EAT TOGETHER

A characteristic Italian meal is later, longer, local, seasonal, and social. Before I left for Italy, I went to a sermon that talked about how meals are important to developing faith and blessing your neighbors, and that is something that really resonated with me on my trip.

Befriending tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus sets an example for us by sitting down with people that were supposedly far from God.  Sharing a meal with them is a very critical point in scripture and says so much about his character. Jesus, friend of sinners. When forming relationships with other people, eating together is a fairly common step that everyone looks to take. Inviting someone over for a meal with your family is a very precious invitation.  I think that college students especially feel this way when sharing meals with other people. It feels weird to eat alone sometimes, and in college, it really means something when someone wants to meet with you for a meal or coffee. It means that they have gone out of their way to meet you and carve out some of their time to accommodate you. I think that anyone can agree that feeling of appreciation is unique.

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Matthew 11:19

In Italy, it is not uncommon for meals to last hours on end, letting people laugh and talk and savor both the food and each other’s company. One Friday night in Arezzo was spent getting late night crepes at Crepes di Lune, and walking through town at 23:00 or so, there were so many people out at dinner. The town felt alive. I felt warm inside, as I watched people eat with their families, or sip on some wine with their friends, or enjoy some live music with their significant other. As I ate my crepe alongside two of my new friends, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of spending precious time with loved ones and slowly eating my crepe.

I have found that I and a lot of my classmates eat much, much faster than Italians. Perhaps it is because we are absolutely famished all the time, but I think it is also something that we have become acclimated to. Most places in Italy do not serve anything “to-go”, and it is fairly hard to find a fast-food restaurant anywhere. Bars (coffeeshops) generally do not serve coffee in to-go cups, and there is only one Starbucks in all of Italy. Americans always seem to be in a hurry in comparison, and that even shows when we walk 10 times faster than the locals here. Sitting down and enjoying your food is something that I have fallen in love with here. Dinner has more than one course, and things are served very slowly sometimes, allowing you to focus on one course at a time, and chat with your friends and family in between courses.

Eating means so much more here than it does in the United States, and I hope that I will be able to retain some of the values that I have learned here when I return.

Beauty in Korea

I’ve seen many beautiful things while I’ve been in Korea. I got the opportunity to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom and cover the city in pale pink petals and bring green back to the previously barren trees. I’ve seen conversations between friends break down into five separate languages and eventually devolve into laughter. I’ve seen Seoul lit up at night and people who perfect strangers not a few weeks ago forge deep friendships and let go of most of our inhibitions. Thanks to my internship at the Daegu Art Center, I’ve been able to watch a number of classical and contemporary performances from violin and piano sonatas to modern dance, along with several traditional Korean pieces.

But I have experienced all of this form a unique position of privilege that I didn’t really think about before coming here. South Korea is a culture in transition. their country has gone through incredibly rapid urbanization in the past few decades. This relative leap into modern industry has also pushed them to the forefront of fashion, cosmetics, and the beauty industry. However, their beauty standards are extremely westernized. A large percentage of the population gets “double eyelid” surgery, which basically makes their eyes fit into general white beauty standards. plastic surgery of all kinds is actually quite common and relatively inexpensive in South Korea.

In a bizarre and somewhat compelling turn of events, I found myself now held in a higher esteem of beauty. I had a lot of mixed feelings about this and didn’t quite know how to handle some situations. From complete strangers stopping me on the street to my boss saying she envied me, I was confronted with these awkward scenarios. This feels self-aggrandizing and narcissistic, which is why it was so uncomfortable to deal with. But it got me thinking about the beauty industry on a global scale and how it differs from country to country. I already had a some awareness of this topic, but being exposed to a completely new culture really deepened my understanding of how profoundly the ideas of beauty and success can affect a culture.

