Mr. Help – Being an Asian girl in Europe

Dear Mr. Help,

We are girls from South Korea, Mainland China and Hong Kong. We’ve encountered several problems while living in Europe as students of MA Euroculture and need your help.

1. Just call my name, correctlySouth Korea (Eunjin Jeong, Euroculture 2011-13)

Mr Help Eunjin
If only I could be called correctly…

Hello, Mr. Help. My name is Eunjin. I have a problem with people not knowing how to say my name correctly. I’ve tried many things and even told them to call me “Engine”. But how long do I have to be the compartment of a car? I do not want to use an English name like some do because I want to keep my Korean identity intact. It was okay until I went to Sweden for my third semester of MA Euroculture. Then, disaster began. They started to call me “Eunyin” and, very painfully, I’ve received several emails with the title “Mr. Jeong”. Should I give up being called correctly in Europe?

2. Could we have a heart to hear talk? – Mainland China (Lili Jiang, Euroculture visiting student from Sichuan University, 2011-12)

Mr.Help Lili 2
If only we could be all cool…

Hello, Mr. Help. My name is Lili. My problem is different – it’s about the social life of my Chinese friends. I have the feeling that most of my Asian friends don’t like hanging out with European students, as they are afraid of the cultural differences. China is no different in this matter. Every time I invite my Chinese friends to a party, they always ask me if there will be other Chinese friends or Asian friends. But, on the other hand, I know that they are also looking forward to making new friends, getting to know different cultures and fitting in to the university. They once told me that their language skills are sufficient for communicating with European friends, but it’s just very hard to advance to heart to heart talks after small talk. I think it’s a big loss for both sides. What could be the solution to really help my Chinese friends to overcome this?

3. It was just noodles!!! – Hong Kong (Au Yeung Shek Ling Hilary, Euroculture 2010-12)

Mr Help Hilary 2
If only I could cook freely…

Hello, Mr. Help. My name is Hilary. I also have a problem. When I tried the WG or flat share culture in Europe, I was nervous at first but enjoyed it very much later: my flat mates taught me how to live in the local way which was great. But nothing is perfect. Well, as a home food lover, yes, I cooked food from Hong Kong for myself and my friends very often. But is it really necessary to give me negative looks when I cook food from my home? I know that European and Asian eating habits are very different but I had eaten lots of European specialties during my stay in Europe: venison, escargot, lapin, etc. If I love European food or not is not important: that I tried them is important. (Actually, I love them, especially escargot!) It really upsets me when my flat mates make disgusted faces and criticise my food without even trying a bite. IT WAS JUST NOODLES!! What can I do about this?

We look forward to hearing from you.

Desperate Eunjin, Lili, and Hilary.

Dear Desperate Eunjin, Lili, and Hilary,

mr helpHi, Eunjin. I really understand your problem. For Europeans it is difficult to pronounce your name correctly. Even if we try, it probably doesn’t sound correct to your ears. I suggest you choose a nickname for your time in Europe. It should be a nickname which fits your personality and feels like it belongs to you. Your problem with being mistaken for a male is quite easy to solve. I would suggest putting an e-mail signature beneath your e-mails in which you call yourself Ms. Jeong.

And Lili, I know exactly what you mean. I often had the same experience when walking around campus, meeting Asians or being in Asia as a European. I think there are several reasons for this. One reason might be that the party habits of Europeans and Asians are quite different. As I noticed, Asian parties generally start earlier and the biggest part is eating. For us Europeans, it starts late and is mostly about drinking, which I think probably makes a lot of your friends quite uncomfortable if they are not used to it. Another reason might be that it takes a lot of courage to overcome the initial shyness of meeting somebody who might not understand everything you say. But I can assure you that it is that way for both sides. A possible solution for you might be to combine the Asian and European way of doing something together. You could organise a culture evening where you first start with an Asian meal and afterwards go out to a party. You should especially tell your friends that most European students would love to talk to an Asian person about a lot more than just superficial small talk. Maybe a good way to get in to a ‘deeper’ conversation is to ask a question about something in European culture that you don’t understand.

