Connecting new cultures at the International Café, Groningen

By Evi Qorri

Food can function as a bonding experience, and the founders of the International Cafe in Groningen are very much aware of it. It’s why they are dedicated to organizing events related to food, to bring students from all over the world together.

But how often do you think about food as being more than just a nutritional necessity, but also something essential for your psychological well being?

Food is one of the simplest things that bring us joy. It’s an opportunity to gather around a table, to meet new people, new flavours, and new cultures.

“It’s true. Food brings people together,” explains Mirijam Poelman, one of the organizers of Lasagna and Opera, which will take place this evening.

“This how we started. We organized a Christmas dinner so international students that couldn’t go back home could have a place to gather and make new friends.”

Photo: www.internationalcafe.nl

The dinner table can act as a unifier, a place of community, according to Professor of psychology Arie Dijkstra. Sharing a meal with your family, your friends or even your colleagues means communication, you talk and exchange experiences. Simultaneously, eating is one of the few times where people can put daily stress aside and relax.

But how can food bring us together and how can it regulate our emotions?

“A place to feel at home.”

Since 2010, the International Cafe has organized a new event every month, where people from every corner of the world can feel at home.

“The previous month we had an event about Dutch food, and we saw students from all over the world joining and enjoying not only the food, but also the fact that they met each other,” she continued.

As for the inspiration behind the Italian night, Mirijam explained, “There were some students from the music academy that wanted to sing. Also, who doesn’t like Italian food? Everyone loves it. We hope future events will have dishes from many other countries.”

“This time we are hoping to see some familiar faces from the previous events, but also new people that will come and be a part of the International Cafe. Our expectations are high. However, it’s a shame that we can invite only 50 students. Otherwise, it’s not manageable for us.”

As for the menu, guests will have the chance to taste lasagna, salads, tiramisu, ice cream and Italian cookies.

They will enjoy their food under the rhythm of classic Italian songs that will be played by students from Prins Claus Conservatorium in Groningen.

Food unites different nationalities.

“To me, food is sharing and bonding. Food ‘forces’ people to share and that creates an intimate moment,” Eli Riquelme, an International Cafe regular tells The Scoop. Eli, from Chile, finds food to be the central part of her cultural identity.

“Food is the reason people get together and share. When we say that we are going for drinks, we always eat. When we meet with my family, we eat, eating is very important to us.”

During the previous event, Eli found out about plans for an Italian theme, and since she has a soft spot for gnocchi, she knew she had to go. “To me, Italian food is comfort food,” she adds with a beaming smile.

Photo: www.internationalcafe.nl

Rafaella Mergner, from Brazil, is going to attend the event because she loved her first time at the International Cafe. She met new friends and learned all about the Dutch food culture, which is “considerably different” to what her home country offers.

She is also hoping to learn more about Italian culture and to find her favourite Italian dish.

“I definitely think that food gatherings can become bonding experiences,” said Alexia Hrenyak from Romania. “During the last International Cafe dinners, I met some really nice people from all over the world.”

Even though Alexia is not that passionate about the food, she is “mostly going to the International Cafe because I’ve been there a couple of times before and they’re wonderful people, the atmosphere is lively, and they always have some nice activities.”

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