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Korean Food and Alcohol Culture

For these months I’ve been abroad I’ve been able to try a wide array of new food and explore a bit of the alcohol culture in Korea. I find it really interesting to find out how different cultures view drinking and see how it fits into the society. I found myself surprised at the very prevalent drinking culture here in Korea. Along with all of the amazing food I was able to try, soju and beer were available at practically every restaurant, but there is a wide and rich cuisine to explore outside of the party scene. (Both of which I thoroughly enjoyed)

My favorite Korean dish was probably jjimdak (see below) but it’s honestly really hard to pick. As far as desserts go, bingsu definitely takes the cake!

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Feeling Overwhelmed

Studying abroad in general can be a somewhat stressful experience, but it can open your eyes and broaden your horizons in so many ways. And while all of that was very true for me, I am also someone who struggles with anxiety. So, living in such a fast-paced dense and bustling city with over two million people who are part of this extremely homogeneous society which was completely new to me was definitely a challenge. Nearly all of the buildings are made up of three of four separate businesses all stacked onto each other. everyone of them equipped with a flashing neon sign all fighting for attention.

After the first month however, everything started to click for me. I started branching out more and exploring as much as I could. I tried to eat at a new restaurant every day, and talk to as many people and take as many pictures as possible. Some days definitely needed to be rest days though.

This exchange program has been the longest I’ve been away from home by far. Although I’ve been out of ten country twice before, it’s never been for more than a month. So getting the chance to engrain myself in a culture for an extended stay is very new to me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my home since I’ve been here. I’ve grown more independent and confident in my abilities. I now have friends from all over the world who I can keep in touch with by the touch of a button. So the seemingly endless list of things to do ended up being just enough. It’s been overwhelming in the best possible way, and I’ll be sad to leave, but I couldn’t be more thankful for the experience.

 

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Culinary Reflection

After being a month in Italy, I’ve tried a lot of different Italian food but definitely not everything, especially the squid ink pasta. I’ve come to the conclusion that Italians are really good at making a specific selection of food. Italians are amazing at making pasta, pizza, and dessert, but the rest of the selections are decent. I feel like that nearly all the restaurants I’ve been to in Italy, whether it was in Rome or Arezzo, all serve roughly the same selection of pasta and meats with a slight variation between restaurants. Most restaurants serve the same types of pasta such as tagliatelle, ravioli, gnocchi, and tortellini with mix and match of various sauces. I’ve also noticed that their diet mainly consists of carbohydrates through pasta and pizza. I wonder how Italians stay in such good shape with all the carbs in their diet. It might  be due to the fact that Italians walk nearly everywhere while in America we drive our cars to a place that is 3 blocks away. They also keep their vegetables very plain with simple ingredients. At many places, the only vegetable options are either a mixed salad or grilled vegetables. In America, especially in Couch Cafe on campus, the vegetables are often drenched in a thick creamy sauce to make them taste better but takes away the vegetables’ nutritional values. We definitely can learn from the Italians on how to make more nutritional vegetables.

I’ve had some very good culinary experience such as trying gnocchi and carbonara for the first time. Before coming to Italy, I’ve never even heard of gnocchi or knew that pasta can be made from foods besides wheat flour. The first time I had gnocchi was at a restaurant in Pisa. The taste and texture was very different than regular pasta; it was softer and more chewy with a stronger starch taste. It definitely took several bites to adjust, but afterwards it has become one of my favorite pasta. The first time I tried carbonara, it was a restaurant called Tortello and it sadly didn’t go well. Not only did the restaurant run out of all types of pasta expect for penne, but also they really under-cooked the pasta to the point where the inside of the pasta still had a ring of white. Despite the pasta disappointment, the carbonara sauce was amazing. I could definitely taste the eggs in the sauce, and I was surprised that I actually liked it since I normally detest any egg-tasting foods. When I had the next opportunity to replace my first bad experience with carbonara, I immediately took it. That dish was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. I know for a fact that I will never be able to emulate the same quality of carbonara I had in Italy back in the United States.