Finally, Hilary. I think it is the biggest plus of the WG culture to learn something new about whoever you live with. So maybe your flat mates didn’t understand that part about living together. Of course they don’t have to love everything you cook and, as a person who knows Asian food, I can even understand if they think it looks or smells strange, but I cannot understand why they wouldn’t want to at least try it. You could invite them to a dinner where you cook some Asian food? I know from experience that most Europeans love Kung bao ji ding (Kung Pao Chicken) and Asian noodles, but need somebody to tell them what it is and what kind of taste they should expect.

Mr. Help is from Germany. 

Finding an Alumnus (1) – A Journey to Moscow

Pushkin Square, Moscow

Eunjin Jeong │eunjin.lynn@gmail.com

To my surprise, I was a bit tongue-tied when I first met Alex in front of Pushkin’s statue in Pushkin Square, Moscow on a Sunday afternoon. He was emitting aura which made me forget what I had prepared to say. What am I doing in Moscow? Unfortunately, it seemed like I couldn’t remember why I was there. This is embarrassing. I wanted to sound like a real journalist but apparently it was not working. I just wished I could fool him for the next two hours.

The timing Alex appeared in my life couldn’t have been better. Six weeks before, during the Euroculture Intensive Programme (IP) in Bilbao, Spain, I was anxiously preparing to start an online magazine, The Euroculturer, in the MA Euroculture community. I was also looking for ways to bring alumni back to Euroculture. I heard Alex speak on Career Day and thought that his story could be a great example to many Euroculture students wishing to expand their horizons during their studies. What would be the best way to cover him? I wanted to find out something other than what he already presented on Career Day. Then I got an idea. After the IP, I contacted Alex to ask if I could meet him in Moscow. A few weeks later, in the middle of August, I found myself in Moscow, lost in Cyrillic but full of spirit.

Alex playing Bass in Kilt

On the way to the restaurant from Pushkin square, as I relaxed a bit, Alex gave me a few details of his life. He studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.  Scottish men wearing skirts came up in conversation and he told me that he also had a kilt. He wore it for various occasions but mainly in his ceilidh band, Achtung Ceilidh, where he played bass for a few years. He has played guitar for about 15 years and music has always been a big part of his life. Cool.

At the restaurant, Alex ordered for both of us, my Russian not being so hot. I wondered how good his Russian was and he said it was functional to the extent that he could communicate with his Russian colleagues. When asked why he chose to work in Russia, he told me that he had worked in Moscow before he started the MA Euroculture programme. He hit it off with the city and that’s why he decided to come back when he got a job offer. I asked about his current job at BKC International House Moscow where he has a mouthful of a title: Executive Centre Assistant Director of Studies. The job is a healthy mix of teaching, management and training teachers. It’s the variety that makes it, he said.

When the food arrived, I asked more questions about his Euroculture years. He started Euroculture in 2009 at Uppsala University. Outside of the classroom, he was hired as International Secretary of the Uppsala Association of International Affairs, helping to organise weekly public lectures. He joined the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA) just before moving to the University of Deusto in Bilbao for the second semester. In the EMA he was selected as course representative for Euroculture and was given the chance to participate in the Madrid General Assembly and Communications Conference in Bordeaux. After joining EMA, he wrote regularly for their in-house magazine, EMANATE, and worked closely with the EMA communications team. The idea of his most recent project, Human[i]ties Perspective, was born out of this network, but also from a joint initiative of the EMA and OCEANS Network called Realise It.

In Bilbao where the Night Marathon took place

Our plates were almost empty when his research interests came up. While keeping himself busy with EMA activities, Alex found the topic of cultural diplomacy interesting. He wrote his IP paper on town twinning, a form of cultural cooperation between two cities, which he further developed in his Master’s thesis. He completed an internship with an EU-funded project, Monitors of Culture, hosted by the University of Deusto, on the role of cultural observatories in Europe in the future. Talking about Bilbao reminded me of his charity marathon which impressed me so much − Forrest Gump being one of my favourite movies – that he had spoken about on Career Day during the IP. Rather enthusiastically, I asked about his marathon and he told me the story in detail. Back in 2010, Alex and a friend of his, George, decided to raise money for charity by running the Bilbao Night Marathon. He’s a passionate runner so it was not intended only for charity, but also for fun. The marathon was a great success and they raised over 4,000 US$ for charity: to help build a well in northern Ethiopia. The support from his Euroculture colleagues, both financial and emotional, was amazing, he said. His charity work, highlighted by the marathon in Bilbao, was one of the reasons why Alex was selected as 2012 EMA Star. Other reasons include his dedication to the EMA communications team and his role in Human[i]ties Perspective, an annual two-day conference with which he has been actively involved since 2011.

