Tag Archives: culture

French Food and Adapting to Culture: A Rollercoaster Experience

 “The meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food. What we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.” (PBS, The Meaning of Food, 2005)

One of the first blog posts I wrote during this experience shared that I had many preconceptions about France, its people, and its culture. I feared an ability to relate to my host country and wondered whether I’d ever assimilate. Turns out, a major foundation of French culture includes food, one of my favorite topics and parts of exploring different cultures! After all, “the meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food.”  While I had heard a lot about popular French foods like escargot (snails), des cuisses de grenouille (frog legs), and foie gras (fattened goose liver), these seemed to repulse me. I was quite excited to come and explore the wide variety of French wine and cheese, two of its most famed cultural staples. Before studying abroad, French food seemed to be just alright – not perfect, but not horrible, so I have to say how surprised I am that I feel much differently now.

 

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One of my favorite things in France is café culture. I stopped in Paris during my sightseeing to enjoy this beautiful lunch of a chevre chaud (warm goat cheese) salad.

 

My first night in Reims, I went out for the meal that would set up my obsession with exploring French cuisine. I ate at a café called Le Gaulois, located in the city center. My first meal was a linguine pasta with duck, in a rich creamy peanut sauce. My friend Nick insisted I indulge in a glass of champagne from the region, its dryness perfectly complementing the rich sauce of the duck. For dessert, we shared chocolate mousse and ice cream with traditional cookies, and I made it my goal then and there to try as much French cuisine as I could. Nick and his mother ordered foie gras and chevre, two specialties they had me try then and there. Although foie gras wasn’t a big deal to me, it wasn’t gross like I expected. The chevre (goat cheese, this time prepared warm with honey) was immaculate. I began to understand why UNESCO protects French food under world heritage – it is an experience of sorts that everyone should have if they travel to France.

 

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Amazing appetizers from Le Café Gaulois in Place d’Erlon. On the left, we have cooked foie gras on a bed of toast and lettuce, drenched in sweet and salty honey-balsamic sauce. On the right, we have snails (!) in an herb sauce with a regional name.

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Magret canard, which is a style of duck, in a very delicious savory sauce with cooked black peppercorns and pasta on the side. (Le Café Gaulois)

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One of my favorite meals: a salad with chevre chaud (warm goat cheese). I love this particular restaurant because of its elaborate salads. This one includes jambon pays (the country’s shredded ham) and potatoes lightly fried. (Le Café Gaulois)

 

It’s been exactly two months and 11 days since that first meal, and since then I’ve propelled myself into French food culture. Despite my homesickness for New York City and all the available cuisines there, I’ve found it comforting to adapt to French culture via food. Bakeries are a huge deal here, and the freshness of the bread and pastries makes my mornings and/or lunches. Even the “fast food” options here (which consist of Arab kebabs and European pizza among other things) have special tastes that I feel I will remember when I go back home.

 

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From Hanny Kebab, a staple in my life here since my first week. Kebabs traditionally include meat, red onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and sauces of your choice. My favorite is sauce blanche (white sauce).

 

On the nights where I decide to splurge and explore the city as well as some restaurants, I like to eat lavish meals complete with dessert and drinks to try new things. Through this exploration, I’ve developed a serious affinity towards stinky cheeses, weirdly prepared meats like tartare (completely raw meat!), and large salads with French lardon and chevre.

 

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Beef tartare served with dried fungus (mushrooms) and a savory cream and pepper sauce.

 

The majority of my new friends here are fellow exchange students, and many of them share similar sentiments as me. Most of us terribly miss our lives back home, and for us, we remember our foods back home as staples of our culture. However, all of us have been rather excited to explore French cuisine and make a steady effort to both cook dishes that mean something to us back home as well as participate in French food culture. In order to do so, some of my close friends and I have formed a dinner group, something I would sincerely recommend to other students studying abroad. In our group of friends, we have a variety of nationalities present. We are American (Northern, Midwest, and Southern), Mexican, German, New Zealanders, and Lebanese, just to name a few. Every week we dine together at someone’s home, and one of us makes a cuisine of their culture to share with the others. Besides this, we’ve held “French” nights where we gather to eat baguettes and cheese, or go out to explore the local food. These meetings have become quintessential.

