RSS Feed

Category Archives: Culture and lifestyle

Q&A with another College Abroad student

Michelle in Japan

Michelle in Japan

Lest you think that I’m the only one that has made college abroad work and it isn’t something that you can take advantage of, today I’m posting a short interview with another American I met while in Germany who also got enrolled directly in a university overseas, which saved her thousands of dollars.  Her story is a lot like mine, except now she is teaching English in South Korea.  Going abroad for school has a tendency to instill a desire for some sort of international career, as I myself have discovered.  I want to feature others’ stories here on the blog because there was not enough space in the book to do so.  Thanks to Michelle Cosier for answering my questions and agreeing to let me publish it here.

 

When and where did you do college abroad?

I studied at Jacobs University in Germany from 2007-2009, where I studied International Communication, and now I’m teaching English in South Korea at a public middle school.  I plan to go back to Germany this summer.
What kind of program did you complete abroad?

The program was designed to attract graduate students from all different walks of the world.  The instruction was in English.  Usually we had daily seminars ranging from 3-5 seminars per week related to our particular program.  It wasn’t altogether that much different from an American graduate program.

 

Why did you decide to complete your degree abroad?

I decided to complete my degree abroad because the financial opportunity presented itself as a means for me to actually afford a Masters Degree.  Compare to the thousands of dollars I would have paid in the  U.S.A. Jacobs University offered me a full tuition scholarship.*  I also speak German and wanted to use the opportunity to become more fluent, needless to say I left speaking fluent German as well.

*The program didn’t technically charge tuition at all.  All students were given this “scholarship.”

 

Did you also apply to American degree programs?  What, in the end, made you decide to choose the foreign degree program as supposed to the American degree program?

I did not apply to any American degree programs.   In the end, the financial benefit and having an international degree was the reason I decided to go abroad.

 

What were your worries/concerns about getting a degree from a foreign university or living abroad before you left, if any?

The only concern I had, was…. Am I going to be able to complete the program?  I was putting myself in an unfamiliar education system, but what I learned was that it was on a similar scale as my U.S. university education so I became more confident.

 

How supportive were your close friends and family of your decision to do your degree abroad?  Did they have any particularly concerns about your decision?

My close friends and family were very supportive of my decision.  I had a few stragglers that were whining and nervous about me going, etc… but I just ignored them as I knew they had never really travelled before anyway.

 

Did doing your degree abroad save you money?

Yes, absolutely.  I had a fully covered tuition scholarship.**

**By not paying tuition, Michelle also saved money and avoided taking out more student loans.

What are the advantages of doing your degree abroad?

Broadening my worldview more than what it already was & meeting amazing friends who live all over the world.

What are the disadvantages?

Not seeing friends and family as often.

 

How did you pay for college abroad?

I had a scholarship*, and a college fund that I used to help me with my living expenses.  Also living in Germany with a residency permit and student visa I was able to work a little too.

*Michelle’s program didn’t charge any tuition.

How did you find your program?

http://www.daad.de.

Do you have any special tips for what to do or how to prepare to live and study abroad?

Keep your mind open… “you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Read a book about the culture in the country, go to the place you want to study first on a vacation, learn the language to make the most of your experience, make friends in your host c country.  Don’t stick around your own nationality all the time, and diversify yourself..

 

 Did you travel often outside of your host country while you were living abroad?

Yes!

 

What, if any, lasting impressions or life changes have resulted from getting your degree abroad that you think you would not have otherwise encountered?

I am able to impact and counsel others on making a similar decision.  I could have not made a better life-long impacting decision to go myself so why not share that with others.

 

Advertisements

Happy 2014!

This will be a very quick post to simply welcome in the New Year.  I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions or the idea of starting fresh when the second the year changes.  I’d rather try to believe that one can change one’s life at any time…you don’t need to wait for some rather arbitrary date.    However, the new year has already ushered in quite a few changes in my life.  I’ll wait to post further details, but the first thing that I’m really proud of is the fact that during this first week in January, my book, College Abroad, reached the number one on the best seller list in the category of “Student Travel Guides” on Amazon.  To have published a book while also juggling several doctoral fellowships and completing my dissertation manuscript and moving to several different countries is an accomplishment in and of itself, but to see the book doing relatively well and hopefully inspiring others is quite a nice feeling.  So thanks to all the readers and followers of the blog, those that have purchased the book, and also to those have shared my posts, followed me on Twitter and recommended the book to the curious student in your life.

