by Sana Saifuddin
There is one ayah that perfectly summarizes my college experience: “Surely, with every hardship, there is relief.” The past four years at Cal have been the most enlightening, exciting, and troublesome years of my life. I’ve felt a whirlpool of emotions from being, not only a student, but also an employee, a sister, a daughter, and a friend. In their totality, the past four years have helped me grow and learn from the different challenges I’ve faced as a college student. Although the list is endless, these are some of the lessons I’ve learned and want to pass on to my fellow warriors.
1. Never compromise your value system
College is fun. You’re away from home, your parents aren’t around to tell you what to do, and you’re excited about meeting like-minded people in your new community. But it can also be harmful if you don’t learn early on how to navigate your new environment.
We all come to Cal carrying our own set of values, but the excitement can loosen our grip on what really matters. When we live at home, our parents do a good job maintaining certain values within us. I’ve witnessed both of my parents taking care of their elders. The level of respect, obedience, and kindness they practiced encouraged my siblings and I to do the same, and we developed a deep love for our grandparents. However, when I came to Cal, I unintentionally started to distance myself from my elders. During my first year, I did not give them the time they deserved. It was not until later that summer when it dawned on me that my relationship with my Dadu and Nano had changed for the worse.
Distance and time away from Berkeley gave me a chance to reflect on how my new environment was starting to mold me. I’d ask myself, Am I changing for the better?
In minor aspects I might have been, but I let go of certain values that were a part of my identity. In order to rejuvenate myself, I kept in touch with my elders that have similar value systems. They serve as a constant reminder to never forget the things I cared about the most before coming to college. I made an active effort to call my Dadu and Nano every other day while walking to campus or between classes. My calls would take no more than 10 minutes each and at the end of it all, Dadu and Nano would always make dua for my success and happiness. What better conversation to have than with the people that are most listened to by Allah (SWT)?
2. Making the best out of the situation
I’m happy to admit that Cal has shown me all its faces: life with and without financial aid.
Freshman year, I was cruisin’: buying the over-priced salads every other day, paying rent with only a click of a button, and getting straight A’s because I had so much time to study and get enough sleep. Even though I was working as a math tutor at the time, it was for the experience and pocket money; I wasn’t worried about working enough to pay rent.
From my sophomore year onward, the story was different. I spent time between classes trying to fill out my sparse resume. The work-study job site was bookmarked on my browser because I would constantly be sending my resume and cover letter to any job that I could find. That October, I finally got a job as an events assistant, a job I still have today, alhumdulillah. I started off working between six to eight hours a week, which over time increased to 10 hours and then later, 15. At one point during my junior year, I was working up to 18 hours.
It was exhausting, frustrating, and, at the time, annoying. I’d find myself asking, Why me? Why can’t I enjoy my time here and not need to worry about my finances? Life can be unfair, but I’ve learned that if life gives you something sour—metaphorical lemons—you make that damn lemonade. My increased working hours during the summer and winter breaks served as leverage to get two big promotions that ultimately doubled my salary. Working as an event planner gave me access to university presidents, provosts, and deans: all the people I wanted to get to know for my future endeavors. When it came time to apply for internships and jobs, I received raving recommendation letters from my supervisors. I made the most out of my situation.
When you do something with the right intentions, like helping your parents cover your college costs, Allah places the most unimaginable blessings in your life that unfold in perfect ways. Working for the past three years has filled up my resume with countless number of professional experiences, high-level university references, and has given me a good idea of how to balance my finances and maintain my high credit score.
Indeed, with difficulty comes ease.
3. “Life is tough, welcome to reality”
In March 2014 while my parents were in Pakistan, my grandmother had a heart attack.
I remember it clearly: it was the last Sunday of spring break, and my sister and I were going to drive back to Berkeley that same night. It was the most terrifying experience of my life: my parents weren’t around and my hands were shaking as we were filling out paperwork for my grandmother at the hospital. Seeing her constantly recite the shahadah ignited fear in my chest. In the midst of the havoc, nothing else mattered. Going to school the next day was out of the question, and preparing for my midterm later that week was no longer a priority. My family needed me, so I put them first. I had decided that I would not go to school until my parents returned the following weekend or my grandmother had returned to a stable condition. The comfort of having my older sister around to share my concern and anxiety made spending nights at the hospitals a little less frightening.
Our lives are multi-faceted and because of their several avenues, we come across challenges that force us to make tough decisions. It’s through moments like these where we learn more about ourselves. The most important part of facing these challenges is how we handle the situation. It’s a chance for us to be proactive and keep pushing through life’s hurdles. Often times finding someone to confide in helps ease some of that anxiety. A listening ear that will take in what you have to say and console you can prepare you to get back up and continue fighting the good fight.
Last January, on the night of my birthday, everyone was already asleep while my siblings and I were watching a movie. We suddenly heard a loud thud around 2 a.m.; it was as if something very hard hit the floor. My younger siblings and I jumped off the couch and ran up the stairs to see what was happening. The hallway light upstairs was on and the bathroom door was cracked open. I pushed the door slightly to see who was inside. It had only been two months since my Nano had passed away so when I found my Dadu on the floor, eyes wide open with no sign of breath, I immediately assumed the worst. My past experience had prepared me for what I had to do next: within the next hour, the ambulance was called, preparations were made for the night at the ER, I packed all relevant paperwork, and my father and I were ready to leave with the ambulance. Life is tough - it’s part of everyone’s reality - but I learned from my past challenge and was empowered by it to be proactive in this situation.
That’s why verses five and six of Surah Ash-Sharh are among my favorites. It’s a constant reminder that surely, with difficulty comes ease. These ayahs make a strong point that the struggles we face are finite. They will end.
Allah (SWT) makes such a profound statement here; He guarantees that along with your difficulty, you’ll find ease. The first doesn’t come without the other. The Ayah was sent to ignite hopefulness, not hopelessness. If Allah (SWT) has promised that there will be ease, then without a doubt, there will be ease. No one will face more than what they can bear. Think of each challenge you face as the amount of strength that Allah (SWT) has placed within you. Despite your circumstances, never forget to count your blessings. Every day Allah blesses us with one thing or another, so in the midst of your daily routine, take a moment and appreciate what you are given.
There is a phrase in Urdu, “Sabar ka paal meta hota hai,” which translates to, “the fruits of patience are the sweetest.” Be patient for the arrival of your ease, and never doubt that things will fall in place, and will work out.
Reflecting on my four demanding, but rewarding, years at Cal, I find myself employed full-time after graduation, student-loan free, completely content with my life, friends, and family, and smiling while reciting, “Surely, with difficulty comes ease.”