the stranger.