 

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Photo taken in my apartment, when my friends and I gathered after our morning classes to make an elaborate brunch. We combined yummy French foods like baguettes and comte with and avocado spread and lightly fried eggs.

 

 

To give some more insight on the positives and negatives of adapting to a culture through food and drink, I’ve asked some of my friends to describe their experiences with French food and its culture. My friend Anna, like me, loves the bakeries. She says, “their pastries and baguettes are the best. No comparison to what I have had in New York.” Very often, Anna and I go grocery shopping together. She’s discovered that “the groceries (except for meat) are much cheaper.” When asked to comment on specifics, she said that meat here is super expensive but I am content with this because I would much rather have responsibly grown expensive meat than what we have in the United States.” Additionally, “most of the groceries here are also more fresh than the U.S.” Because Anna and I have a Caribbean background, there are some things that we can agree on that the French could do better to adapt to. Maybe this is because we are from NYC, one of the most diverse places in the world, but Anna noted that “the French have no sense of diverse food. What they believe to be diverse are cultural stereotypes,” something that we’ve seen a bit in even our own friends group. We made a joke that on the night our friend from Mexico City was to host dinner, everyone expected tacos for ‘Taco Tuesday,’ even though what she (and our other Mexican friends) made was impressive and delicious, to say the least. Anna went on to discuss seasoning, expressing sincere happiness that her mother remembered to pack her Dominican sázon, which she could not find here. On the overall experience, she writes that it is “difficult being accustomed to having different cultural experiences with food.” Anna and I are very similar as New Yorkers having to adapt to French tastes and culture, but the respect for the food system in France is immense from both of us.

 

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Some of my and Anna’s favorite pastries from a bakery near our school. The cake pictured above is a lovely creamy and flaky cake, served with almonds and powdered sugar on top. The two little tarlettes are lemon meringue and fruit (left to right). We hope to continue spoiling ourselves like this as much as we can while here!

 

Our friend Rea, unlike Anna, was not too shocked with French food or quality. “French food was not much of a cultural shock for me because I am Lebanese and French food and culture is embedded in Beirut. I learned, ate, and read French which still living in a conventional Lebanese cultural setting. I think the French influence is a big positive add-on to the life of the Lebanese.” Rea recommends to try cultural mixing, by dipping a French baguette in traditional Lebanese hummus.

One student here from Australia, Claudia, is living with a homestay family, something not common in our group of friends. In fact, she is the only one (that I know of) in my program who took the homestay option. Most of us have our own apartments with or without roommates, or live in student housing. Claudia’s experience with French food and culture have thus been a bit more intimate. She says that “from my point of view, the meals I share with my host family are as close as I will ever get to French culture.” She enlightens me on the true meaning of French food in culture by saying that “it’s more than just the classic baguette with cheese and good wine…in fact, it doesn’t really have a lot to do with what you’re eating, as long as you can talk about how good it is.”

I absolutely agree with Claudia in the fact that the French take immense pride in the small pleasures of life, including food. A well-prepared shared meal is an excuse to hang out and have good experiences. This is something I notice especially when I go out to eat, and unlike in NYC, staff do not seem to rush your dining experience at all. You are asked whether you want more time in between courses, and waitstaff do not come to your table repeatedly to ask if you need anything, are finished, or need the check. This is something to note – it is not rude to not be hyper-attentive to a table… rather, it is seen as a sign of respect that the people dining want to take their time and enjoy their experience.

Coming back to Claudia’s family, she tells me that “they are a very traditional Catholic family, who eat a big Sunday lunch every week. It’s often roasts with veggies, or something similar, and last for hours… it always involves more than one course.” Although Claudia says she doesn’t go out to eat much, I feel her experience with a traditional French family perfectly showcases the importance of intimate meals with those you care about.

