With the first semester of my international communication master’s coming to an end, and as I start to reflect on the experience as a whole, one thing seems to be very interesting to keen observer of human communication is how students use and actually perceive the dormitory shared kitchen.
Kitchens are made so people can use their tools to make food, and sometimes eat on the table there. Obvious, right? But nevertheless, needed to be stated, as this is not the first thing that comes in mind of all students whenever one mentions the dorm kitchen!
Shared kitchens are the perfect platform for international students who travel abroad to experience exchange of different ideas, cultures, and backgrounds. Not only because of its casual atmosphere where everyone acts naturally, but it also involves one of the most important aspects of culture, food!
Because rooms in my dorm are either double or triple, students don’t have the privacy they need to do their own things. So, it’s not surprising to wake up early morning and find someone exercising in the kitchen. The same goes for international students calling home, kitchen is usually the place for catching up with family and friends using Skype or Facebook Messenger. And for hard working students, it’s the place to go to for early morning or late night studies when they don’t want to disturb their sleeping roommates, and it’s too cold to go to the library!
But the most interesting is actually the one-to-one or group discussions that go on during lunch or dinner times. It goes from cultural exchange discussion such as getting to know each other cuisine, Konan style investigations on who stole the food in the fridge, discussing study progress, to debating serious topics such as the U.S. elections.
Because humans cannot live without conflicts, be prepared to witness, if not engage, in one fight at least, also happening in the kitchen. Thankfully I did not witness many of those. The only one actually was about food stealing and pointing fingers at others without evidence.
Parties are integral part of the kitchen society, usually birthdays are held there, where students from different rooms and floors are invited, with their own food and beverages of course. This is sometimes announced with a paper posted on the dorm board, which gives the birthday girl/boy the celebrity feeling. Even though alcohol is not permitted, some manage to smuggle a few beers!
Personally, I had the chance to develop the scientific curiosity needed in my filed, I was able to get a sense of how people feel or maybe understand a side of their personality based on their attitude in the kitchen. If you see someone regularly in the same time almost every day, s/he’s punctual and having an organized life. If someone is only heating sandwiches and frozen food all the time, s/he is not keen on having a healthy lifestyle. One of my favorite persons though, is an Italian neighbor who used to have her espresso every morning in the same time. Which doesn’t say much rather than conforming to the stereotype.
While mentioning food stealing and fighting, it might seem like a negative environment. But this is not true. In fact, majority of the kindest acts I’ve witnessed during this semester were also in the dorm kitchen. Every now and then you’ll find someone posting on the dorm Facebook group that he made lots of food and is inviting others to dinner. Another amazing experience was the weekly international cuisine, where students from the same country would make food from their culture and share with others. And whenever someone is moving out the dorm, you can find lots of food and utensils donated to whoever needs/wants.
From communication point of view, the kitchen serves as a forum where members of the same society, in this case international students, can share, engage, and interact with one another on issues of common interest. In my opinion it is more important sometimes than the actual ‘official’ gatherings in which students are encouraged but sometimes feel forced to engage. And in times where states are actually heading in the direction of isolationism, it is important for the younger generations to foster this experience and work on keeping this practice alive. So, students, keep communicating in the kitchen!
By: Muhammad Allam, currently studying at Vilnius University for his first semester at the MIC