Food for International Students

By Annelie Kluwer

Food in different countries has always interested me. I’m from the Netherlands and have witnessed that there are big differences between eating habits in different countries. For this article, I interviewed a few international students in Brno and asked about their eating habits in their home countries and how they have changed during their stay in Brno.

While interviewing I discovered that eating has different meanings for different people, depending on where they are from. In the Netherlands, for example, people eat because they need to. It’s not a social experience. In the Netherlands you see people eating everywhere; on the street, in public transport, at school etc. We don’t get together with family or friends to eat that often. We see eating as a necessary operation. Only dinner is seen as a social gathering. That’s the only time we spend time together in our busy lives, and talk about what we did that day. For other countries, for example Greece or Spain, eating is very important. It’s not only to fulfil needs, it’s a social affair, too. During lunch or dinner, they use food as a way to improve their mutual relationships or for negotiations in a company.

For most students, Brno is a cheap city to live in, the canteens at school and the dormitory particularly so. You can choose from three options for dinner: canteen, make your own, or go to a restaurant. The restaurant option is not that expensive, but also not something to do every day. The canteen is especially for people who don’t really care about what they eat, or people who can’t/don’t want to cook. The canteen is the cheapest way to eat dinner. The cost is between forty and eighty CZK. If you buy the same ingredients in the supermarket, it will cost more. The disadvantage of the canteen is that most of the food is unhealthy. They offer pizza, meat with French fries and pasta/rice or dumplings with meat. If you want to have some vegetables, you can order a small salad, but there is not much choice.

People who do care about dinner and want to eat healthily make their own dinner. I discovered that the people who do this are from countries that make dinner into a social event. They cook for larger groups and want to share their food with others. People from certain western countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, the USA and the UK, don’t mind that much what they eat for dinner. They will go to the canteen or a restaurant or make something simple, such as instant food.

So in the end, I don’t think dinner has changed that much for all the international students in Brno. People from western countries will eat more often in canteens than people who see food as a cultural event, such as northern Europeans. In the canteen you can choose the dinner that you like the most – so people from western countries, too, can eat as they always do. Another thing we lack at the dormitory on Vinařská is an oven. For people from most countries, an oven is very important to make dinner with. I have seen how inventive people can be while trying to make the same dish without an oven. They share some of the dinners they make with others. That’s how international students eat in Brno.