Be sure to check back soon for more details on my next move, as well as a GIVEAWAY! (in case you didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas).  And here’s to a great 2014 of life-changing experiences, cultural exchanges, travel, and a deeper sense of self-awareness than we had in 2013.

Strange and Even Creepy Christmas Traditions from Around the World Part II: Caga Tío

Christmas Market Barcelona.

Christmas Market Barcelona.

Following up on my earlier post on the formidable Krampus, the rather Halloween-ish Alpine Christmas tradition I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand while living and studying in Germany, I am here to report on yet another strange and even creepy Christmas tradition from my current location in Barcelona.  I was out exploring the city recently and happened to run into a Christmas market that very much resembled those that take over German city squares throughout the country this time of year.  I  love German Christmas markets–there is something just absolutely cozy about bundling up in four layers of shirts and sweaters, meandering through all the booths, admiring the handmade arts and crafts, with Lebkuchen (gingerbread) in one hand and Glühwein (hot mulled wine) in the other.  The atmosphere is even better when the streets have been slightly dusted with snow.  So while the snow was missing, I was delighted to come upon a Christmas market in Barcelona.  However, I was not in the slightest prepared for what I found there.

As I began wandering through the booths (and desperately hoping for something resembling Glühwein), I began to notice something that struck me as incredibly strange.  Nearly every booth was stocked with crudely decorated wood logs of various sizes. The logs were all adorned with a painted smiling face on one end and a blanket covering the other end, and each had four small “legs” to prop it up.  Some of the logs were even sporting Santa hats.  While the scene was rather odd, I assumed that this must simply be a popular Spanish Christmas decoration, similar to the cheesy plastic reindeer many Americans put in their yards or on their roofs.

My first encounter with the shitty uncle.

My first encounter with the shitty uncle.

But then things got weird.  One of the booths had a large sign that read “Caga Tío” above said logs, and since my Spanish is not that good and my Catalan even worse, I immediately whipped out my smartphone and opened up my Spanish-Catalan-English translation app.  These applications are always pretty rudimentary even with today’s technology, so I was pretty sure the translation was bad when it came back as, “shitty uncle.”  Yes, I shit you not, that was not a typo, that’s literally what the dictionary said.  Utterly confused, I asked as politely as possible at the booth if the saleswoman spoke English, which she did not, but she directed me to someone who did (sort of).  Assuming still that the translation was a simple case of malaprop, I tentatively asked the young man if he could explain the embellished logs for me.  He got a rather mischievous grin on his face, not unlike the infamous Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 8.06.02 PMCheshire cat that overtakes the Grinch’s glower right before he attempts to steal Christmas.  He told me that in Catalonia, families bring a small log home, named Caga Tío, starting in early December, and every night the family feeds it oranges, nuts, wine, or leftovers like a begging dog.  The log slowly becomes bigger as it eats more and more (hence the various sizes).  Then finally on Christmas day, similar to America’s elusive Mr. Claus, Caga Tío is expected to produce presents for the good children and something undesirable for the naughty children (in this case, the consolation prize for those on the naughty list is herring, fitting for a coastal country, I suppose).  But unlike St. Nick, Caga Tío needs a little convincing.  In fact, he needs A LOT of convincing.  Apparently, children take a small branch and literally beat the presents out of the log, all the while singing a Catalan Christmas Carol, the lyrics of which demand that the log shit presents.  Again, this is not a typo, the children beat the shit out of the log, and the metaphorical excrement are small presents.  If you think I’m just pulling your leg, check out this video of the tradition in action (the lyrics and the English translation can be found here):

When the song is over, the children lift up the blanket to reveal their presents, or their herring as the case may be.  Afterwards, the log is throw into the fireplace, if the family has one.

At this point, I really wasn’t sure if the man was telling me the truth or if he was having some fun at the expense of a naïve foreigner.  Being somewhat speechless, he pulled out his phone and brought up a video similar to the one above.  He was not shitting me.  This is a real and time-honored Catalan Christmas tradition.  I can only imagine what my face must have looked like, and sensing my dismay, the Cheshire cat returned as he took me by the hand and said, “there’s more!”

