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The power of food in an international environment

14 May, 2019

At Kings, we welcome students from all corners of the world, all with the common goal of achieving academic success and becoming global citizens.

Whether students join us from the areas local to our colleges, or from further afield, they all have access to on-site cafeterias and canteens which provide a range of food, and a valuable space in which to socialise.

In many ways, it is these spaces that are the real heart of each college. Within an international environment in particular, where students congregate from so many different cultures and countries, food and celebrations around food can be one of the key factors to students coming together, acclimatising to their new environment, and also expanding their horizons. We look at a few ways how below.

A way to come together and make new friends

Sharing food and conversation alongside new classmates and peers in the relaxed atmosphere of our college cafeterias is a great way to make new friends.

The start of the year is daunting for any student but the Kings' Academic Induction includes a 'Principal's tea party', which introduces students to the idea of tea and cake and means students meet each other, and their peers, in a much more relaxed atmosphere. This not only teaches students about some of the best loved elements of British 'food' culture, but also offers a way to break down barriers and dispel any homesickness which may occur as students get used to their new environment.

Kings London's vegetable-growing project, #KingsLondonGrows, is another great way for students to interact with each other, as well as to learn new skills around gardening and healthy eating. It also helps bring the topic of eating locally sourced food and its associated benefits to the fore. Last year one class picked vegetables and prepared a salad for lunch alongside our chef, Mark, which proved very popular!

Food being served in school cafeteria; students eating and cooking together.

A way to acclimatise to new surroundings and new cultural norms

For those students who join us from abroad, settling in to life in the UK can take time. Those students who select to stay with a local host family may initially have greater exposure to British cultural norms, including those around food, but every effort is made within the schools to introduce students to British cuisines and norms around eating.

For example, a couple of our schools have 'fish and chips' Friday every week, which is always popular. On a special occasion such as Christmas, we offer Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, which students usually love. Our students tell us they can definitely relate more to British food through our meals, and generally they all leave with a much better impression of British food than they had before they arrived — often in our experience, British food has a reputation internationally for being a little unrefined!

Bake sales are a common feature of the charity fundraising programmes in our schools, and provide students with a great reason to try some British baking themselves. It also serves to raise students' awareness of charity fundraising's place in British life, and of course to help raise money for charities including our partner charity, United World Schools.

A way to expand horizons

Food and norms around eating are such a huge part of any culture that being exposed to new international cuisines and eating traditions automatically expands our students' horizons. For this reason, we actively encourage both a wide variety of foods on our menus, and food-related celebrations to accompany significant events in our students' cultures.

For example, to celebrate Nowruz, Persian New Year, we had a special Persian menu for the day. Our Iranian students loved seeing everyone try their food and they also set up a special table with information about Nowruz and special sweets typical to the holiday.

Some of our schools host weekly events such 'Around the World Wednesdays', which enable the catering team to take requests for foods from specific countries — a recent Wednesday menu was based on the food of Nicaragua, for example.

The international evenings that we hold regularly at our colleges also provide the perfect occasion for students to share their own cultural norms relating to foods, and of course the foods themselves!

A recent event at Kings Oxford saw guests lining up to try international food cooked and served by the students from all over the world which included delicious dumplings and dessert snacks from China, pancakes from Belgium and Russia, sweet rice balls from Iran, curry puffs and cinnamon buns from Malaysia, home made bubble tea and much more.