International students, ‘missionary kids’ offer foreign flavors

By Wayne Bryan Published February 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Courtesy of Quachita Baptist University

Students serve Daniel Grant, right, president emeritus of Ouachita Baptist University, during the the 2014 International Food Festival at OBU on Tuesday night. Grant’s namesake, the Grant Center for International Education on the OBU campus, is one of the sponsoring organizations of the festival, which celebrates the diversity of the international student body.

ARKADELPHIA — Have you ever tasted shalotka? It is a dessert made from apples that is familiar in Penza Oblast, a state in Russia, about 400 miles south of Moscow.

The dish, not quite a cake and not quite an apple cobbler, is made in a casserole dish. It was one of three Russian dishes served Tuesday night at Ouachita Baptist University’s 2014 International Food Festival.

“The recipe calls for tart apples, so I used Granny Smith apples,” said Rachel Timokhina, a student at OBU. “The batter poured over the apples is made from sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla.”

Rachel, who is a native of

Malvern, said the dish is from her husband’s grandmother back in Penza. Slava Timohkin, her husband, is a native of Penza and an OBU graduate. He now works at the school. He and Rachel brought two dishes to the food festival to share with fellow students, faculty and visitors.

“We met on a Tiger service day,” Rachael said.

“We were on the same team raking leaves, cleaning up someone’s backyard,” Slava said.

The Timohkins brought a second dish, called Winter Salad. Its origin is in Belgium, Slava said.

“There were a a lot of Belgians living in our area of Russia in the early 19th century, and they brought the dish in,” Slava said. “It used to have many ingredients, but it was simplified during the Soviet era.”

The dish is basically a potato salad with potatoes, carrots, eggs, pickles, dill weed and mayonnaise with sliced olives on top. Slava adds the traditional chicken to the dish, but he also adds beef because he likes beef.

“I tried to stay as Russian as possible, but the pickles and mayonnaise are both American in flavor,” he said.

The Ouachita Baptist International Students Club and the Daniel and Betty Jo Grant Center for International Education hosted the dinner in the Walker Conference Center.

Sharon Cosh, a staff coordinator of the event and the coordinator of OBU’s English as a Second Language program, said the event helps make the international students feel united with their American fellows and is a way for the international students to represent their own countries by preparing and sharing some of their favorite traditional foods.

“We want to create an awareness of international [students] on our campus. This gives them a chance to be identified and lets them have a day when they can celebrate things that are dear to them,” Cosh said. “Our theme this year is ‘Taste Our World’ because it’s literally just a taste of each other’s food. If each one of the students prepares a dish that represents something from their cultures and we all share together, suddenly it’s communal.”

The event also includes a number of American students who have lived all over the world.

“There are around 40 international students from 33 countries who have come to study here,” Ian Cosh, OBU’s vice president for community and international

engagement, said earlier in the year. “We also have a category called MK for Missionary Kids who were born in the U.S. but have lived and been educated mostly in other countries.”

In addition, Cosh said, more than 40 American students are either currently studying abroad or have expressed an interest in spending some of their college years studying in another country.

He said the event is a great way for students to learn about other cultures through the experience of sharing food.

“Food is a deep part of our humanity. It is a symbol of life and of the differences of taste and preference,” said Cosh, who was born in Northern Ireland and raised in Zimbabwe. “The nice thing about food is it pushes people to the boundary of their own preferences. Some things that we love, we once disliked, but it took a little time to get there, and that’s a big lesson about culture. You have to be patient with yourself and with others because it’s a long journey to understanding and appreciation.”

The dinner attracts more than 500 people annually. The food is arranged and presented according to its continent of origin.

In the American section, Abby Thomas, an OBU student from Little Rock, prepared a dish from Paraguay.

“I have gone there for the past six summers with a group from Immanuel Baptist Church,” Thomas said. “We have have a sister-church partnership with the First Baptist Church of Asunción.”

She made a tray of mbeyu, a flatbread make with cornmeal and cheese.

“I could not find the kind of cheese we use in Paraguay,” Thomas said, “so I bought some Mexican queso — that was the closest I could get.”

Thomas, a history major, served as one of the food coordinators on the planning committee for the festival.

“I just want to raise international awareness,” said Jacob Moreno, a sophomore dietetics major from Mexico

City and another member of the planning committee. “Sometimes people really don’t know what my food is like. For me, they think I eat tacos every day. It’s nice to have the chance to showcase what I eat back home.”

Ben Lange-Smith, a sophomore psychology major from Harare, Zimbabwe, also serves on the committee.

“This is the time when we can come out and be ourselves,” he said. “It’s our day to shine and to show the world and all the other cultures what we have to offer.”

The evening also featured entertainment, with music from several cultures. A group of international and MK students performed songs in their native languages, and the Tiger Steel Drum Ensemble, directed by Ryan Lewis, played Caribbean music. Rob Rucker, a veterinarian from Arkadelphia, also performed traditional Cajun music.

In the hallway at the entrance to the festival’s meeting room, the OBU Woman’s Missionary Union offered a fair-trade world market to sell products “in order to help those who are gainfully employed in poor countries to raise extra capital for themselves,” Sharon Cosh said.

University President Rex Horne attended the food festival and said he had four continents on his plate.

“It is great to see hundreds of students and people from around the area here for an event like this,” he said. “The international students and those studying abroad literally bring great flavor to the campus that we can all enjoy.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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