By Jay Sophalkalyan
Being an international student, just like anything else, comes with its own obstacles – one of which is the involuntary process of cultural assimilation in which international students are systematically forced to adapt to the culture of the established, larger community through the policy enforcement of the college that they study in.
As an international student myself, who lives in a traditional undergraduate residence hall, I am required to pay $5,890 per year for a meal plan that consists of 224 meals per semester. But unlike most of my fellow college mates here at Springfield College, this meal plan has shaped a completely different experience for me and my campus life.
Last semester, like a couple of other international students that I know, I had more than 100 meals left over, not because I come from a different ethnic group that eats less than American people do, but because of the variety of food choices that was available for me in Cheney Hall. Accordingly by the end of the semester, there have been complaints from international students in regards to this matter while some were just hopelessly voicing their opinions.
Jiaxing (Danny) Yang, a Chinese student who is in his third year at Springfield College, said, “Occasionally, the dining hall does have Chinese foods or Indian foods. But I hope they would serve us these kinds of foods more frequently.” He continued, “I’d choose to eat in the dining (hall) because it is convenient, but I don’t like the fact that (the) meal plan has to be mandatory. It severely restricts our way of life.”
At the same time, Rahul Acharya, a transfer student from India whose major is business management, said, “Our school only has about 5 percent of international students, so it is understandable that the College is more likely to shift its resources towards American-oriented affair, and that includes the foods in Cheney Hall.”
Coupled with that, John Mailhot, Springfield College Vice President of Finance and Administration, has confirmed that, “Aramark Food Services provides a variety of food choices to accommodate the majority,” when he was asked why there are not many food options that are more accommodating for international students.
Mailhot then added, “There are many things taken into consideration when providing meals – cultural, religious, and dietary needs to name a few. Aramark provides a monthly calendar which includes ‘Delicious DestiNATIONS.’ This is a rotation of international specialties from Asian, Mexican, Korean, Cuban, and Indian. In addition, they provide a holiday meal celebration such as February: African Heritage, March: St. Patrick’s Day Celebration, April: Sushi Gusto. Every Wednesday is Chef Skillet – a prepared specialty meal.”
In the same way, Deborah Alm, the Director of the International Center, has expressed her concern regarding the challenge that the College could face: “We have more than 25 countries represented by international students, and even more countries when we include those who are not on student visas. It would be a challenge to find chefs who could meet the needs of all students.”
While it is understandable that international students like myself cannot really expect Springfield College to please every student, it is quite unclear and ambiguous as to why exactly we are required to purchase a meal plan, just because we live in traditional undergraduate residence halls.
In response, Mailhot explained, “The traditional undergraduate residence halls are not equipped with operational kitchens as the suite styles are. A meal plan ensures that students have food/meals available to meet their nutritional needs. These types of meal plan requirements are common in higher education.”
Comparably, Brian McGuinness, the Assistant Director of the International Center gave a similar reply. “Springfield College is like many traditional small private colleges that make the meal plan mandatory for first- and second-year students,” he said.
Personally, I feel like the idea of an “operational kitchen” is really obscure and somewhat subjective. I live in Lakeside Hall, and the kitchen there is equipped with a stove, an oven, a microwave, and a refrigerator. For someone who is from a third world country, I find this to be quite “operational” to say the least.
Nevertheless, are these reasons of not having operational kitchens, or the commonality of mandatory meal plan in traditional small private colleges, truly enough for an implementation of this kind of policy? The kind of policy that takes away the choice of the international students to practice their way of life in a country that is as diverse as America.
As a person with Asian heritage, cuisine has always been an important aspect of my culture, and in a time like this when I am required to pay and eat a cuisine that is American-oriented, I cannot help but feel like I am being forced to assimilate to the mainstream culture.
One of the first things that I have learned when I arrived here was about the cultural assimilation of Native Americans through Americanization policies that attempted to transform Native American culture to European–American culture, and how unfairly Native Americans were treated. With my Multicultural Education class, we celebrated Native American Indian Heritage Month, because this commemorative month does not only act as a platform for Native people to share their culture, traditions, music, crafts, dance, and concepts of life, but it also serves as a reminder that the United States of America is always a country that advocates choice and promotes diversity. It was one of the highlights of my experience in America and the reason why I am so proud to be here. And though I could not really expect Springfield College to fulfill the needs of every individual on campus, I do, however, expect it to uphold the values that it teaches its students and stand by the ideals that this great nation stands for.