The only major culinary disappointment that I have had was when I was in Naples. Being located so close to the coast, I had high expectations for their seafood dish. On the second night, I ordered a seafood risotto which had calamari, mussels, clams, and shrimp. The risotto wasn’t fully cooked so that every time I took a bite of the pasta, it was really chewy and slightly hard in the middle. I expected the risotto to be a lot more softer and didn’t require so much effort to swallow it. Due to my bad luck, a lot of the seafood such as the mussels and the clams still had sand in it. There would be times where all I would taste would be gritty sand which I had to spit out in my napkin. I spent the rest of dinner trying to pick out pieces of risotto to eat while trying to avoid getting mouthfuls of sand. The seafood quality was just decent; they weren’t particularly fresh.

Overall, Italian cuisine is very complex with its many courses, but each dish is very simple. For the first course, it is the pasta with some type of sauce with an occasional meat in the sauce. The second dish is usually just the meat. If one wants a side, they must order it separately. In the United States, the side dishes normally come on the same plate as the main course. I think by keeping the food on separate dishes, it prevents people from overeating since all the food isn’t on one dish. One major difference that I noticed is the pizza. I’m so used to having take away pizza that is pre-sliced into eighths that I can eat with my hands. In Italy, I have not seen a single restaurant or cafe that serve sliced pizza. You have to buy the whole pizza and the pizza isn’t cut. I’ve noticed a lot of Italians who would eat the entire pizza using a fork and knife. The pizza, especially the bottom crust is very hard to cut through so sometimes I would cut half way through and then use my hands. I guess the Italians don’t see pizza as finger food. With Italian’s slower pace of life, I’ve noticed that dinner normally takes about nearly two hours long and the waiters are in no hurry of making customers who have finished their food to leave. Back at home, I’m so accustom to eating dinner at home in 30 minutes, so the pace of dinner was definitely a change that I had to get accustomed to.

When I return back to the States, I don’t know if I could go back eating store-bought pasta and frozen pizzas. There is no Italian restaurant  in America that can compare to the quality of food in Italy. However, I’m definitely looking forward to my mom’s home-made Asian food and the large variety of food that America offers. Though I’m might wait several months before trying to open a box of hard, processed pasta or ordering Papa John’s pizza. Italy might have ruined Italian food for me…in a very good way.

Sugar Soda, No Ice

Last night I ordered lemonade at a restaurant and I was surprised when I was given a glass with ice in it. It was kinda funny honestly that I was already so accustomed to chilled or lukewarm beverages. Having lived in Germany for over a month now I figured it would be interesting to comment on a few differences between Germany and the United States, or at least the things that struck me during my time here. Full disclaimer, I’m not saying these are negatives or bad things, I’m just saying that they’re different from my experience growing up in the U.S.

Firstly, in this summer heat, NOTHING IS COLD.

Ok, yeah, that’s hyperbole. Seriously though, Germany is an incredibly eco-friendly country (more on that later) and I’m blaming this for the lack of cold things. A/C is very uncommon, most of the houses are built with thick walls to keep energy costs down. When there is A/C, it’s weak. Not that weak, but almost nonexistent when compared to the overkill A/C you find in Oklahoma. You know that blast of cold air you feel when you walk into a store? You really won’t find that here. Furthermore, I’ve been pretty hard pressed to find fans. I expected there to be ceiling fans to move the air around or something but I honestly haven’t seen that many.

Circling back to the drinks though, ice isn’t popular. I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve consumed ice on this trip. Unless you’re going for an iced latte, it’s best not to count on it. On a similar point, I didn’t realize how often I drank water for free. Not only do you have to pay for water in restaurants, there aren’t water fountains. When you do order water, you have to be very clear so that you don’t get sparkling water, although to be honest, even then you still get carbonated water half the time. The soda has a very different taste as well. Fanta, which is a German brand, is actually flavored with real orange juice and is far less sweet than the cloying taste of the U.S. version. Most of the soda I’ve tried has been made with real sugar and is far less intense than the bolstered fake flavors I’m used to. I quite like it to be honest. Oh, and have I mentioned the coffee? Rather than the drip coffee you find everywhere in the U.S., lungo is very popular here. It is actually impossible to make drip coffee with the coffee machines at my host family’s house and in the student lounge at school. I really don’t know what I’m going to do without it.

