A girl in sky blue hoody smiling and looking away

Anusha Hudda (USA) is a second-year student on the IIS’s Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP). Here she shares her experience of living with her peers from around the world in Victoria Hall.

STEP is a two-year programme where we earn a master’s in Muslim Societies and Civilisations and a PGDip in Teaching and Reflective Practice from SOAS and UCL, London. It is an opportunity for us to not only develop academically but also foster meaningful relationships with our peers from around the world. Victoria Hall, where we live, hosts students from across the globe. Individuals from my cohort come from India, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Canada and the US, to name a few.

Building our global community despite COVID-19

There is an intent and purpose behind this place; magic occurs within these walls. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my STEP cohort could not mingle as fluidly as was intended by the design of the building, with its many social spaces. At the beginning of our first year, we were limited to gathering in spaces and in groups of less than six people. This did not keep us from building our global community though. We hosted musical sessions in our flats, cooked dishes from around the world, and held virtual events to learn about one another. The 26 of us had struggled, each in our own way, to get to London. I had been privileged in my journey, and Victoria Hall has helped me to understand the stories of my colleagues. It has not only helped me empathise with their struggle but also increased my admiration of their strength and courage to continue smiling despite the challenges we all faced.

A beautiful night: end-of-year party

With our first year coming to an end and restrictions lifted, our cohort’s events team decided to host an end-of-year party with a twist of a cultural exchange in our student lounge. We intentionally paired up with someone from a different cultural background to share our learnings with the cohort. The exchange ranged from sharing food, learning languages, showcasing clothing items or comparing how different cultures celebrate similar events. Some of us even learned cultural dances, such as traditional dances from Tajikistan, Northern Pakistan, India and a modern fusion dance from the USA. The night was filled with laughter, food, music, singing and dancing. We ended this beautiful night by sharing personal reflections on the year and setting intentions to build an even stronger bond in year two. This event was the first time our cohort had come together informally and in person, and we made every minute of it count.

Victoria Hall: a reflection of London’s diversity

These kind of events are transformative as future STEP teachers who must return to our own countries to teach. Living in Victoria Hall is our chance to not only meet but also learn from Ismailis from around the world. The two years in London have to be very intentional to embody and actively integrate diversity, pluralism and cosmopolitan ethics into our lives.

The following verse from the Holy Quran can be beautifully related to this experience.

“O humankind! Indeed, We created you male and female, and We made you [diverse] peoples and tribes so that you may come to know one another.” (Quran 49:13)

If we look to the Holy Quran for inspiration, we will see that London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. There is a visual demonstration of rich culture on every corner of every street. Victoria Hall is a beautiful representation of that culture. As students in this city, it is our duty to learn and share the knowledge from our experience. It is a privilege to partake in these activities. The pandemic truly has made me reflect on the purpose and intent of this building. With its wonderful Garden of Reflection, open terrace, student lounge and shared flat orientation, there is a chance for cultural exchange at every moment of your day. It is up to us to utilise the opportunity presented to us and share this knowledge with our families, peers, colleagues and students back in our contexts. I truly feel grateful to be part of this beautiful and holistic experience that I owe my growth and learning to. Victoria Hall will forever have a place in my heart.

Find out more about STEP