Setting the Record Straight

After studying and living in Mexico for a year, Erin shares what she learned about what Mexican food really is…

For those of you who love a good basket of chips and queso alongside a chimichanga or a flour tortilla soft taco, it is time to set the record straight that this is considered regional Tex-Mex food.  Mexico is a country rich in gastronomy, each state having a particular dish that is known to the region.  However, one thing is for sure: no meal is complete without lime and spicy salsa.

Living two blocks from school and a 15 minute walk from downtown, I had prime location to many street vendors and delicious restaurants.  Down the street from my house in the mornings conveniently was stationed a lady that sold tamales of various flavors such as green sauce, chicken, chili, strawberry, and to drink atole, a traditional hot Mexican drink with flavors including chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, rice, and coffee.  I loved to start my mornings off with a tasty tamal and cup of atole on my way to school.  Or if I happened to be feeling rather healthy that particular morning, I could always get a cup of fresh squeezed orange and mandarin juice!

Puebla is a city with rich foods and tradition within its gastronomy.  Some typical plates originating in Puebla include the chile en nogada, mole poblano, and cemitas. Mole poblano is a sauce blended with various types of chiles and chocolate poured on top of chicken and rice.  Much an acquired taste, as mole poblano is very distinct for those who have never tried it.  Chile en nogadas consist of a filled poblano chile topped with a nut sauce and pomegranates. It’s a seasonal dish typically eaten during the months of August and September.  As for cemitas, these are large sandwiches filled with chicken, potatoes, beans, nopal, and guacamole.  Cemitas can be seen sold all over town out of large baskets, particularly in Puebla by the bus terminal.

The staple food in Mexico is tacos, but not quite the tacos with which we are familiar.  The most frequented taco stand near my house made their tacos with corn tortillas and your choice between carne asada, similar to a thin steak, or chorizo, a spicy sausage, along with onions, red or green sauce, and guacamole if you so please. Accompanying radishes with the tacos are also common to calm the spiciness. As always, these tacos are made fresh to order up until the wee hours of the night.  So, next time you are craving a burrito with chips and salsa, remember this is tex-mex your taste buds are desiring, not Mexican food.

By: Erin Chancey

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Thanksgiving in England

Last year, I studied abroad at the University of Leicester in Leicester, England.  One of the most difficult things about being abroad is missing out on holidays with your family.  There’s no way around it, while you’re abroad, you’ll miss your family and you’ll miss certain American traditions.  BUT there’s no use in living abroad and thinking of all the things you’re missing out on; the only way to remedy it is to come up with new traditions, involving new friends and new “family.”

In the US, with my family, Thanksgiving is a big holiday.  We usually spend it with my dad’s side of the family, and it involves a gourmet feast prepared by my mother and aunt.  While lunch is being made, a massive game of touch football breaks begins in the field behind my cousin’s house.  And after dinner (served around 3 pm), we eat pie and sit around conversing, usually talking smack about the bedlame game, and watch non-controversial football games on TV.  It’s the typical American Thanksgiving, I suppose.  It’s really just a time to see family you haven’t seen in a while, and find out what’s going on in everyone’s life.  And that’s what I was craving when I was in England.

It was especially strange to be in England because, without Thanksgiving, they move onto Christmas directly after Halloween.  And I’m one of those that hates seeing a Christmas ad or lights on houses, or trees being sold before we’ve had the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving!  While I was abroad, though, I had a lot of international students that were curious about the holiday; maybe they’d seen it in movies, or songs, or heard me talk about it.  So as far as I was concerned, it was decided, I would throw a Thanksgiving feast for all of my international, English, and American friends.  My problem is, I have too many friends.  Okay that sounds disgustingly self-assured, but, it’s true.  I found myself inviting everyone I loved to spend time with, to come to my Thanksgiving celebrations.  Well, before I knew it, there were 25 people who had RSVP’d, and that was about the time I realized I had never actually cooked Thanksgiving in my life.  In fact, I don’t find myself to be much of a cook at all.

After a few frantic calls home, I had my recipes, I had my groceries, and I set out to do the impossible: cook Thanksgiving dinner.  Luckily, I had a lot of help.  My close friend Mirte, whom I met my first day at Leicester, helped me cook, and I had several people keep me company with encouragement, good conversation, great wine, and good music.  I had one American friend I made in Leicester, Erin from Colorado, and she was thrilled about the concept of having Thanksgiving, so she came to help me set up the dining space (which was actually just the common room in my flat building).  I also had a friend Jenny, who was studying at Keele University from OSU, who traveled to Leciester in order to check it out and join in on the Thanksgiving celebrations.  And lastly, my close friend Becca, whom I met in my Art History classes at Leicester, came over to help cook because she, and several of my other friends, are vegan, and she wanted to make sure they could partake in the festivities. 

It turned into a wonderful time.  I made two turkey breasts – I didn’t want to be overambitious and go for a full turkey – green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and rolls.  Each of my guests brought wine or beer, and some brought desserts.  The desserts were the best part!  One of the guys that came was from Germany, and he had just been to Germany the weekend before, and had brought back the most wonderful chocolate cake.  Another girl brought an Italian cake I couldn’t begin to remember the name of, but similar to angel food cake with a bit more substance, and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  There were also all kinds of fruit pastries and pie.  It was heaven.