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Living Güell!

Although we spend our weekdays working hard here in Barcelona, taking dance classes from 9 am until 5 pm, we have weekends free to explore! This past weekend we had a fantastic slew of adventures, beginning with the celebration of Día de San Juan on Friday night. This holiday honors the summer solstice; bonfires are built on the beaches and fireworks are set off all night long!

On Saturday, we woke up early to see Sagrada Familia, the breathtakingly beautiful church that has been in the process of being built for more than 100 years! Antoni Gaudí is the mastermind behind the architecture, who wanted to design the church in such a way as to harmonize elements of nature and liturgy. After gazing at the multitude of brilliant stained glass and taking in the majestic interior structure, which is built to look like a forest, we headed to lunch, opting for a lovely restaurant with traditional Spanish food. In true Spanish fashion, we spent a long time relaxing and enjoying each other’s company over a three course meal. I got to try Crema Catalana, a sweet delicacy of the region, and found it to be absolutely delicious. With full and happy bellies, we made our way to a virtual reality exhibition on the singer and songwriter Björk. It was quite an experience – we wore special headsets that put us in an entirely different 3D space, with Björk’s music playing and wild images and colors flashing around us.

After a packed Saturday, Sunday rolled in with a new wave of excursions! Our day started with a visit to Park Güell (pronounced like the word “well”). Also designed by Gaudí, it features an iconic mosaic bench that winds its way around a large interior section of the park. There were also many incredible mosaic sculptures, including a giant lizard! From here we went to the Picasso Museum, where we got to see many of Picasso’s incredible paintings and learn about his process as an artist, and also the different periods he went through. I was excited by his series “Las Meninas”, based on the work by Velazquez, because in my 10th grade Spanish class we spent a great deal of time analyzing that particular Velazquez painting! We finished the day with a a creamy and delicious gelato pit-stop.

Below is a photo of me with some “crimson and cream” tiles we found at the park!

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Pasta Making Class

I had the opportunity to participate in a pasta making class. Our instructor, Fabio, first gave us a demonstration. Afterwards, we made our own pasta. Flour is sprinkled on the board, then the flour is dumped in a pile. A hole is made in the middle, creating a volcano. An egg is broken in the hole as well as a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oil. Using a spoon, everything is whisked together, using hands to slowly add in flour until it becomes a ball of yellow dough. Semolina flour is sprinkled on the board and on the dough. The dough is rolled out, alternating sides and adding semolina flour when it began to stick. Once the dough is thin enough to see the shadow of your hand when held up to the light, it is ready to cut in half.

Tagliatelle is made by rolling half of the dough into scroll. Using a knife, cut the dough into strips about 0.5 cm. It is cooked for 2 minutes and then put in pesto sauce. Ravioli is made by taking the other half of dough and folding and unfolding it in half. Then put spoonfuls of the filling made of spinach, ricotta, and nutmeg in a row in the center of one side of the dough, leaving a finger-width space between each filling. Moisten all sides of each filling with water. Fold the other side of the dough over and press between each filling to seal. Using the slicer, cut out each piece of ravioli. It is cooked for 2-3 minutes then put in butter and sage sauce. Gnocchi is made by mixing mashed potatoes, eggs, and flour. The dough is rolled into a snake and then slice into little rectangles. Each piece is rolled down a fork to create texture, allowing the sauce to stick better. It is cooked til it floats and then put in pomodoro sauce.

