IEW – Cooking as a Second Language

My name is Marija Panic, and I am a Special Education Teacher from Serbia.  Currently, I’m participating in Greenheart Exchange’s Teach USA program, and am working at Harvard Elementary School of Excellence.

When I first decided to make a move and start searching for a way to improve my knowledge and expand my experience in teaching, I was longing to find the best option for me. I found a lot of information on teacher exchange programs. I did a lot of pros, and cons and based on my research Greenheart was on the top of my list as “first one to contact” agencies. Just like I expected they were (and still are) professionals, organized and caring. Fortunately, we were on the same page and they’ve become my best friends and advisers throughout this journey.

In honor of International Education Week, Greenheart worked with Hosteling International-Chicago to plan a cultural event where I would have had an opportunity to share my culture. So, I decided to prepare some traditional Serbian food together with all the guests. This was an exciting opportunity, so I did not think much before I have agreed to it! When I accepted this challenge, I did not know which meals I should prepare, I did not know how long this would take… I was thinking to try to prepare some of traditional Serbian meals like SarmaPodvarak, Serbian kind of homemade bread, or even Ajvar… I kept thinking and thinking, until I slowly I realized that I will need too much time to prepare any of those hard-core Serbian traditional meals. So, I decided to go light. This light version of Serbian cuisine is actually my favorite! “It is so easy to prepare those meals and I hadn’t had  them for a while”, I was thinking to myself, “This will be a lot of fun”…  Sladak Kupus and Projara – that was my perfect combination.

I did not know how many people would  attend the event, and I was little nervous before everything started. However,  once people arrived, I was relieved (somebody will cook with me 🙂 ), and I decided to play a role of a teacher (imagine that!). Before we started cooking, I prepared this little name game I like to play. This icebreaker went well and everybody was laughing. (Laugh now – you will cry when it is time to chop the onions (bahahahhaha 🙂 )

Me, “the chef” in the middle with the funny face.

“Now everybody – wash your hands! Let’s do this! I’m hungry!”

I did not fear that the food would not be tasty, because this was and is my favorite “healthy,” easy to prepare (put everything you have at the moment) food. (I just call it food because I’m Serbian). We started to chop and chop, to talk and talk, to mix and stir, to cook and bake… There were some instructions on how to chop, is it too big, and is it too small, or how many eggs, cheese and ham… but somehow we managed to prepare two dishes at the same time and I think that everybody could recall at least part of each meal preparation process.

Sladak Kupus…mmmm

The food was almost over, and I spoke a lot about Serbian traditions and Serbian people. In that manner I said the next sentence loud enough: “If this food is not tasty enough that is your fault! You prepared it! I just told you what to do…”  And I could already sense that smells just right…
During the evening, there were tons of normal “how do you do this or that in Serbia” questions, but one question stood out “Do you in Serbia have this kind of electrical stove?” – I know that Serbia (ex-Yugoslavia) often got confused for Siberia or Syria, but electricity, c’mon…  – “No, we do not have these… We usually put some logs in the middle of our room, light a fire, and cook on that fire… (I was so serious until this moment – until I realized that someone believed this was true and gave me the “so sorry to hear that” look). “Have you ever heard of Nikola TESLA?!” – I’ve asked them after long laughter 🙂 . This was so funny to me!!! I’ve enjoyed this event too much! It was so precious to me to share my culture and food with people from so many different cultures and nationalities. At the end of the day, and when we finished eating what we made (It was good – just like it should!), we together came to some conclusions: every country or nationality has similar meals in their culture as we have in Serbia. It’s Just that some of the ingredients change… This led to even bigger conclusion: that we are all just people of Earth. No matter where we live, or what we do, we all have our similarities and differences and there is just one thing that matters. You are either a good or bad person. (Or like I love to say, everybody is a good person – to somebody).

I would recommend this kind of an activity to all exchange teachers and students, and to all people who have something to share! This is a precious experience because you get to know and share one part of you to people, who can become your friends. You get to learn more about yourself and your capabilities, and also learn more about other cultures around you. You can have some of the “smart conclusions”, or you just can have tons of fun! If any of you decide to share part of your culture, make sure to put me on the list! I’ll be there – will not miss!

So happy sharing and happy caring 🙂