Though not everyone knew each other, most of my English friends not knowing my international friends, everyone got along really well.  I even made everyone go around in a circle and say one thing they were thankful for before we ate.  And afterwards, we rested and rallied to go out that evening (it was a Thursday, after all).  It was such a wonderful time.

The purpose of this is to tell you how great my Thanksgiving was.  But, my real message is, when you’re abroad, there are times, especially around the holidays, when you’ll miss your family.  No matter how great the English culture and customs were, I still found myself craving pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce.  But instead of crying about it, make new traditions!  Make traditions that incorporate American culture and your abroad culture.  This year, I find myself longing for my friends, my not-as-good-as-my-mom’s cooking, and a good night out, instead of the usual football and food with my family.  You’ll be surprised at the memories you make while you’re abroad if you make the best out of every situation.

Written by: Emma Rupert

Succeeding with a Language Barrier

Studying abroad can seem like an intimidating experience: new foods, new cultures, new standards of living, and new languages. The OSU Study Abroad office provides a substantial array of programs and universities spread across the globe that allow students to immerse themselves anywhere from Dijon, France to Bangkok, Thailand, and every place in between. Many students find themselves in English speaking countries, such as the England, Ireland, Scotland, and Australia. Spanish and French speaking students also often find themselves studying abroad in a country where the linguistic barrier is often broken down with useful terms, conversational phrases, and general familiarity with the language. But, one is inclined to ask, what about students who end up in places such as Brno, Czech Republic, Ljubljana, Slovenia, or Ankara, Turkey?

Personal Experience

On August 31st, 2011, at 11:37pm, I set foot in the Chengdu International Airport in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. I was 27 hours without sleep, two of my bags had been lost, and literally the only Chinese I knew was ni hao, or “hello”. As one could imagine, “hello” does a pretty poor job of telling airport security “I’m an American international student here for the first time, and I can’t find my bags. Please help.” With the help of a 22 year old flight attendant who happened to be walking by, I was somehow able to signify my cry for help. Things did not get easier as I spent my first few weeks in a city completely void of English speakers, as most locals had never left the city, much less completed formal training in helping confused American college students shop for groceries, get a cell phone, or travel to various places. For the beginning period, I relied solely on an oversized language dictionary and my now-superb charades abilities to get from A to B. As time went on, however, the crippling fear of stepping outside and communicating turned into a personal quest to challenge myself to improve. No longer would I need to act out that I needed a wallet, or be overcharged for peaches from street vendors. The immersion experience, with help from my new friends, allowed me to quickly overcome any challenges that I could face. By the end, not only was I able to carry on meaningful conversations with whomever crossed my path, but I was also comfortable enough to get on random buses and travel all over the country, seeing new cities, meeting interesting people, and trying incredible foods. That being said, what I had learned was even though I could finally ask what you were eating, I often found myself wishing that I was back in the day when I had no idea. There are only so many things you can order once you find out that everything is made of chicken intestines, cow stomachs, and pig brains. Ultimately, the difficulties that went in challenging myself with such a new and difficult language not only made the entire experience more incredible, but it gave me a great sense of personal pride and accomplishment.

So what should you do if you find yourself moving to another country and don’t speak the country’s language?

My advice is this:

1. Learn A Little Bit Before You Go – Very little is more frustrating the not having your luggage at an airport or not being able to order food day to day. Introducing yourself to a language before not only prevents that initial anxiety to an extent, but it allows you to become more comfortable with learning the language after you arrive. There is nothing like having a head start.

2. Make Friends – The most valuable resource that you will have in your quest to immersion is the people of the host country. Try to find local students who can also speak English to help you with the transition. With them, you can ask questions, listen to daily dialogue, practice your new abilities in a comfortable setting, and learn to speak like a local. Language aside, they also offer new and exciting insights into your host country.

3. Surround Yourself with Locals – Once you have learned a little bit, you are ready to go out into the world. Supermarkets, drug stores, taxis, and banks are all great places to practice your new language abilities. What I have found is that making an attempt to speak a local language is received incredibly positively. Their smiles and thumbs up are great motivation and feedback for the discouraged student who feels like he isn’t making progress. In China, I often found myself at a local tea shop playing cards with old men. Even though communication was still difficult, being around those who can’t speak English forcing yourself to be there will dramatically improve your abilities.

4. Don’t Be Afraid To Make Mistakes – We all hate looking stupid. Learning a language, however, is one place where it is entirely okay. When you start your day, leave the ego at the door and allow yourself to look dumb. I promise it is never as bad as you think. In trying to order chicken fried rice at one restaurant, much to the delight of the shop employees, I found myself trying to order a chicken butt. By bullishly speaking, you will learn to spot your own mistakes and fix them in the future.

5. Have Fun – That is what studying abroad is all about. Do something crazy, go on an adventure, don’t be afraid to say yes to new experiences. Traveling with friends, going to karaoke bars, and taking part in local traditions will be the best part of your experience, and it is complimented by the ability to speak and understand. By allowing yourself to truly experience this new culture, not only will your language abilities improve, but the overall quality and magnitude of the entire experience will be that much better.

If you are on the fence about studying abroad somewhere because of the language barrier, please at least consider my advice. It will be a wonderful, challenging experience that will help build who you are. Don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back, but rather, allow it to push you forward to new heights. From up there, you just never know what you might see.

By: Collin Nolte