Before we parted, Alex said that Euroculture, which distinguishes itself from other Master’s programmes mostly by its mobility aspect, could also be a ‘platform’ for the wider world once you start to see how to get involved. I asked if joining the EMA was one of the critical moments of his life. The word ‘critical’ seemed to entertain him fairly but he soon admitted that it was pretty important because it widened his Euroculture experience and eventually brought Human[i]ties Perspective into his life, not to mention an amazing group of friends from all over the world. Cool, I thought and wished that more Euroculturers would take advantage of what EMA could offer. Then we both looked down at our watches. He had to interview some new staff at work shortly and I had no more questions left. It was time to go.

Finding an Alumnus (2) – The journey continues

Eunjin Jeong, Editor-in-chief

Eunjin is from South Korea and studied Education for her BA. She began MA Euroculture in October 2011 in the University of Göttingen, later studied in the University of Strasbourg, did a research track in Uppsala University and currently finishing her MA thesis in Strasbourg. Her research interests lie in finding ways for diaspora groups to feel as ‘citizens at heart’ in host countries. Eunjin is a part-time realist and a full-time idealist.

Food vs. Life

ATKA ATUN | atka_brozek@yahoo.com

Since my pre-teens I’ve gone through obesity, bulimia, being overweight, being underweight, reaching my perfect BMI, and being overweight again. I guess I can honestly say that my relationship with food is long, complicated and sometimes toxic. Being a good Polish woman I still love food and will stay with it forever.

After a semester in Strasbourg, France, I came back home to discover that I had not only gained eight extra kilos but also, according to my doctor, was ten kilos overweight. Numbers are brutal, I can tell you, especially when your relationship with food seemed to be the perfect one. On that day, I promised myself to answer an eternal question: is it possible to have a good and healthy relationship with food without going crazy?

For some people, rules are simple: eating 4-5 times a day; eating fruit and vegetables 4-5 times a day; eating only seasonal food; quitting salt, simple sugars, pork, trans fats, processed foods and, yes, restaurants because you always have to know what you eat. You should not forget to drink at least 2 litres of mineral water every day, but never more than 3 or 4. I found myself in quite a situation while trying to ‘quit’ water. Apparently, my daily 6 litres is nowadays known as ‘aqua-holism’ and to put it simply: makes you look puffier and troubles your overwhelmed kidneys. Speaking of drinking, consumption of alcohol should be minimized to 200ml of wine per day for women and 300ml for men (unfortunately, days of abstinence do not count as an extra 200 or 300ml on a Saturday!). Other kinds of alcohol are not even considered as part of a healthy diet, which I find weird since the same amount of beer daily is a well-known medicine for purifying the kidneys.

I read all these rules and thought that a relationship like that must suck, and hard! First of all, no cuisine in the world can ever exist without salt. Secondly, eating 4 times a day, not to mention 5, is hard enough without being forced to eat 4 strawberries after each meal. Why? Because diet specialists also strengthen the fact that we should eat no more than 200g of fruit per day, split in fours or fives. Thirdly, no one ever made a good, even homemade, pizza on full grained flour. Believe me, I have tried and it was bad. Fourth, how can you study without eating out? I know some people are able to carry their homemade food around but not all of us have the time, energy or skills to prepare their meals as healthy take-out. Nevertheless, I myself am not a big fan of pork, trans-fats or processed foods which are obviously dangerous to our health, so these rules are do-able for me.

But let’s go back to my semester in Strasbourg. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t plan to indulge myself in France. I love cooking and the amount of products, cook books, and cuisines in Alsace is surreal in comparison to Kraków; and something I had to take advantage of. I was not scared since I had read a fabulous bestselling book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano, and knew the nation’s secrets to maintaining a good figure. These rules can be summarized as follows: eat only three times a day, eat as tiny portions as possible (seriously, they can be really good as miniature meals), do not eat junk food, drink a lot of water and no more than two glasses of wine as your only alcohol and never without food. To me, it sounded like enjoying life!