Coming back to the quote that inspired this blog post: “what we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.” Everything that I’ve learned about French cuisine and its preparation – a focus on sustainability, the international protection of its culinary customs through UNESCO, the different means of preparation for the thousands of varieties of cheese, wines, breads, and meats they have – has proven to me that the French have a deep connection with what they consume, and only enjoy the finest things. Even simple foods, like bread and cheese, have such rich flavors and come in a variety of options, that you can’t help but think the French are very deliberate with what and how they eat. In this culture, especially with the affordability of good cuisine and its wide availability with pastries and specialty food shops on nearly every corner, it is reasonable to say that everyone deserves to eat well. And any culture that has food so deeply embedded, and considers the pleasure of eating a necessity to life, is a culture that I would consider myself enamored with.

 

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Yummy Italian pizza from a restaurant I visited over spring break… my friend’s sister is a regular there, and I guess the chef adores them as much as I adore food!

 

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Filed under Tammie in France, Western Europe

Eight Remarkable Characteristics of Ghanaian Culture

As I approach my first month here in Ghana, I have had the chance to witness and be a part of many central features involving Ghanaian culture. Absorbing and observing another culture other than one’s own is an awe-inspiring experience, and for that reason I’ve shared some parts of the culture here that I’ve found pretty cool.

1. Community. Is. Everything.
Ghanaians share an immensely powerful bond with each other, and it is evident all throughout the country. For example, if a person was eating next to a total stranger who did not have anything in front of them, it would be customary to say, “You are invited.” Everyone shares, and it makes my heart warm to see such a simple kindness between two unrelated individuals. Complete strangers may show up to funerals, weddings, or any other ceremony because all are welcome.

 

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Some of the international and Ghanaian students out for a Friday night.

 

2. Systems Don’t Work, People Do
I have been told this several times over the course of my time here, and I believe that I am starting to get better at accepting it. In summary, this motto is a way to say that face-to-face interaction is more effective than any program or technology. Efficiency comes second… always. Many of the international students are used to time being associated with money and productivity, so taking it slow is an alien concept.

3. People Adore Dancing
I have yet to find a person here who detests music and dance. Music floods the university, the hostels, and downtown. Also, people just naturally have rhythm and are familiar with at least a few traditional dances. A favored pastime of numerous college students involves visiting a local nightclub to listen and dance along to the popular Ghanaian artists.

4. Greetings are Imperative
Basic conversation is expected in most environments, especially when asking for something. It is considered impolite to get straight to the point, first one should question the other on their day and well-being. When a person asks a question, they often start it with ‘please,’ as the person answering is performing a favor when doing so. Closer friends frequently use a local handshake, a kind of snap between one’s thumb and middle finger for casual greetings.

5. Soccer, Soccer, Soccer
One of the first nights at the hostel, I heard intense screaming throughout the building. In a moment of confusion, I rushed outside to see what was causing all of the commotion. It turns out that half of the hostel was upstairs watching the African Cup, cheering for the record-holding Ghanaian Black Stars. Besides watching soccer, one can see students enjoying an afternoon game after school, or visiting the Accra stadium to watch the local Ghanaian teams.

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Some of the Black Star players prior to a big game. This year, they made it to the semi-finals, but ultimately lost against Cameroon.

 

6. The Way You Dress Matters
After coming from a university where sweats and ponytails are the norm, it’s a bit refreshing to see that mostly all students will put time in their appearance for lectures. Going to college is both a privilege and a sign of adulthood, and individuals in Ghana believe it should be represented as such. Besides the classroom, one can find that different occasions call for assorted attire. Happy occasions demand white, while funerals are filled with black or red. As for everyday apparel, colorful (and usually handmade) clothing fill the bustling crowds.

 

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On a trip to Kumasi to visit the Ashanti King, we had the chance to see the unique wraps of kente cloth (a type of hand stitched fabric) among important officials from the palace.

 

7. Bargaining is an Art Form
Unless someone wishes to pay a ridiculously overpriced amount for a possession, bargaining must be used. The two main markets in Accra, Madina and Accra Central, are extremely crowded streets filled with booths selling various goods. From fresh produce to a new cellular device, the markets are the place to get a deal. The only catch is you have to bargain for it… and do it well. If a person does not know the correct price range for a product they run the risk of overpaying. In addition to this, patience and skill is required because bargaining is a process, not a quick action with a time frame.