He brought me to another booth where dozens of little figurines were on display.  “We have, umm, we have…,” he pauses as he struggles for the English word and consults his colleague, “we have your mayor…from Alaska!”  I struggled to make some sort of logical connection between the excreting timber and Alaska, when suddenly I looked down and in my hand the man had placed a figurine of Sarah Palin in a rather, well, compromising position.  I’ll let the picture do the talking.

Just what your Christmas tree is missing, a pooping Palin.

Just what your Christmas tree is missing, a pooping Palin.

Now before you assume that this is some sort of unfair swipe at the former governor manufactured by a left-wing socialist waging a war on Christmas, apparently caganers (“crappers”) draw no partisan or otherwise polite distinctions.  Indeed, a little bit of internet research revealed Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth, Fidel Castro, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and even the Pope, all popping a squat with their butts in the breeze.  I noticed a miniature football pitch on display wherein every current player of Catalonia’s beloved FC Barcelona were giving new meaning to the phrase, “playing like crap.”  Upon even further inspection I realized that amidst otherwise traditional nativity scenes, there was always a caganer lingering somewhere in the background.  The salesman, looking quite pleased with himself, asked me, “what you think?”  I couldn’t really tell him what I was really thinking, which was imagining the inevitable Stephen Colbert caganer sketch.  But instead I simply looked at him and asked the obvious: “why?”

Is a jolly man that employs elves at the North Pole really any stranger?

Is a jolly man that employs elves at the North Pole really any stranger?

“It’s fun.  It’s tradition.”  Sensing my dissatisfaction with this answer, the playfulness melted from his face and in all seriousness he said, “why does a fat man come down your chimney?” And there it was.  As so it is with most holiday traditions: even those that adhere most closely to these traditions often don’t really know why.  It is so normal that rarely do we ever question the origins of our customs let alone stop to consider how completely abnormal these customs truly are.  How many Americans know that our Santa Claus is a bizarre amalgamation of Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop famous for secret gift-giving who presided over an area in modern-day Turkey, the Norse god Odin of war and poetry, the pagan myth of the Wild Hunt where the dead take up weapons, horses and dogs and engage in a spectacular chase across the night sky during the winter solstice, the Dutch folk tale of Sinterklaas and the English folk tale of Father Christmas, the imaginations of 19th Century poet Clement Clarke Moore and cartoonist Thomas Nast, editorials appearing in Harper’s and The New York Sun, and of course, advertisements for Coca-Cola during the Great Depression?  How often are we confronted with the question, “why a fat man with flying reindeer?”

Upon further research, it seems that caga tío and caganer might be derived from the Yule log, also a pagan custom associated with the winter solstice, and the accompanying tradition of renewing or fertilizing the earth in preparation for spring.  Some argue that adding a caganer to a nativity scene gives the episode a sense of reality, rather than folklore.  And as with Santa Claus, the Catalan obsession with scatology have found its place in modern times, albeit an awkward place from an outsider’s perspective.  As my cultural education quickly devolved into a high-pressure sales pitch, I wondered whether anyone back home might have the necessary sense of humor to appreciate a little Catalan Christmas-themed souvenir.  I won’t ruin the surprise, but someone special in the United States is getting a miniature Tiger Woods in of all his glory.

Just in case you need a last minute gift idea...they ship worldwide.

Just in case you need a last minute gift idea…they ship worldwide.

Travel as a College Abroad Student: Girona, Spain

Travel is one the best things about being a College Abroad student, in my humble opinion.  From your home base in your host country, you can explore little-known and off-the-beaten-track destinations nearby and, budget permitting, beyond.  Yesterday I took advantage of a particularly warm December day here in Spain to go to Girona.  Many people […]

Strange and even Creepy Christmas Traditions from around the World Part I: Krampus

I’ve spent the holiday season in several countries–Germany, Israel and now Spain.  Christmas is a strange time to be abroad.  On the one hand, spending the holiday season abroad is one of the best time to really learn about a culture and its traditions.  On the other hand, it can be profoundly lonely knowing that back home your closest friends and family are participating in traditions and customs you hold dear and you’re missing it.  Christmas in Germany is full of wonderful traditions, and in fact, many American Christmas traditions come from Germany like the Weihnachtsbaum and Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas trees and Christmas markets).  I like spending the holidays in Germany because it lacks the crazy shopping frenzy and is much more focused on spending cozy time with friends and family, and of course Glühwein (warm mulled wine).  But today I want to discuss a much stranger and decidedly un-cozy tradition you would have witnessed had you been in Bavaria on December 5th–the Krampuslauf.

