When I was growing up, my dad always insisted that we eat dinner together as a family every night. He would say that it’s talking to each other over the dinner table that keeps a family together. Of course, being my father’s son, I would hear what he was saying, but never take it seriously. Yes, it was nice eating with everyone together, but I always felt like he was overemphasizing the importance of it all. And as with most things, you realise don’t how good it is until it’s gone.
Being on exchange is certainly a character-building experience, but with living on your own, it also includes a considerable amount of loneliness. My first two weeks here in Switzerland were quite difficult: not knowing anyone and being in a totally different culture was more challenging than I ever could have imagined. It does have a flip side though, because although being on exchange removes you from the comfort of being with family, it puts you in an extremely social environment. All the other exchange students are in the same boat which makes it just about impossible to not make friends.
Luckily, the group I’ve managed to befriend is fantastic. There are a number of us, which makes things like ski trips and nights out an absolute blast. Every so often, we’ll go to a hockey game or some kind of event in downtown Lausanne. What we’ve been doing as of late, however, is eating dinner together. Just about every night since our ski week, one of us will volunteer to host everyone at their apartment. A few people will go out and get ingredients for dishes such as coconut curry, pasta with zucchini and carrots, or mushroom risotto (my personal contribution), come back to the flat and cook for everyone. Then, we’ll all sit around a great big table, and that when the magic happens: we all talk to each other. We talk about our days, tell stories about our families or complain about that one prof that puts everyone to sleep on a lecturely basis. It’s beautiful, really.
The reason I use the word “magic” to describe that moment is that it contrasts so starkly with the rest of our time. In a day and age where we’re leading increasingly individualised lives, it’s very easy to forget that we, as people, need other people. We’re social beings — that’s why cities exist and why we like to spend time with each other, and although we’re getting lonelier as time goes by (just look at the results from the General Social Survey), we still have meals to share. We still have stories to tell and laughs to be had. We’re still human, and sitting down to share a meal keeps it that way.
Until next time,
Pro Tip: Check out John’s recipes @johnkempskitchen on Instagram and Facebook!