Sharing Culture, Community, and Food at the Graduate International Dinner

Butter Chicken demonstration group

There’s no denying that food is a powerful resource. It nourishes us, it fuels us to get through a long day, and most importantly, it brings us together. No matter where you’re from, chances are you have a favorite food that takes you straight back to your kitchen growing up and reminds you of home.

That feeling of comfort is exactly what the 2021 Graduate International Dinner provided graduate students last month. This year, participants got to bring their classmates and their families into their kitchens with interactive cooking demonstrations from graduate students in the culinary field and a local restaurant.

The International Dinner is an essential part of the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College experience. Sharing their culture and their country’s traditions with their cohort is a special way to bond with the class and share a little bit of home. After having to cancel the International Dinner last year due to the onset of the pandemic, the importance of the dinner was more clear than ever.

“For an international student,” said Amrutha Ananth MBA’21 and International Dinner co-chair, “it allows me to bring a little bit of my country, my culture to this event. For people who kind of are homesick, it helps them to reconnect with their country, their culture, and also enjoy the spirit of others getting to know their country and their culture. I think it also involves a deeply emotional aspect.”

A Taste of Home, at Home

During the week leading up to the dinner, participants gathered ingredients to make one of two dinners. The first option was Butter Chicken, a taste of India courtesy of Aakriti Narang MBA’21 and Michael Tomy Kallivayalil MBA’21. The second option brought a Chinese American favorite to participants’ plates with a Vegetarian Dumpling demo from Alyssa Lee MBA’17 of Mei Mei Boston.

In years past, the Graduate International Dinner would bring the entire graduate community—faculty, staff, students, and their families—together through food, music, and dance. Groups would submit recipes to be prepared by campus dining services and served by the student groups to event guests while everyone roamed “around the world” trying samples of global cuisine. The event would often include musical or dance performances from student groups.

This year, although the dinner was virtual, the feeling of community didn’t diminish and perhaps was enhanced. Members of the graduate community were able to cook together, something they wouldn’t normally be able to do, and show each other their creations before they enjoyed them with family and friends.

Presenter makes Vegetable Dumplings
Alyssa Lee MBA’17 of Mei Mei Boston demonstrates folding a dumpling during the Graduate International Dinner.

Lee, the host of the dumpling session, used two camera angles—one on her and one zoomed in on the dumplings—so it was very easy to follow along. As Lee taught her session, she shared some of Mei Mei’s history. Participants loved that she customized her instruction to the audience, making fun dumpling shapes such as an elephant, for the children in the cooking demo. The attendees said the best part of this session was the interactive nature, personalized advice, and unique flavors.

After the cooking demonstrations wrapped up, attendees came back together and participated in a wine and cocktail pairing hosted by International Dinner co-chair Padraig Duna MBA’21.

“For me, a nice aspect of this year’s dinner was getting to see the families on the call that we used to have in person,” said Katherine Worthington, assistant director of Graduate Student Life and Leadership. “They were all together on the video camera making dumplings together.”

The Best of Babson

This year, the virtual format kept the spirit of the international dinner: coming together to share their culture through food. The Graduate International Dinner is a tradition that will continue to live on, and now they have an adaptable model to host the event in person or virtually.

In addition to the dinner, graduate students also submitted recipes for a cookbook, so the Babson community can make recipes from around the world, anytime. This year’s Graduate International Dinner Cookbook is a combination of recipes from 2020 and 2021. The Butter Chicken recipe is included for anyone to try at home.

“It’s one of my favorite events of the year,” Worthington said. “It was the highlight of a student-led event this calendar year. It was the best of Babson. People together in one place socializing, asking questions, learning, and bringing different parts of your culture into the community.”

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