Photo by Johannes Simon, Getty Images.

Photo by Johannes Simon, Getty Images.

For American standards, Krampus is better suited for October 31st than December 5th.  He is a devil-looking creature with large horns and a grotesque curling tongue.  He is St. Nick’s alter-ego, the one that punishes naughty children, while the jolly old fellow leaves good children gifts (in Germany, children get small gifts in their shoes on December 6th!).  But if you thought the threat of coal in the stocking was powerful enough to keep children good throughout the year, try the threat of kidnap and torture by the evil and devious Krampus.  Yes, Krampus accompanies St. Nick on the eve of December 5th and while your sister is getting candy and coins, you’re being put into a sack and whisked away never to be heard from again.  Sometimes Krampus brings help to carry out his dastardly deeds–a female but equally ghoulish character called Perchten.  To keep the legend of Krampus alive, people dress up in all manner of frightening garb and roam Christmas markets throughout Bavaria and other Alpine communities in Italy, France, and Austria.  These parades of sorts are what the Germans call Krampuslauf.

Krampus may be the most frightening example of a larger European Christmas custom where a shady, dark character accompanies the generous and jolly Saint Nicholas, the former carrying out the requisite punishments from the naughty list and the latter checking off the children on the nice list.  In northern Germany, Knecht Ruprecht is a much more sanitized version of Krampus; he is human-like and doesn’t engage in kidnap or torture, just the giving of coal or sticks.  Dark Peter or Zwarte Pieten in the Netherlands may be the most controversial of these traditions, due to its rather racist portrayal of the character in what Americans would call “blackface.”  It seems that these two personalities were merged when Saint Nicholas immigrated to the United States in the early 20th Century and changed his name to Santa Claus, and today there is little evidence of Santa’s dark side in America.  However, if Stephen Colbert has anything to say about it, Krampus will be immigrating to the US as soon as possible:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/258162/december-09-2009/the-blitzkrieg-on-grinchitude—hallmark—krampus?xrs=share_copy

If you like Krampus, you can join this facebook group: Americans who Love Krampus.  Although something tells me that American culture will not be very welcoming to bringing the devil incarnate into its celebrations full of nativity scenes and getting 40% off at Macy’s.

Photo by Reuters

Photo by Reuters

Next time on creepy Christmas traditions: the Catalan Christmas log!  Merry Christmas from around the world!

There’s budget travel…and then there’s BUDGET travel.

There’s budget travel…and then there’s BUDGET travel.

I don’t claim to be a budget travel expert, but part of the allure of being an international student is spending a considerable amount of time living and traveling abroad.  Therefore, I keep up with budget travel blogs and other publications so I can give advice to other international students interested in seeing the world while living abroad (and also to satisfy my own travel itch).  But after subscribing to dozens of “budget” travel guides for several years, I’ve come to discover that there is budget travel, and there is budget travel.  The former is more geared toward American couples or families who work full-time and have some, but not a lot, of disposable income for travel.  The latter is more geared towards young single or childless students or simply wandering unemployed types who actually have little to nothing in their bank accounts.  If you’re an international student attending college abroad, and you want to get out and see more of your host country or the neighboring countries, you’re probably in the budget traveler category.  Furthermore, some of the advice I often see on budget traveler websites is tailored to some of the worst and unavoidable travel habits of Americans, like going back to the same place over and over again, and consuming a place rather than experiencing it by running from one sight to another. (I call this the Amazing Race style of traveling, because it is only slightly slower than the popular television show).  Happily, as an international student you’ll be in a position to avoid most of these silly and sometimes costly mistakes.  Still though, traveling as an international student isn’t quite like an extended backpacking trip, because you don’t quite have that much time, and it isn’t quite like travel hacking either, also because you won’t have that much flexible time and also because as a student, you most likely will not qualify for endless credit cards to score troves of frequent flier miles.  (However, there are some many saving tips from backpacking and travel hacking that can be tailored to the international student). So while I’m not an expert, I’ve traveled to over 40 different countries without any sort of steady income whatsoever over the past six years.  What follows is a set of quick and dirty tips on how to budget travel, and avoid some of the advice of budget traveling sites that just don’t get long-term, international and culturally-meaningful travel.

