The first week of school. Oh how I can remember the stress of studying for exams and doing homework. I began Monday worrying about how I would find the right amount of food to sustain me for the week. I cooked a potato and vegetable stew but I added a strong minty vegetable which really ruined its taste for me. As a beginner cook, I will try my best to avoid adding this vegetable in future cooking ventures. Additionally, I was stressed out about what items I needed to fill my cupboard. I went to one major grocery store, Aldi, and another store on Ruhr’s campus, REWE, to buy some ingredients. Additionally, I went with a few friends to an Indian grocery in Bochum Hauptbahnhof (HBF) on Wednesday, 11APR18, to buy a few Indian spices (Our trip and a few friends seen in Figure 1). We met an Indian person who spoke to the two other Indian international students in my group and we later went to another part of HBF and bought great tasting doner to eat for dinner.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what the cashiers say most of the time at the stores I perused because they speak in German and I do not know any German besides the basic phrases I am currently learning in the German class I am taking. In one instance, I was yelled at for not understanding that I had to get a new soap from an aisle because the soap container top broke. In the following weeks, I’d like to better communicate with these individuals so that I can quickly resolve any concerns I have with them and be able to ask for the locations of items in store.
Another notable experience this week was traveling to the IKEA (Picture seen in Figure 1 and a trip through a Essen German market as seen in the Featured Image) in Essen with three other Bochum program participants on Tuesday, 10APR18. This first involved traveling to Bochum HBF using the Stadtbahn. From there, we used another line, of which I cannot remember the name of, to go to Essen. The trip took a total of 40 minutes. Afterwards, we walked for another 20 minutes to find the IKEA. Interestingly, it seems that German cities often use two colors: gray and blue which induce emotions of neutrality and calmness. This may have been because after World War II, Germany under Allied control adopted these colors to reduce Nazi sentiments, which used bold red and yellow colors.
At the IKEA, the most difficult issue we experienced was that every sign post was in German and that many employees did not how to speak English. This means that it was difficult to search for items or ask about where they were located. Nevertheless, we went through it and found the items we wanted. I was able to find a good pot, pan, and tupperware to buy for home.
Afterwards, we went to the Limbecker Platz, one of the malls in Essen, to purchase additional items. German malls are extremely similar to American malls in that they have diverse stores, and many customers. One of the most notable moments of this venture was going to McDonalds in the mall to see how their food would differ from the US McDonalds. As someone who hates fast food and rarely eats it (the last time I ate McDonalds was in 6th grade), I thought it would be a great experience to eat McDonalds. Unfortunately, I was completely wrong. The chicken sandwich I ordered was quite small since it was designed for European portions, and it was filled with lettuce and mayonnaise. When I took a bite of it, I instantly realized that it was similar to the American McDonalds and I regretted buying that sandwich. Nevertheless, I swallowed most of it because I did not want to waste that food. Afterwards, we went to a store called Saturn to purchase electronic items like Ethernet cables. This was because as I mentioned in my first post, the apartment where I live at, Grunewald, does not have WIFI but only internet accessible through an Ethernet port within our room. Truly, what a pain. Once we finished, we returned home to our apartments.
As the week continued, I decided that it would be a pain to cook two meals a day so it would be better that I eat at Mensa for lunch. At Mensa, they have traditional German foods like schnitzel, a large piece of fried meat, and steamed vegetables which I placed on my plate. We had to pay for these meals using our Ruhr card.
On Thursday, I had a fascinating conversation with other Bochum program participants when we we were eating lunch at Mensa, one of the dining halls at Bochum. Since I live in a moderately Muslim household, but I myself am not one, I have instilled within myself many of the values that comprise our culture. One of these includes primarily eating home foods such as rice, chicken, and vegetables.
Since I have mostly eaten at home my whole life, I have never learned how to properly use knives and forks. This means that when I am in a restaurant cutting food with knives, I awkwardly use the fork to cut off pieces of food and place them in my mouth. Of course, I never bothered to learn this task because I have always eaten at home using my hands. I also considered it a part of American culture and removed from my Bengali culture. In my upbringing, I was always taught to prioritize my Bengali culture over my American culture. This meant that I was never interested in learning about using items like forks and knives. My friends in the Bochum program were taken aback at my explanation with one person exclaiming “you’re 20 years old, how do you lack such basic life skills!”. Admittedly, this statement hurt me a little bit because I realized I also have much learning to do about real life situations other than school. Furthermore, I felt that my cultural identity as a Bengali-American was also attacked in this conversation because of the implication that I had to act “American” and learn these skills to fit in to American society.
As I argued further with my friends, one of them showed me how to properly use a knife and fork. Unfortunately, the friend that made the exclamation earlier asked if I wanted to borrow an etiquette book, a concept of which I found to be incredibly pretentious, and also asked whether I go out to eat with my parents. I answered no because of the expensive costs associated with eating outside especially under the low wages my parents earn and forgot to mention how important it was culturally for us to eat at home. Eventually, we shifted our conversational subjects, but I left feeling angry and upset that my identity has to be defined by my “Americanness”. This means that I have to do tasks like eating outside so that I can be like other Americans. Why can’t I simply follow my own culture and be a positive individual within my society as a Bangladeshi-American rather than pressuring myself to become more Americanized? After all, I was not able to come this far as pre-junior at Drexel if I did not incorporate the elements of my Bangladeshi and American cultures within my life. However, I did concede that I would try to learn how to properly use a knife and fork for my own knowledge and to avoid embarrassment in the future. Furthermore, I will try to be more receptive to other cultural foods and cultural institutions because I can admittedly be close minded at times.
Lastly, one of my ongoing regrets is not attending gatherings with other Bochum program and Ruhr students, especially at Erasmus events (events with other international students, some of which are in the EU). This is because I am worried about being unable to prioritize my homework and studying if I spend time socializing. Unfortunately, this has meant my social connections to the other students here are not as strong as they should be and I am not undertaking the experiences I wanted. I have thus prioritized attending one event a week highlighting some aspect of Bochum. For instance, I attended a football game on Friday, 13APR18, with my roommate and his friend between VFL Bochum and 1. FCK which was the first football (soccer as Americans say it) game I have ever seen.
This was a very exciting experience and I hope to engage in very similar group activities in the future so that I could improve my social skills and experience other cultural traditions I may be ignorant of.