Sunday, February 25, 2007

no lamb, no cumin!

The idea that college is where you expand your mind is rooted in naïveté. College isn't where you expand your mind; it's where you confirm all your prejudices.

I learned this while a freshman at Georgetown, where I met bumpkins who couldn't abide the smell of kimchi. Not that I made a habit of bringing kimchi to my dorm, of course, but I did know a girl from Alaska who had lived in Korea and had acquired a taste for the world's stinkiest cabbage. She loved kimchi, but never figured out how to store it properly, which led to complaints from others on our floor about the stench emanating from the student lounge's fridge. My mother, Korean through and through, is well aware that many Americans have trouble even coming near kimchi, which may be one reason why I rarely ate it on campus. On those occasions where I did have kimchi from home, you can bet it was well packed and eaten quickly. (Being from Alexandria, Virginia, I was close to home and could skip across the river to eat Korean food there.)

It was a shock and a disappointment to realize that people can be so closed-minded about food from other countries, but I'm older now and just deal with the mentality the best I can. Americans are damn picky sometimes; Koreans are, in some ways, even pickier.

Case in point: lamb and Mexican food. Many Koreans have convinced themselves that lamb is unpalatable, which is why gyros, when sold in Korea, tend to be made of chicken or beef. It's a real shame when the students give me that puppydog look that says, "I'm sorry, Teacher, but I just can't finish this foreign garbage you gave me." The same goes for cumin in tacos, it turns out: my girls all made faces when they smelled the spice, which admittedly smells like a rancid armpit. But cumin is what makes taco sauce taco sauce.

My English Circle girls apologized to me, this past Friday, for being largely unable to finish their taco salads (one girl was a striking exception), so I talked to them a bit about closed-mindedness and open-mindedness. I told them about how I started off hating Korean drinks like shik-hyae, an extremely sweet drink often served after dinner, but that my taste changed as I got used to the drink.

It takes a bit of courage to crawl outside of one's comfort zone and try something different, but despite whatever worldiness I've acquired by age 37, I'm still disappointed that college students-- the ones who are supposed to be so open-minded-- often end up being among the most narrow-minded people on the planet.

Lesson learned: stick with "safe" options when planning a jjong-party. I'm not throwing these parties in an attempt to pry open closed minds; I simply want the students to have a good time on their last day of class. Things might be different, though, if we do a cooking class of some sort.


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