1.  There are literally thousands of “budget travel” blogs and websites out there.  The key is to find sites that are written by people who fit the kind of traveling you plan to do as an international student.  Focus on sites written by expats, international students (like me!), and backpackers.  You’ll want to find websites from people with extensive travel experience in your host country or on the continent where you’ll be living.  Ignore a blog written by a mom who travels internationally from the US only once or twice a year.  While I understand that most Americans simply don’t have the time to travel more than once or twice a year, in my view that isn’t exactly an impressive resume and doesn’t give them the sort of wealth of experience I would like to tap into (especially if it seems that person travels to the same place frequently).  Of course, the site may be full of great advice for budget travelers, but not for budget travelersBudget travelers consider $100/night apartment in Paris a great deal, budget travelers consider that an extravagant splurge (especially when that same site admits that this Paris getaway included a $350 pass to Euro Disney–quite possibly the worst and culturally-embarrassing money pit in Europe).  Budget travelers will opt for hostels, couch surfing, or crashing at a friends place (and avoid Euro Disney like the plague–seriously–why would you fly all the way to Paris to go to an overpriced and watered-down version of the American theme park and then claim you’re budget-conscious?!)  As a college abroad student, you’ll quickly make friends from near and far who would love to take you home during a semester or holiday break.  Such opportunities don’t typically exist for the American family traveling once a year with only a two-week vacation.  You can also take advantage of the free travel advice from your local friends if they aren’t offering a place a stay.  And yes, staying at a hostel can be a crap-shoot, but I’ve stayed at extremely clean, safe, comfortable and even downright luxurious hostels around the world, often with free WiFi and breakfast (things that usually aren’t free at hotels).  Finding a good hostel is all about following the advice of other budget travelers, and ignore the complaints and fears of budget travelers.

2.  Think twice before ever purchasing a CityPass, and reconsider any site that advises you to do so.  Many American and European cities try to entice travelers with City Passes, but these take advantage of Amazing Race-style tourism, and more than likely aren’t actually very budget-friendly.  Sure, if you take advantage of every discount and offer included in the pass, you could save money.  But no one ever does that, and if you do you’ll be running all over town trying to find that one restaurant where you can use your 10% off coupon (a restaurant that might be overpriced to begin with) and that ship-building museum you can get into for free (even though you couldn’t care less about ship-building).

The discounts that are offered with these packages are usually at gaudy tourist traps that herd you away from local eateries and into superficial places serving hamburgers and fries. You might THINK you’re saving money when you present your coupon, but you could probably eat cheaper without the coupon. Budget travelers will eat street food over restaurants, bring snacks while sightseeing, and since most hostels include a shared kitchen, will make simple dinners like spaghetti or sandwiches. Budget travelers opt to take local transport rather than being bussed around to all the hotspots.  Budget travelers don’t mind getting lost, and we’re happy to simply stroll through a city to experience it rather than hopping from one sight to another. Budget travelers will even forgo spending money to see the sights and museums if entry is overpriced or if there are decent and free alternatives.  For example, I loved Venice but couldn’t force myself to cough up the €80 it costs to ride the famous gondolas, but I wasn’t disappointed because Venice can be just as easily explored by wandering through the narrow bridges on foot and occasionally taking the public water taxis.

View from the water taxi in Venice-around 5 EUR compared to the 80 EUR gondolas.

View from the water taxi in Venice-around 5 EUR compared to the 80 EUR gondolas.

3.  Just because someone on a blog found a good deal somewhere, doesn’t mean that that location is budget-friendly.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a website claiming to be your ultimate guide to Stockholm on a budget, citing some cheap restaurants.  While there are plenty of ways to save money no matter where you go, some places are just downright expensive, and Stockholm is one of them.  I avoided the city, knowing that even hostels can cost more than $60/night, until I had a friend move there and then I stayed with him.  What’s the point of saving money on food if you’re busting your budget on accommodation?  Unless a particular place is an absolute dream location, sometimes extremely expensive places should just be avoided for a budget traveler.  As an international student, you have more time and more choice–you don’t need to go somewhere if it feels beyond your means.

4.  Any travel site that doesn’t give credence to off-the-beaten-track locations is probably

This could be any street in Paris, but it's Bucharest, Romania.  A perfectly walkable and affordable city.