8. Language is Fluid
When I say that language is fluid, I am struggling to express my best explanation of how locals interact with each other. Although English is the official language and most people can speak it, it is mostly used for formal settings. In the markets, vendors and customers mostly speak Twi, one of the many local languages here in Ghana. Sometimes, people will casually switch between the two. Pidgin is also an accepted way of communicating, a kind of broken English most commonly spoken between younger adults and friends.

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Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

The Inevitable Question: ‘So how is/was India?’

It is early in the morning, but everyone is awake. Cling! Clang! I hear my ammaa making breakfast downstairs. She is probably making idli (steamed rice cake) or dosa (thin pancake made with lentils and rice), with coconut chutney on the side. After getting dressed and eating breakfast, I walk to the bus stand where I always see the same three men sitting in front of Kings Department Store. Turning my back to them, I hail down a shared-auto rickshaw and climb in. The auto starts to move before I can sit down. Once I situate myself on the upper seat I realize I chose a bad auto. It was a private auto that had been converted into a shared-auto, which means that I had to hunch my shoulders and lean forward in order to prevent my head from hitting the ceiling. The other women seated next to me look perfectly comfortable. Their heads are not grazing the ceiling like mine. Standing at 5 feet 2 inches I do not consider myself a tall person; however, I felt like a giant in this cramped auto. Four women, including me, were in the upper seat and four women were sitting on the lower step. There was also a man sitting in the front seat with the auto driver. In total, there were 10 adults in the auto that was originally built for 3 people. Talk about a clown car. I cannot say this was my favorite auto-rickshaw memory.

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My last share-auto ride home from the SITA (South India Term Abroad) center. The cheap and quick mode of transportation that a share-auto provides will be missed.

I have been in India for the past 3.5 months now and it has been quite the adventure. Looking back at my first blog post I sound very naïve and somewhat innocent. In the beginning, the noise and the smell and the interactions with people were exciting. Now, it is tiresome. The loud and continuous honks push at my buttons. Trying to avoid stepping into cow poop, goat poop, dog poop, or even elephant poop is annoying. Everyday I get hounded with the question of whether I like India from strangers…and I do not know what to say. If I am honest, I run the risk of offending locals; if I lie by saying that I love India, I am belittling my time in India. India is hard to describe. It is difficult to explain the experiences I have had. It is frustrating that my friends, who are either studying abroad in Europe or back in the States, will never completely understand what India is like for a foreigner.

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Cow eating garbage for breakfast, and probably for lunch and dinner. Cows can be seen on every corner lounging, sleeping, or eating garbage/cardboard. I didn’t know cows could consume cardboard…until I came to India…

Since studying abroad, I have been able to better dissect my status as a foreigner and as an American. This is a skill I did not expect to gain. Because I am visibly a foreigner, I will never fit in with the locals, however, that does not mean Indians consider me to be American. According to many Indians, I do not fit the description of a typical American. I’ve had random people yell ‘Chinese’ or ‘Japanese’ while I walk past them on the road. (I’m Korean, a Korean-American to be exact.)

It happened while I was on a tour in Mysore. We hiked up to a Jain temple where I broke from the group and wandered by myself for some time. I walked past a group of Indians who belligerently shouted ‘Nepalese, Kathmandu, Bhutan, Thai’ at me. Rather than asking me where I was from, these people wanted to put labels on me that they deemed appropriate.

My status as a foreigner affecting my interactions with people does not end there. Every so often, I will get into a shared-auto and the people sitting around me will, very eagerly, ask me where I am from. Before I can answer the first question, a lot of people will ask ‘China?’ I tell them ‘No, I’m from the US.’ Their faces drop; they thought they had guessed right when they identified me as Chinese. The reactions I get from saying ‘I’m American’ shows me that they are disappointed. I was angry and still am angry. Was this a form of racism? When did being Asian mean I could only exist as Chinese in other people’s eyes? How do I react? Was it my place to teach people about the diversity of America? I was stuck. My program has a total of 10 students: 8 of the students are white; 1 of the students is multiracial; 2 of the students, including myself, are Asian. The other Asian student happened to be one of my best friends from Bowdoin and she had the same daily encounters. At the end of the day, our hands were tied; we had to put up with it.

