It’s been more than a month since I’ve arrived in the US, and so far, it’s definitely been a rewarding experience. I deeply enjoy the sense of independence and self-reliance that living away of home gives me.

A big part of that is the process of turning a house into a home. I know it’s a well-worn phrase, but I’ve come to know it’s truth. When you start off, the apartment feels foreign, even a bit of a fixer upper. Having previously been set up and used by different people, the place is designed by them, for their priorities. But as I live in it, the apartment changes to fit my needs. Whether it’s buying an electric kettle, or stocking up on ingredients I sorely needed, week by week I can see the changes that I’ve brought about, changes that make my life better, and it fills me with emotion.

Others may see a dismal assortment of mismatched cutlery, chipped plates, scratched cookware and a smattering of spices, but I see a storied kitchen. As I heft the wok in my hand, I remember negotiating with my friends to thrift it, and it opened a whole new world of stir frying (you can only do so much with a skillet before the food all falls out). When we finally got ceramic plates, it made cleaning grease so much easier. The kitchen is my pride and joy, and every piece is a step (or misstep, let’s be real, I made a lot of mistakes) in my journey towards running a tight ship.

You’ll notice I’ve mainly been talking about the kitchen – that’s because I often dwell in or close to the kitchen. There’s a couple of reasons, the most obvious being a home sick palate. American food is great, but sometimes I need something a little lighter, a little closer to home, and the Asian food in the dining hall doesn’t always cut it. Aside from curing home sickness, it’s certainly been a creative experience guessing how to make our dishes taste closer to what we remember, especially when ingredients are expensive and hard to come by.

Left: Lavish Mala Spread Right: Using a pressure rice cooker as a hotpot (results were varied)

But most importantly, cooking has brought people together. Making meals together is a great way to bond, exchange knowledge, talk about our homes and build team synergy. It’s enabled us to share our cultures and build rapport with other exchange students in potlucks. And ultimately, (and I think I speak for all Singaporeans when I say this,) it’s a way to care for others, because now when I ask “Have you eaten?”, I can actually follow up with an offer to make them something. It feels wonderful.

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