Photo courtesy of Yinjie Zhai
Senior advertising major Yinjie Zhai likes to eat, and when he found himself away from home, he did what some hungry college students do: He learned to cook.
“When I started to live by myself — not with the family — I kind of missed [my grandfather’s] dishes,” Zhai said. “So, there’s one holiday vacation I go back and ask, ‘How do you cook those, like, pork belly or anything like that?’”
After learning how to make a teriyaki-pork-belly-like dish from his grandfather, he then tried his hand at other recipes, mostly learned from YouTube videos. While studying abroad as a sophomore in Lausanne, where going out to eat can be expensive, he decided it best to cook for himself, drawing the attention of other people in the program.
“I always offer food to people, too, and they said, ‘Do you want to just have a dinner with everyone or something like that sometime?’” Zhai said.
Zhai ended up hosting a group dinner, which became a regular tradition for the 2018-2019 Lausanne program and was dubbed “Din with Yin.”
“Din with Yin is not just about food,” Zhai said. “It’s also about a place for people to just rest and talk to people they really want to know.”
It is this communal aspect of food that Zhai believes creates a channel of communication between him as an international student and those he feeds.
“I’m not really, I will say, extroverted or good at articulating what I’m thinking,” Zhai said. “But food can tell everything, basically. That’s how I feel.”
In fact, for him, cooking is all about the community.
“If I just lived by myself, I can still cook back for myself; I enjoy the food,” Zhai said. “But when I start to share my food with others, that’s when the cultural exchange — everything — starts.”
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