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The SITA program celebrating Thanksgiving by enjoying a dinner buffet at Hotel Supreme. It’s not a home-cooked meal, but at least we have each other!

India was not wonderful or exceptionally amazing. The staring from both men and women never stopped. High school students, who would shout at me and sometimes even follow me, constantly harassed me. Every time someone tried to start a conversation with me, I was concerned they would try to label me with an ethnicity rather than asking me where I was from. Should I have spoken up against the men who stared, the immature students who did not know how to properly interact with me, or those who did not care how I identified myself? I know I should have, but my peers and my program told me that it was best not to attract attention to myself. ‘Since you’re a foreigner, try not to do anything or say anything that will attract attention to yourself’ is the best and worst advice I have received. I do not want to do anything that will put my safety at risk however that does not mean I have to put up with everything that makes me feel uncomfortable simply because I am a foreigner.

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Maligai Sweets, a tea and sweets shop where the space is primarily occupied by men at all times of the day.

I do not regret studying abroad in India. It was a period of time that I will never forget. Studying and living in India taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. India opened my eyes to the unique diversity of the United States that I had taken for granted. I learned different methods of self-care that worked for me. I know India has helped me personally grow as a student, a person, and a traveler however I do not think I will be able to fully comprehend the growth I have experienced until I return to the United States where I will have the time and space to process everything.

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Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia

Newsflash

Newsflash: In the weeks prior to Election Day in the United States, my American friends were all wondering who I planned to vote for and why. My Italian professors also seem interested in who my candidate of choice was. I didn’t really think people in Europe cared about American political issues. But on the contrary, Italians are a lot more interested in American culture, history, and political issues than I expected they would be. What’s more interesting is just how knowledgeable they are of what is going on in our country. I went to this café and got a hot chocolate and my waiter asked me if I liked Obama and what he has done for our country. He started talking about our health care system and education and he knew wayyyyy more about that stuff than I did. He said America just always seems to handle issues better than this country.

I think I knew what he meant by issues; for the past 2 weeks, there have been multiple strikes and protest about the state of the economy in Florence. As a result, many buses, transportation services, trains, etc. have been experiencing issues due to workers going on strike. Apparently these strikes that involve transportation happen very often. I heard that the strikes happen for many reasons other than economic issues too, like workers just simply wanting to take a break.

Additionally, when I visited Rome a couple weeks ago, there was a huge protest going on at the Colosseum, something that involved Muslims protesting the closing of mosques and other places of worship in Italy. Maybe a few hundred or more Muslims were on the floor praying, some holding signs saying ‘peace’ and ‘let us pray.’ It reminded me of the silent demonstration put on back at Fairfield last year in the library in response to the issues of racial inequality. As I thought about this comparison, it made me feel like these countries really aren’t so different. The food, language, and clothing vary from country to country, but there will always be issues, and issues will make people come together.

Uhh newsflash: Another thing that I wasn’t aware of was the state of the weather conditions in Italy. There were two earthquakes this past month that struck central Italy, mainly in the regions of Macerata and Perugia. There was also a tornado that struck Rome yesterday or the day before. And a couple weeks ago while I was on my way to see the Statue of David (since it is free admission on Sundays) there was a terrible storm. I mean, really bad.  It did not stop me from getting my free entrance, but besides what I learned about the David statue, I was also informed that it was the 50th anniversary of the flood of the River Arno that did a lot of damage to people’s lives and the city itself. This reminded me of Hurricane Sandy hitting areas of New York back home around this time a few years ago. Definitely a weird coincidence, but it helped me get to know something about the city that I probably would have never known.

 

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The Statue of David.

 

Apparently (as told by some random Italians) the city is still in danger of floods, but President Sergio Mattarella wants everyone, Italians and foreigners included, to feel safe. And this risk of flooding doesn’t stop people from visiting to learn about Italy’s rich culture, or studying abroad here like I am. And besides the strikes, it doesn’t stop local Italians from trying to show the outside world just how beautiful and special their country is. These people really value the way Italy is viewed and they try to promote and inform others of their culture and history. It makes me feel accepted when everyone is willing to help bring me in and make me feel comfortable. Even going into restaurants, the staff just seem to enjoy my presence. It’s a joy to be around.

