Bowls of rice, stir-fry, and soup.

Good Food, Good Vibes, Good Friends

Written by Giannina Imperial

When I first came to Hillsdale, I had heard about the stereotypes: a homogenous Caucasian student body, an ignorance about non-Western culture, etc. etc. I knew these stereotypes were not true, yet I was still hesitant.

I come from a Filipino-Spanish household, and all my life I have been raised with a rich understanding about world culture, particularly culinary culture. So much of what connects me with the heritage of my ancestors overseas has been rooted in the food my parents grew up eating and, in turn, began cooking for us. I worried that my love for worldly food would be dissatisfied here, as Hillsdale is often portrayed as anti-diversity. Then I found Asian Dinner Night.

My freshman roommate, who hailed from China, first invited me to this small event where some of the Asians and Asian-Americans on campus come together and share a meal. I knew I had found something special as soon as I arrived at the small off-campus house and met the diverse set of students, both Asian and non-Asians alike.  It was there that I grew closer to her and where I met two of my now-close friends: Devin Ward, ’18, and Andrea Lee, ’18.

“It is an awesome opportunity to bring together various people from campus that I don’t get to talk to or see very often,” Andrea said. “Everyone is friendly and welcoming, and the conversation usually revolves around learning about people’s family and cultural backgrounds that are different from or even similar to the American culture.”

I learned a lot about my fellow students at my first Asian Dinner Night experience. We discussed a wide variety of topics, from foreign education systems to government to differing social and cultural philosophies to even music and dance. And of course, food.

The spread of diverse foods at Asian Dinner Night is one of the most enjoyable you may ever experience: samples from Korea, Vietnam, China, Japan, the Philippines, and everything in between get featured on the table, each student contributing his or her own unique cultural influences. Devin and Andrea even spent three hours at my house making Filipino egg rolls with me for the event. All delicious, and all the foundation of some of the most eye-opening conversations I’ve ever had.  

“The topics discussed don’t seem to come up much around Hillsdale, like interesting cultures of the east and anecdotes about traveling to Asia, our Asian parents, how Asian food is different or how it is cooked,” Devin said. “We also discuss other topics such as music and Hillsdalian life, but the atmosphere is uniquely suited to consider Asian culture in the discussion.”

Of course, the group does not exclude non-Asians.  Everyone is welcome, and many students of non-Asian heritage come and enjoy meals with us. We have lots to learn from everybody about everything, regardless of where they are from.

And what better way to engage in thrilling conversation with such a wide variety of people than over a delicious plate of some of the world’s most iconic dishes?

“Sharing a meal is a unified and common thing that all cultures do,” Andrea said. “Everyone needs to eat to survive, so sharing a meal is the perfect opportunity to get to know and learn from other people.”

These are some of the great things about Hillsdale. The students all have their own stories, their own perspectives on life, whether shaped by major, religion, or even cultural background.  But they all strive for similar things: knowledge about the world and about themselves. And they do this together both in the classroom and around the dinner table.

“Conversations are easy to start around good food, and there are always things to find out about people and their stories, since everyone has lived a different life,” Devin said.  “We each only live one life, but through events like this and every story shared, we have the enormous benefit of learning from and feeling the sorrows, joys, and just weird facts from what other people have lived through and uniquely convey.”

Giannina ImperialGiannina Imperial, ’18, is a psychology major and biology minor from Jackson, MI. If she isn’t in the Psychology Suite running research participants or in AJ’s immersed in her biology textbooks, you’ll find her in the music hall for one of the dozen rehearsals she’ll have that day.  She loves God, neuroscience, dancing like no one’s watching, getting ice cream with friends, and trying out every Filipino recipe in her mother’s arsenal of cookbooks.

Published in November 2018