But in Strasbourg there are macaroons…and lots of them. Every single pastry shop has its own secret flavours and you can choose between rose, mint, white and dark chocolate, blackberry, honey and so on. Not to mention the classic – Pierre Herme – that you can visit at Galeries Lafayette that sells ketchup, truffles, fois gras and other crazy macaroon flavours (2,90euro/piece) that seriously can change your views on life itself. Amazing Christian offers all sorts of flavours and sizes, although in that place it is best to try their hand-made chocolates. Naegel, that you will fall in love with after trying its famous Alsatian tartlette with pork, also offers some mind-blowing king-size macaroons (loving their cassis and rose giants). So it goes, like Kurt Vonnegut likes to say, all for “doing it like French women do – enjoy and be skinny”.

Three months after coming back home overweight, I have tried to be: indifferent towards my figure; to be a non-social, carrot-licking zombie chasing vegetables and fruit  5 times a day (with nowhere to go but Heaven); and finally, I have tried to be both. Once or twice a week I have some dark chocolate with earl grey leaves, a family bag of salty chips or a pack of salty sunflower seeds – because I love it. Now, I only add salt when it’s necessary and try using other spices to pump up the flavours. Two glasses of wine seem reasonable, because it’s good to be up the next day. When I have money I go to have some food at my favourite French bistro. After a month of being on both sides of the force I have lost three kilos.

Is my relationship with food perfect? No. Nevertheless, it’s the only one I can live with without going crazy and most of all – the only one that makes me human.

ATKA ATUN, Literature Editor

Atka is from Poland and completed her studies in linguistics with a specialization in intercultural communication. She has studied in Krakow,
Paris, and Strasbourg, and is currently doing a research track in Japan. Atka has been researching Japanese literature and the influence of minority cuisines on those of ‘host’ countries. She carries her dog around wherever she goes, and eats way too much weird food.

Cinderella Complex – A Story from Pune

Sytske Ottink | sytskeot@hotmail.com

A long, long time ago an Indian girl was married to a man living in a country far, far away called Germany. She expected to be treated as a princess because she would be a guest in that country and in India guests are treated as royalty. This is the story of the intercultural communication teacher in Pune. When she found out that German hospitality was different, she suffered from ‘Cinderella Complex’: the feeling that you should be treated like a princess, but you aren’t.

For me, as a Dutch girl coming to India, it’s exactly the other way around. I am treated like a princess when I don’t feel like I should. New classmates and neighbours keep offering me tea, lunch, lifts, and tours of the city without seeming to expect an offer back. Even when I try to pay for the tea, there is general confusion: “You should not pay for the tea, you are a guest here”. “But I will be living here for four months”, I protest. “That doesn’t matter, even if you have lived here for twenty years you are still a guest.” Or if I say thank-you to my neighbour who has been feeding me for three days – “Tsch, don’t be so formal! We’re neighbours, you would have done the same for me if I moved in”. Only I realise that I would not have served a new neighbour food for four days, but would expect that they would manage somehow like I did when I moved into my different student rooms. After all, there’s always a take-away around the corner (or a stale sandwich stashed away in your bag somewhere…).

The amazing Indian hospitality gave me an ‘inverted’ Cinderella complex. It expresses itself in two unexpected ways: “how do I thank them?” and “am I a rude Westerner?”. Regarding the first way, there is a limited quota on allowed thank-you’s (“Don’t be so formal!”) and buying a round of chai has to be prepared in secret: sneak in an order before they find out what you’re up to… Regarding the latter, not accepting a gift might be rude. Even knowing that it’s surprisingly difficult to accept so much more than you have been taught is reasonable. Who would have thought that it feels awkward to get lots of offers?

As this is my main surprise from living in India, it’s not hard to conclude that my time in Pune so far has been fantastic. I wanted to live in India with Indians and I was a bit afraid of ending up in some kind of ‘white Westerners colony’. Fortunately, Indian hospitality means that it could not have been easier to hang out with Indians. In doing so I have learned things about India you would never have learned in a classroom, such as ‘how to use your grandmother for leverage when negotiating with parents if you live in a joint family’ or ‘how to date in India’.

Until now the ways to thank my Indian friends for their favours seem limited although a European food dinner was a big hit. Lasagna with Indian ingredients might horrify an Italian chef, it went down very well. As well as it being an easy way to get compliments such as “You know how to make lasagna?!”, as if this is one of the most complicated dishes known to men. To me, all the different spices in Indian dishes seem to be a lot more baffling than the art of layering vegetables and pasta.

