The Importance of Food while Studying Abroad: Czech Republic
Name: Nicole Bausch
Program: UMSL exchange at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic
Term Abroad: Academic year during sophomore term
Last semester, I heard horror stories from one of my friends about her roommate. They were not compatible food-wise and the roommate had at one point made my friend her maid. They were always having disagreements about what would be had for dinner. My friend wanted to eat as cheaply as possible, so she insisted often on pasta and bread dishes. But the roommate wanted to splurge and eat lots of meat and rich dishes. Of course, my friend was expected to do all of the cooking and the grocery shopping, so I could understand her irritation.
I was very lucky, on the other hand, concerning my roommate. She was so much like me that she even looked enough physically like me to make the Czechs around us think that we were sisters. My roommate, Ilayda, came from Turkey to study in Czech Republic for one semester and arrived approximately a week later than she had intended because of difficulties with her visa. For that first week, I wondered if I would be spending the semester alone and what had happened to my roommate. I was somewhat relieved though when she finally appeared on a Friday evening in the middle of the night. Yes, I had been asleep, and so I was a bit frightened when all of a sudden someone was unlocking my apartment door and all the lights were being turned on. But it was quickly explained to me that she would be my new roommate. “Oh okay,” I replied, and fell promptly back against my pillow.
On that first day with Ilayda, we ended up going out for Czech food and talking over our Svičková na Smetaně (roast beef served in a wine cream sauce with whipped cream and cranberries and bread dumplings arranged in a half circle on the side for soaking up the rest of the wine sauce). We found that we lived the same kind of lifestyles at home and even enjoyed the same kind of meals. Eventually, we would go to the grocery store together once a week every week, splitting the cost of our food 50/50 between the two of us, and sit together to plan our weekly meals. It became a weekly ritual for us.
Ilayda and I had no problem at all deciding on foods. We had exactly the same tastes, as I mentioned earlier, and were used to a diet of Mediterranean style dishes. I got to know her very well and she has become one of my best friends while we were cooking in our tiny kitchen every single night and then washing the dishes together after every meal. We mostly stuck to dishes with tomatoes, onions, red peppers, and rice because those were our “staple foods” in our refrigerators back in our homes. But I also got her to try some things she had never tried before, such as guacamole (I made it homemade) and bacon. (Bacon is forbidden in Turkey, apparently.) She really loved bacon.
We also made it a point to go together to any restaurant or café or bakery that looked interesting just so we could try the food. We weren’t sure what else to do, other than to study and drink Czech beer. During her last month in Czech Republic, we made a special trip to Prague together, specifically to eat as much of the local cuisine in Prague as possible before she had to go back. So much of what we did for fun that semester was based on our wanting to try a new restaurant or play around with recipes. I feel like food was the only reason why I was able to connect with my roommate and get to know her so much better than many other people who have been in my life. I will miss going to cafes with Ilayda for the rest of the semester and having someone who would share my excitement whenever peppers are on sale at the grocery store. It’s the little things like this, I guess, that have made my first semester abroad so amazing.