Throughout my life, I have traveled all around the world. I have been to Israel, Spain (twice), the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Costa Rica, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Mexico. Soon, I will also be going to Canada for the first time. Although I love traveling, there are some things about the traveling experience that haven’t always been easy for me: I used to struggle with traveling alone.
The first time I ever traveled alone was when I went to Costa Rica the summer after my freshman year of high school. I remember it clearly-it was 3:00 in the morning and I had just woken up. I was so excited to go abroad alone for the first time, but at the same time I was really scared. My flight was not until 8:30, but the program told us to arrive 4 hours before because of customs and traveling to South America. Since LAX was decently close to us, we left at 4 o’clock. The roads were completely empty and I already knew we could have left later. When we got to the airport, my mom parked and walked me to security. Since this was my first time flying alone, I was not quite sure what to do. I followed my mom to the bag check and we checked my bag and got my boarding pass. After that we headed to security where we said our goodbyes.
The TSA line went pretty quickly and after 20 minutes I was sitting at my gate, listening to music and reading my book to pass the time. After what seemed like a full day we started to board and then just like that we took off to Houston for our connecting flight to Costa Rica. After 3 or so hours we touched down in Houston, and I met up with the rest of the group for our Costa Rica flight. Because it was such a short layover, it seemed like we got to Costa Rica in no time. I sent my mom a text as soon as we landed to let her know I had arrived. We landed in San Jose and stayed the night. The next day, we boarded a bus that took us on a 2-hour drive to the mountains where we were staying with our host families. The town was called Turrialba.
“Trying” is the key word in this title. So is “lately”–I have never made much Korean food before, aside from instant Shin Ramyun with green onions and cheese (the best) and curry rice, which isn’t exclusively Korean and therefore barely counts. It’s hard to learn how to make Korean meals, namely because a) I wasn’t a spectacular cook to begin with, b) the nearest Asian supermarkets are a trip away if you don’t have a car, and c) nothing ever is, and probably never will be, as good as the food my dad and grandma can make.
I grew up in a Korean household with Korean parents making Korean food; I have very fond childhood memories of digging into those packages of green, white, and pink rice cakes with sweet juice in the middle of them (I still have no idea what those are called). We still eat tteokguk (rice cake soup) every New Year’s, which my grandma makes with just the right amount of salt and egg; her tteokguk is probably, legitimately, my favorite food. The most meaningful thing I did this summer was sit down over a hot bowl of sullungtang with my father as we got to know each other a little bit better, one trip to the restaurant at a time. But what is it about food that makes it so powerful?
It took a while for me to notice, but the act of cooking itself is a bizarrely human occupation. It’s an expression of creativity AND an homage to tradition, a means to an end that is sustenance and survival AND a powerful social connector. It’s a foundational block of culture, and of companionship. Many of our memories with our loved ones might be formed over a dinner table, through the vivid weaving of scents and textures that never really escape us. Food is the part of our identity that tells us where we come from, regarding our relationships, our heritage, and our sense of home.
And for someone like me, a college student a bit far from home, who is learning how to build a relationship with herself as well as with others, and who has just entered the horrifying ordeal that is her twenties (learning one day at a time that her parents and grandparents are only growing older, and that if nobody learns her grandmother’s tteokguk recipe in the coming years then something very meaningful will have been lost–cooking is a way of keeping those connections alive. After all, the connections we cherish are part of what defines who we are.
If you’re ever homesick, try cooking something from your culture or hometown, or just something your loved ones made for you once. It’ll make you proud, even if it doesn’t turn out so great. Or better yet, try cooking with a group! I’m getting together with my friends sometime next week–we plan on making gimbap, among some other dishes from other cultures that will not be nearly as good as our families made it but will be good enough for us. And maybe we’ll play some games and have some conversation while we eat, who knows?
As long as there’s cooking involved…I think it’ll be one of those days that I’ll take with me even after it’s over.
Jacqueline is a junior, born and raised in the suburbs near Seattle, Washington. She is a Linguistics and East Asian Languages major, as well as an avid reader and writer, so she loves everything to do with the English language–and all other languages as well! Currently she is studying Japanese, and plans to start next with Korean. In her spare time, aside from reading and writing, she likes to draw, watch movies, learn new recipes, and volunteer for various educational programs.
When I first came to USC, I will admit I was a tad nervous. Okay, maybe a bit more than a tad. I was obviously extremely excited, as USC and “the college experience” had been a dream of mine for some time, but as I made the long flight here I couldn’t help but think about how California seemed so… far.