One thing I know for sure is that when I meet Indians back in Europe, I will be a lot more hospitable, just because I know now how much their help and tea has made me feel at home here. To all of you, all I can say is: come and get an inverted Cinderella complex in India too! You will have a great time, more delicious food than you can eat, and you might even become a more of an Indian host yourself.

Sytske Ottink, Pune Correspondent

Sytske is from the Netherlands, where she did a BA in Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. She studied Euroculture in the University of Göttingen and Uppsala University, and is currently doing a research track in Pune, India. She loves anything spicy or sweet, and takes her tea with at least three teaspoons of sugar. Her interests are religion, gender, politics, welfare policy and many other things because she has a hard time focusing on anything in particular. The only thing she can focus on with ease is an ice-coffee with a kanelbulle. The next language she wants to learn is Russian and she dreams of using that one day to tour Russia on the Trans-Siberian express.

Why I Cry of Happiness Over Delicious Food

Edith Salminen | edithsalminen@gmail.com

When I was asked whether I would like to be involved in The Euroculturer magazine as the Food Section Editor, I didn’t hesitate for a second in saying “yes”. I couldn’t believe that I, out of all people, had been contacted for this purpose. One of many reasons why I was so thrilled about this opportunity was because my dream, which I have been realizing through my culinary blog, Taste This!, for two years now and still going strong, is to one day be able to call myself a real food writer. Not only is being Food Editor for The Euroculturer going to take me one step closer to that dream, it will also make me work even harder so as to provide a multicultural European audience with information about food, food culture, gastronomy and beyond through my food philosophy and culinary lens.

As a former student of MA Euroculture at the University of Strasbourg, France, I feel that knowing Europe and, above all, knowing who you are and where you come from, is much about food. As a matter of fact, various scholars argue that food habits are the last to change when people move from country to country, from culture to culture. Discovering foreign countries through their distinctive food cultures and food landscape is among my favourite things to do. Eight months ago, when I started working on my Master’s thesis, I decided that I needed to unravel my own native country’s culinary culture and, thus, my own identity. After diving deep into Finnish food culture and taste, I am more convinced than ever that people should know what they eat and, hence, what they are made of.

My name is Edith Salminen, I am twenty-six years old, I come from Finland and, for as long as I can remember, I have had a huge appetite for delicious food. Because there are no limits to my love for food and because I want to learn all there is to learn about food, I applied and got accepted to the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, Italy. My courses start in November 2012. I have a magnificent year ahead of me.

My love affair with flavours never ceases to amaze me. I dazzle myself sometimes when a tiny bite of a perfect dish excites my palate to the extent that tears of joy blind my vision for a brief instant. People often ask me how it is possible to be so emotional about food. I guess there is no direct explanation. I simply have to be very thankful to have been raised to always try and appreciate the food served to me.

The biggest credit, however, goes to my beloved older brother, a chef turned fire fighter. Ten years older than me, he was, and still is, my biggest hero and role model. My most vivid culinary memories go back to the mid 1990s; to the kitchen in my childhood home where my brother would test the recipes he had learned in cooking school on me. I have always loved to eat, so I had nothing against being his little guinea pig.

Somewhere between me being a little girl, starting to taste my way into the amazing world of culinary pleasures, and the present day, I have become a full-on and full-time foodie. Cooking, eating, writing, debating about food; you name it, I am doing it. I hope that I can inspire you, dear reader, to eat and cook more and better but, most of all, I hope to sensitize you to the enjoyment of tasting delicious food.

Amazing goodness is right there, even if you might not know it. Contrary to what some might think, good food and culinary know-how are not only for sophisticated elites. Good food ought to be an everyday demand for all. I sincerely hope that I will manage to make you think, talk and reflect over food, food culture, gastronomy and your culinary identities. Most of all, I hope I will make you very hungry. Taste this, Europeans! Read and enjoy friends!

http://tastethiseetu.blogspot.se/2012_08_01_archive.html

Edith Salminen, Food Editor

Edith was born in Finland and has been travelling around the world since a young age. Edith obtained her BA in French Philology from Helsinki University and studied Euroculture at the University of Strasbourg. After completing the Euroculture programme she did another Master’s programme, this time in European Studies at Lund University, Sweden. Currently, she is pursuing a career as a food writer and is enrolled at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, Italy. She’s a passionate food lover who fully agrees with Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”.