 

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Trying squid for the first time.

 

So last newsflash: I’m still having a blast studying abroad here. Living the dream. I only have a few weeks left, and there’s still so much to do!

 

 

 

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Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

Gilman Scholar Allysa Grant’s Favorite Things About Moroccan Culture

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Filed under Allysa in Morocco, middle east

Finally Back in the USA!

I miss Wien (Vienna)!

Since I’ve been back in the U.S., I’ve kept in contact with many people I spent time with in Wien. Readjusting to the time difference has been the most difficult factor because I feel exhausted while everyone here thinks the day is still young, and then I am wide awake while everyone is sleeping. I would say I am in the stage of reverse culture shock that involves frustration and loneliness because my friends and family here don’t understand what I’ve experienced and how I’ve changed. It is astonishing yet frustrating how a student can leave their home for several months and build a new life elsewhere but without everyone they’ve always known. It is also frustrating because the closest friend I made in Vienna, Akilah, is about a 10-hour car ride away now, instead of a 40-ish minute train ride. It is easy to talk about Vienna with people here, but the more I talk about it, the more I wish I had spent the rest of my summer in Wien!

I absolutely miss Vienna’s reliable public transportation system. I miss the feeling of knowing I could get from point A to point B with little to no effort and with peace of mind.

 

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Nighttime view of the Danube River and the mountain-scape from the U2 U-bahn (subway).

 

I also miss the scenery and beautiful gardens. I miss the vibrant colors and the variations in each garden I visited while in Vienna. I firmly believe that a reliable public transportation system and well-kept recreational areas are great assets to a person’s quality of life.

 

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Akilah and I in Volksgarten!

 

Here in America, there seems to be an urgent need to be going to one place or the other, or to be completing a certain task. In Austria, people actually took their time to breathe and never seemed to be overwhelmed with any daunting tasks. That is something I brought back with me: I don’t necessarily feel it is important to be everywhere and doing everything.

The American food culture is also very different from Austria’s. I never felt the need to cook in bulk while I was there because I had a mini-refrigerator. My options were to either stop by the market and buy the ingredients to cook my meals or spend quality time with friends at a restaurant. The food was always fresh and the memories are unforgettable!

 

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Our final dinner together!

 

This fall concludes the final semester of my undergraduate studies at Purdue. I will be sharing my experiences abroad during the study abroad fairs in September, and I am super excited about that! I think my insights will influence students who are on the fence with their decision to study abroad. I am also looking forward to graduating in December. Some people say it seems like I have breezed through college, but I can say I have made the most of my undergraduate studies. I will be seeking employment opportunities within the field of agriculture, but I am open to any career that requires travel and the use of my global awareness and adaptability skills!

Bis bald, Wien.

 

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Filed under Elizabeth in Vienna, Western Europe

Hong Kong’s Work Culture

As I sit crammed on Hong Kong’s famous subway system, the MTR, I am surrounded by tired souls. Gaunt figures that fade in and out of consciousness, as their limp heads sway with the train, returning home from their workplace.

 

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Crowded MTR as the working class flock to their destinations.

 

Hong Kong’s work culture is like nothing I have ever experienced. It is a culture where unpaid overtime hours are expected almost daily and are the norm, where off days feel like a holy grail, where people are unable to de-stress by going to the beach, bars, or just sleeping all day. My local friend’s commentary on their work life is practically identical: It is a beast that consumes and spits you out with scars in the form of sunken eyes, irritable moods, stress, and fatigue. Perhaps this is why the people of Hong Kong are so strong willed and resilient. The work culture strengthens them, something that I’ve noticed is happening to me too. One of my reasons for studying abroad here was to develop myself as a professional, and Hong Kong’s work ethic is forcing this development in ways I did not imagine. This one of the many reasons why I love Hong Kong.

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Filed under East Asia, Sua in Hong Kong