This could be any street in Paris, but it’s Bucharest, Romania. A perfectly walkable and affordable city.

more for budget travelers.  Blogs dedicated to helping an American family go to Europe on a budget will direct people to the Big Three–London, Paris, and Rome.  Because budget travelers only have a limited amount of time, many sites won’t even dare mentioning any part of Europe east of Prague (Berlin is already too “unsure of itself” for some), because these places require more time to get used to and are less tailored to foreign visitors.  But budget travelers will happily skip Italy and the UK for less expensive Croatia, or avoid expensive and popular locations all together and check out Serbia, Hungary, Kosovo, Estonia, or Romania.  Budget travel sites will always direct you to less-traveled places because this kind of traveler isn’t necessarily interested in sightseeing consumption and is more interested in simply seeing a new place, and doing it on an extreme budget.

To me, the biggest difference between budget traveling and budget traveling is that the former essentially boils down to sightseeing while the latter is more about city-seeing and people-watching.  And seeing a city and its people will always be free.

On cooking and eating abroad

This will be part of an on-going series on cooking and eating abroad.  It is inspired by a story I wrote a long time ago about the surprising lessons you learn from living abroad, and for me, perhaps the most surprising thing is that I’ve found a love of cooking.  It is also inspired by the my current cooking situation, which is certainly the most challenging of all the places I’ve lived abroad so far.  But more on that in a moment.

Unless you have the money to eat out everyday, if you decide to go to college abroad you will more than likely have to cook.  As I describe in some detail in the book, many universities abroad are not residential the way American universities tend to be.  This means that students generally do not live on campus and rather live in private off-campus apartments.  This also means that you will not have access to breakfast, lunch and dinner at university cafeterias–usually this means only lunch will be available.  Therefore, cooking becomes an essential skill that you will probably have to develop at least a little bit that is easily avoided if you live on-campus at an American school.  On the one hand, this might be a challenge for some.  On the other hand, it is one of the best ways to save money while living and studying abroad.

It is somewhat paradoxical that I developed a love of cooking while living in apartments with decidedly more simplistic kitchens that what I would have had had I stayed in the US. But when you move abroad, and you continue to move from country to country, kitchen equipment is one of those things that definitely stays at home or is sold.  I’ve been moving from one partially furnished sublet to another, and therefore I’m always at the mercy of whatever kitchen equipment the main tenant has on hand.  Even in relatively rich and developed Western Europe, kitchens in budget-friendly apartments are usually lacking some of the things I would take for granted in an American kitchen.  I have only had microwaves on and off, usually only a few pots and pans, small mini-fridges, freezers have been hard to come by, forget about a dishwasher, and certainly things like blenders have been essentially non-existent.

This is perhaps the most minimalist kitchen I've had yet abroad.

This is perhaps the most minimalist kitchen I’ve had yet abroad.

Here in Spain, I have no oven, no wooden spoon, and no strainer!  It is a challenge just to make spaghetti!  Hell, I don’t even have a coffee pot.  Now, I’m not so poor that I probably won’t break down and go get a cheap plastic strainer or a large wooden spoon.  But for now, I’m stuck with what I have.  After living with kitchens with various amounts of equipment, I’ve come to learn a few tips and tricks for cooking in a minimalist kitchen.

First, budget European apartments will probably not have a microwave, and if they do, they may not have an oven.  I think the lack of microwaves stems from the fact that microwavable foods never really caught on in Europe.  Convenience grew out of post-war America, when our economy was booming while Europe’s was struggling in the aftermath of the war. So if you’re used to popping in a frozen burrito for dinner or lunch, forget it.  Even if you have a microwave, you probably won’t find a lot of ready-made meals (I mention this because my boyfriend said yesterday he had never seen a ready-made burrito when I pulled one of the freezer at a Walgreens-type store, myself amazed).  Everything else you use a microwave for can be done on the stove top.  The only real reason one really needs a microwave is for reheating leftovers in my opinion, which is also an usual practice in Europe, at least in my experience.  Europeans tend not to make too much food with the purpose of saving the rest for later.  I think this also stems from a long history of appreciating fresh food, which has only recently come back into style in the US.  Furthermore, many Europeans eat a “cold” meal in the evening, which typically amounts to veggies, cold cuts, bread, spreads, and cheese.  This sort of meal doesn’t require reheating.  But if you’re like me, there are certain American habits that will always stick with you, and I’m still a very big fan of making huge meals in the evening and reheating it later.