I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, a city located at the end of the Mississippi River, right as it floods out into the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans is quite different than the rest of Louisiana, and sometimes the United States as a whole. New Orleans is often considered the birthplace of jazz, and is home to many famous events such as the Jazz and Heritage Festival, a large music festival featuring artists such as Elton John and Maroon 5, to Mardi Gras, a nearly two week-long, city-wide celebration. And while New Orleans is celebrated for all of these reasons and more, perhaps what New Orleans is most famous for is something I often overlooked – its food.
New Orleans food is often rich and flavorful, with dishes covered in seasoning and the occasional dose of hot sauce. Famed dishes such as jambalaya, gumbo, po’ boys, red beans and rice, dirty rice, beignets, crawfish etouffee, and bananas foster (and many more) are favorites to locals and tourists alike. Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are rare, as local coffee chains such as PJ’s and CC’s dominate the market. Finally, as New Orleans is right next to so much water, boiled seafood dishes, particularly crawfish and oysters, are always fresh and delicious, and are so much considered a part of life that “crawfish boils” are probably more common than “dinner parties.” In New Orleans, food is embedded in the culture and spirit of the city, but somehow I didn’t really consider how much it was intertwined in my personal feelings of home until I left.
When I decided to go USC, I knew I would miss New Orleans, but I was still excited to try something new. Every city is different, and just like there were so many things I loved about New Orleans, I knew there would be so many things I would love about Los Angeles. And within my first months at USC, this proved true! I loved the countless events, the proximity to the beach, the amazing weather, and, of course, USC. I would explore the city with friends and try all the strange trendy places we saw on Facebook and all the free movie screenings we heard about through class. Still, every now and then, I would get a little homesick. California was always exciting and new, but there were times when I started to miss the comfortable familiarity of home. I would try to involve New Orleans into my California world, trying a “Mardi Gras Theme Night” at a dining hall, collecting songs by famous Jazz artists, and, even on one occasion, asking my much too nice parents to ship me New Orleans style coffee, but I still felt as if the closest I was to home was my Louisiana flag I had hung up on my dorm room wall.
It was around that time that I began to hear about a restaurant in Chinatown that supposedly served New Orleans style food. Multiple people seemed to have heard of it and spoke of it highly, but no one seemed to know the name until, at last, I found it: a small place in downtown called “The Little Jewel of New Orleans.” Upon finding this out, I immediately told my friends that we needed to go. Thankfully, they were almost as excited as I was to try the food I had been praising almost every day they had known me, albeit perhaps a little nervous about having to sit through my intense criticism should the food prove not “authentic” enough. Still, we made plans to go that weekend, and I could hardly wait.
The Little Jewel of New Orleans was an unassuming place from the outside, with a striped green overhang and a small neon sign over the door. But as I walked in, the atmosphere changed, with a brightly painted chalkboard menu and a lit up line of fridges. Looking at the menus, I saw a long list of po’boys. Better yet, looking around I saw several rows of signature New Orleans products, from beignet mix to Mardi Gras throws to even the coffee my parents had sent me a month before! Still a bit in awe I jumped to point out everything to my friends, telling them where you could buy this, and what was the right season to cook that. Still the moment of truth came when we actually ate our food, and for the first time since coming to Los Angeles, I found I had absolutely no complaints as to the “authenticity” of the New Orleans style food I was eating. The food, the products, even the décor sung of New Orleans, and all I could do was smile at how familiar it all seemed. With just a bit of French bread and some cold brew coffee, home didn’t seem quite so far. Perhaps best of all, my friends loved it as well, and by the time we headed home we had all agreed to come back again soon.
We did end up doing exactly this a few weeks ago. We bought some more good food and coffee, of course, and were about to leave when I thought I recognized the girl working at the counter. A bit nervous, I went up to her and asked her name. A few minutes later and we discovered that we had gone to the same high school, a year apart. The restaurant, as it turned out, belonged to her father, who had lived in New Orleans before coming to Los Angeles some years ago. As I looked back and realized my friends were still waiting at the door, I made to say goodbye, but something struck me, and I quickly added, “And tell your Dad I love the restaurant! And… thanks. It’s given me a chance to feel like, just for a little bit, I’m back home.”
Madeline graduated USC with a degree in Animation and Digital Arts. Coming from New Orleans, Louisiana, she always missed home, but loved exploring California. Her family full of avid readers, writers, and lawyers, she had constantly been pushed to continue exploring the English language. She loved visiting Ireland and France while at France and even studied abroad! While as a student, Madeline loved drawing, reading, watching movies with friends, and listening to lots of different music. At USC, she was a part of the satirical newspaper Sack of Troy’s writing staff, and was an aspiring DJ at the student radio.
Academic and Professional English Language Instruction