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Finding Community in A Cooking Club

Martine outside serving food, smiling with another club member

By Martine P., YES Abroad 2022-2023, Türkiye

Clubs are a big part of the culture of Turkish high schools. Almost every student is a part of at least one club, always rushing off to a meeting or competition held within the school. I desperately wanted to participate in this aspect of my school, but I needed help finding a club where I could succeed. The debate or history club was held entirely in Turkish, and although I was improving, I couldn’t participate in the fast-paced discussions or meetings. Because I entered the school a few weeks after the start, most clubs had already closed their registration. Finally, I found the perfect match, the language of the world - food. Good food goes beyond a language barrier. 

A few weeks into my time in the club, I was taken out of class by a few club members and told we had a cooking club meeting. My friends led me down into the school basement, a place I had never been, much less knew existed. The only thing I understood from the explanation was that we were headed to a festival, but what type of festival was held in the dark basement of our school? The overwhelming smell of vinegar quickly answered my question as I stepped into a storage room-turned-kitchen. Sitting on the table in front of me were trays of cucumbers, onions, lemons, gallons of vinegar, and huge tubs to mix the ingredients. We were making pickles.

Martine and 3 classmates smiling over food they are preparing
Martine and her cooking club classmates

I had never heard of a pickle festival in the middle of the school day, but I was beyond thrilled to get to participate. Students and teachers started filling the classroom. Soon there was a crowd of over 25, all waiting to watch me and my friends make pickles. In Türkiye, pickles are a very beloved food and used as a side in almost every meal. I was so grateful to have been included in the culture and traditions of my school, but I quickly grew nervous. I didn’t know how to make pickles. What if I messed up? What if I don’t understand the instructions? What if? Instead of escaping into the crowd, I got my gloves and apron on and got ready for my pickling performance. 

My friends were patient with me as I tried to understand the instructions they gave me in Turkish, and the onlookers cheered me on as I tried to figure out the process. Before I knew it, we had three tubs full of veggies ready for pickling. My entire body reeked of vinegar, but I couldn’t have been happy to have gotten the option to bond and be welcomed into my school community. There are truly unique and unforgettable experiences around every corner; you just have to look for them.

Martine and her classmates smiling in front of a poster board with photos
Martine and her cooking club classmates