The tagliatelle was chewy and good with the pesto. It came in varying thickness and shape. The light ravioli sauce brought out the filling, which taste earthy. It was much thinner and softer than American ravioli. Though some ravioli had an overwhelming olive oil taste due to being at the bottom of the pot. The gnocchi was my favorite. It was very soft, like a pillow, and less chewier than restaurant gnocchi. The sauce complimented and stuck to the gnocchi really well.

 

Thoughts from Paris

This past week in Paris, I decided to venture on my own for a little bit. After leaving the Lourve, where I stayed for four hours with my parents, I decided to head to the Museum of Modern Art. It was about a 49 minute walk, or a 7 minute taxi ride. Being the fit & fun & frugal gal that I am (haha), I decided to walk it. The walk was long, but enjoyable. It went very quickly and I enjoyed having some time to myself. I walked along the Seine river and saw some amazing views of the city.

As I walked, I thought about how I would be the only one to ever have this memory. I would be the only one to remember both the disappointment of realizing that the MoMA was closed and the excitement when I stumbled along a cute bookstore. This, to me, is very special. I really like the idea of traveling alone. At some point in my life, I plan to travel alone. Where I’ll go? Who knows. Wherever I want!

Paris, France

Welp, as you can tell, I kind of fell off of the blogging train during my trip to Europe. I may not have electronically documented proof that I traveled to said countries, but the memories and written notes that I brought back to the States are enough for me. However, while in Paris, I did make a list of everything that I did on each day. I will post the list here, more for myself than anyone else. Nonetheless, feel free to read along. Perhaps even close your eyes and imagine that you were there yourself! It was magical!!

PARIS, FRANCE

The evening that we got there:

  • Walked around (Notre Dame, Shakespeare Bookstore, Love Locks on the bridge)
  • Lunch at a random restaurant near the hotel because it was raining
  • Dinner at the restaurant by the sand park
  • Oyster snack after dinner with a nice man that had a neck brace
  • Gelato (the first of many late-night gelato trips!!!)

Day 1:

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Catacombs — our guide was a bit slow, but very informational; lots of bones.
  • Delicious lunch; ravioli and rocket salad (this was in the Francisco Square)
  • Conciergerie — a prison where people were kept before their executions (no executions actually took place here). There was a chapel for Marie Antionette, where her jail cell was located.
  • Cemetery — Oscar Wilde & Jim Morrison
  • Oysters for dinner // Thompson’s had Indian food by the hotel
  • Gelato — same place as the night before (our favorite!!!)

Day 2:

  • Flea Market — lots of antiques and whatnot
  • Lipp Restaurant for Lunch
  • Museo de Orsay
  • Met up with backpackers — Hannah, Kevin, Adran, Mason, Chika, Emily H., Marc, Sarah M.
  • Eiffel Tower at night and a crepe (dark chocolate)
  • Wine @ Airbnb

    Got to meet up with some PLC pals that were backpacking. We went for crepes, to the tower, and back to their Airbnb.

Day 3:

  • Lourve — we had a very nice and informational guide
  • Lunch at the Lourve — sandwich on a nice baguette
  • Walking adventure (MoMA was closed, walked 7 miles alone)
  • Fru-fru fancy 5-course dinner // the Thompson’s ate Mexican food!

    Mona Lisa at the Lourve.

Day 4:

  • Disneyland Paris
  • Chicken wrap for lunch @ the Park
  • Middle Eastern buffet for dinner @ the Park
  • Joe & Rebecca:
    • Restaurant Supply Market
    • Food area by The Market
    • Lunch @ delicatessen (long ham and cheese sandwich, torta, raspberry pastry)
    • Dinner @ Chez Ferdnand

      Disneyland Paris

Day 5:

  • Versailles — we had a great guide (Serge). The gardens were amazing (and my favorite part)!! It was also interesting to see all of the bedrooms.
  • Lunch at Versailles — salad with pine nuts and Brie cheese
  • Italian Dinner — truffle pasta, pizza, etc.

    Me in the gardens in Versailles