If you don’t have a microwave, you can still reheat last night’s dish with some creativity.  If you have an oven, you can set the heat to medium, put the food in a baking dish, and slowly heat it, checking on the food often.  You can also put a pan in the oven as long as you cover the handle with aluminum foil.  However, I prefer to reheat dishes directly on the stove.  A rice dish or a stir fry goes back into the pan it was cooked in originally, usually with a little olive oil to make sure it doesn’t stick or burn, and I stir the dish over heat until it seems like it is heated through.  This takes more time than a microwave, but it works as long as you pay attention.  This also works well with pasta and soups.

The recipe for this soup called for an immersion blender, which I certainly did not have.  So I just used a wooden mallet to smash up the beans as much as possible.

Black bean soup with Orange Jalapeño Salsa, made in Jerusalem. The recipe for this soup called for an immersion blender, which I certainly did not have. So I just used a wooden mallet to smash up the beans as much as possible.

If you’re lacking in pots and pans, you should become very good at one-pot meals.  One of my favorite one-pot meals, which is also extremely cheap and healthy, is Broccoli Pasta.  I’ve made this a bunch of times now and every time I do something a little different…add onions, or different Italian spices, add cauliflower.  Soup or chili is another fantastic one-pot meal that essentially only requires a knife, a pot, and a cutting board.  Also, chili for me reminds me of home and it is virtually impossible to screw it up, even if you’ve never cooked before.  If you can’t find a certain ingredient in almost any chili recipe, you can leave it out  and it won’t completely compromise the dish.  You can also easily add other ingredients as you see fit.  I’ll talk more about dealing with European versus American recipes with their different measuring schemes in a later post, but if your kitchen doesn’t have a set of measuring spoons, it is not that difficult, with some practice, to learn to eyeball-it.

Other recipes to keep your arsenal besides simple pasta dishes and soups are sandwiches and stir-fries.  Both require only a few ingredients and only one or no pans.  I’ll leave the issue of finding familiar ingredients to another post, but I’ll just briefly mention here that some ingredients you take for granted as easy to find and cheap may be neither in a foreign country.  Americans consistently complain about the lack of peanut butter abroad.  My general complaint is usually the lack of tortillas, or the prohibitive cost of such a simple ingredient.  Suffice it to say that with any recipe you use, you may have to get creative about substituting ingredients.  You’ll find cheddar cheese in Europe, but it is usually more expensive here than in America, so you could substitute any of the other absolutely amazing European cheeses in the grilled cheese recipe I linked to above.

Finally, another strategy for cooking in a minimalist kitchen is to consider recipes and meals that require no cooking whatsoever.  I’m thinking here of salad primarily but you could also try some of the thousands of raw recipes that have been exploding all over the internet as of late.  This may be a bit too experimental for some, and I have to admit that I’m not exactly a raw-foodie, but there are quite a few really tasty and cheap raw recipes.  This is my favorite raw recipe, and my favorite salad that I make fairly consistently.  You’ll notice that the salad recipe calls for a food processor, which I’ve only had while living in Jerusalem, where my roommate was a serious cook so she happened to have all kinds of fun equipment to play with.  I’d love to have a food processor one day, but I’ve learned through experimentation that generally you can get by without one by simply chopping the ingredients as finely as possible, except when the point is to make a very smooth paste.

I hope some of these recipes and tips will help you deal with an unusually minimal or small kitchen when you first move abroad.  My advice to find a few good recipes online that include a relatively short list of ingredients, contain common ingredients you can find easily abroad, and can be made easily without any fancy equipment.  As you ease into your life abroad, especially if you find an apartment you’ll be living in for the duration of your

international program, you can probably invest in some select kitchen equipment to make your life a little easier, and of course you will want to learn about the local cuisine.  You may even want to learn how to make some of the local staples.  But learning to get a long in the kitchen, especially a minimalist one, even if you don’t fall in love with cooking, is a life-long skill.  It is just one of the many unusual skills you develop when spending a considerable time abroad.

Have any tips or recipes for making cheap, healthy, and simple meals that require little skill or few pieces of kitchen equipment?  I’d love to hear about them!  Or have you spent time abroad and have any cooking tips to share that helped you get along?  Share those too.

I made these when I was living Berlin.  Cupcakes are difficult to make without measuring cups, but these were my best batch.

I made these when I was living Berlin. Cupcakes are difficult to make without measuring cups, but these were my best batch.