Dinner is an essential part of my day. It serves as a connection to my culture, my family and myself. As a child, my grandma would whip up an amazing Armenian spread which we ate together as a family while talking about our days. In high school, I discovered my own love for cooking and found creativity in the kitchen, cheffing up dishes new and old.
Whether eating alone or with others, I made sure to prioritize dinner as a time to decompress and fuel my body.
I knew this would all change when I started college. Living in a dorm, I wouldn’t have access to a kitchen (or my grandma) to prepare food, instead relying on the dining hall. The mere thought of this terrified me. From rumors of poor food quality to the idea of having everyone looking at you sitting alone, I felt anxious about every meal I ate there. Would I find bugs in the salad bar like my older cousin told me? Would people come to sit at my table? Was the infamous freshman 15 in my future? I didn’t want to find out.
My first dinner at the dining hall came on move-in day. My two new roommates and I stood in line, making awkward small talk and trying to get to know the people that we would share a room with for the next eight months. After the front desk worker scanned us in, the dining hall accosted our senses. The scent of unfamiliar foods filled the air and the voices of new students echoed off the walls.
I wondered how long these new relationships would last, and if any of my future friends dined there with me that night.
For the next couple of weeks, I ate lunch and dinner at the dining hall every day. I usually went alone, but from time to time one of my roommates would tag along. I found these first few weeks of college incredibly difficult; I had no friends and felt extremely lonely. At the dining hall, I tried to keep my head down, watching a video with my AirPods in to distract myself from the laughing groups of friends, which my fellow students made seemingly overnight. My insecurities of eating alone lessened as the days passed, but I longed to have friends at my table.
After a month passed, I got tired of wallowing in my loneliness. I started to join clubs and talk to people in my dorm. Through this process, I realized making friends was not a one-and-done thing, but that you must put work into cultivating a relationship with someone. The way I went about this? The dining hall.
I learned that inviting someone to eat with you is the easiest way to catch up with them. This proved especially true in college. Although classes, jobs and homework consume the lives of college kids, they can’t put off eating for too long. With this in mind, I started inviting some new friends to dinner with me. My group grew and grew until we had a revolving door of friends at dinner. We stayed at the dining hall for hours, putting off leaving because we enjoyed getting to know one another (and avoiding the return to our cramped rooms).
All of a sudden, I found myself seated at one of the boisterous tables I longed for at the beginning of the school year.
The new normal of my dining hall dinners marked a significant shift in my life. Not only did my new friends make me happier, I also became more confident. I no longer wished to go home every day. Sure, I still missed my weekly family dinners, but I realized I could replicate the sense of community brought about by eating with others at school. Through the questionable entrees and rundown machines, I created a pocket of peace and remembered the power of dinner. For this, I have the dining hall to thank.