Leaving home is hard, and these feelings of discomfort can often be amplified even more by distance–a common feeling among many immigrants or first generation Americans, like me. For many of us, going away to college is not only the first time we are away from our family, but also the first time we are away from our cultures. Despite having access to helpful tips for dealing with homesickness, it is common to notice the distance between school and home anyway.
When I first got here, I was shocked to go from being surrounded by Croatians to being part of only a handful. Because of this, I was not only scared to be on my own for the first time, but scared I would lose my connection to my culture.
For a lot of us first generation Americans, food is a way to battle this fear and stay connected to our identity and our homes. However, we all know this can be a struggle, depending on one’s location. Especially for those of us that go to school in small towns like Middlebury, it can be a bit of a trek to the nearest Ethiopian restaurant. Eating out is also not always a financially viable option to satisfy bouts of homesickness (although avoiding being a broke foodie is possible).
Some dining halls do attempt to serve culturally diverse food, but surveys show that 40% of students claim they wished the dining halls would never try to replicate their cultural dishes.
This short coming is not always the fault of the chefs – there is a big difference between cooking for a family of four and a campus of several thousand. Sometimes, dishes just don’t translate. Quite simply, there is something about cultural food that cannot be replicated by those outside of it.
When the dining halls do attempt cultural food, sometimes the results are not only unpalatable, but offensive. My friends often complain about Proctor Dining Hall, which is not only the home of the famous panini presses, but also Asian Dipping Sauce. Personally, I find it a little strange that you can deem a dish to be “asian-style chicken” just because it has soy sauce in it. Just saying.
Some students, including myself, do try and make traditional food, and take pride in sharing this piece of culture with others.
Additionally, our on-campus student-run restaurant, Dolci, offers an opportunity for students who wish to cook for a larger audience. However, cooking authentic food is tricky due to the lack of proper ingredients as well as time.
Over the past few months, I barely ate any Croatian food at all, but this is what I have learned.
One day I got a care package from my mother and opened it to find overflowing Tupperware containers of homemade gnocchi, fuzi, kaneloni and burek from my favorite Balkan restaurant, Djerdan. (Peruse the links to educate yourself on Croatian cuisine).
Even though on the day I received this package I was incredibly swamped with work, I took a step back, shut my blinds, blasted Zeljko Samardzic, and feasted. Truthfully, college is so fun and and hectic that I often don’t even have time to think about being homesick at all. But what I realized is that every so often, you need to revisit your roots in order to stay grounded and present.