New Friends

By Margee

When I first began my Honors 251: Citizen and Self class, I understood that we were required to participate in a Kentucky Kitchen Table. A Kentucky Kitchen Table (KKT) is an opportunity for members of the local community to share a meal in a house with people they are unfamiliar with and discuss their lives and opinions. All of this was to be done in a very comfortable setting. I soon became very excited because there is nothing I love more than eating food and meeting new friends.

As the semester went on, I was assigned to a KKT that would be hosted at Dr. Alison Youngblood’s house, which was a comfortable walking distance from Western Kentucky University’s campus. Allison is a professor at Western Kentucky University (WKU) and she teaches Linguistics and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) for the Department of English. It was very nice of her to offer her home to us! The other adult who was kind enough to participate in the KKT was Dr. Leila Watkins, a professor at WKU who teaches Honors 251, as well as courses in English. All of these things I learned from emailing back and forth with them to try to set a date to meet for our KKT.

We decided to meet to share a meal on Wednesday, April 5th at 6pm at Alison’s house. When I first arrived, I entered the house and met Alison’s very sweet dog, Hazel. Hazel was quick to say hello and welcome me! I then met Alissa, another student at WKU who was assigned to this KKT as well. Alissa brought along 3 other friends who were very personable and added great conversation to our group. I had asked Alison and Leila if I needed to bring along any food or items, but both refused saying that they would arrange everything. All 7 of us sat down at Alison’s table together to share a meal consisting of green beans, fettuccine alfredo, garlic bread, clementines, and pizza. Alison also offered us La Croix- a carbonated spritz water that was flavored with a bit of coconut. It was a delicious meal, but the company was even better!

Our conversation first began with introductions and learning more about each other. While sharing a meal together, I learned that Alissa is a freshman from Louisville, Ky- like me- and graduated from Assumption High School. She is also a twin and lives with her twin sister in PFT (her twin sister is older) although she is also in the Honors College. She is pursuing a degree in chemistry with a minor in criminology. Alissa shared that she is an aromantic asexual meaning that she doesn’t experience romantic or sexual attraction. Alissa’s friend Emily is a fan of K-Pop and that is how they met. Emily is also very petite and talked about her little sister who is taller than her now. Alissa’s friend AJ was a bit quieter and was at the other end of the table, but always added witty comments and anecdotes to the conversation. I was also introduced to Dimitri who has really awesome blue hair! Dimitri and Alissa met because they are both openly in the LGBT+ community. Dimitri is gay and nonbinary and prefers the pronouns they/them in discussion.

While getting to know my new friends, I found that I was really enjoying the conversation. It was easy to find common points of interest, such as Alissa and I both growing up in Louisville and Leila and I have both eaten at a Mexican restaurant in White House, Tennessee. Leila’s husband works in Nashville and, of course, she works in Bowling Green so they found a happy medium by both commuting to their respective cities. Although I expected that I might differ to some of the party with my more conservative views, I began to feel accepted and understood by them when I shared what I thought. It was such a relief to be heard and known by them.

Trying to stir the conversation back to the required question, I asked the collective table members, ‘What does citizenship mean to you?’ Leila was quick to respond that to her citizenship means being a part of a conversation in which you are able to ask people about what matters to them. Also, the group added that being a citizen means that you have to be a part of the group to identify yourself as with the group.

This ties into the lessons we have been learning in Honors 251, such as learning about the importance of deliberations and discussing matters in a mature and collected way. I felt very comfortable sharing my opinions and listening to others’ in this setting. Also, I was able to discuss my experiences with short-term mission work in Kenya over the past summer. Alison was very interested because she discussed with us how she had lived in Japan for an extended amount of time teaching. I could just see from her discussion with us that she was so passionate about exploring different cultures and getting out of our comfort zone. Her passion encouraged me to pursue my interests in studying abroad.

We discussed the importance of being still and enjoying meals together with others – like how it was in Kenya for me. In Kenya, there was no clock around to check what time of day it was. There were no time restraints. The whole day was up to the decision of us and I loved that. Alison mentioned that she loved that about Japan, as well.

The grand gesture was when Alison brought out Mochi ice cream balls for all of us to try. It was such a treat because I had never tried one before. Mochi is originally from Japan and is a dessert made from ice cream with a confection sugar outside. Mine was chocolate flavored I believe and, although it had a strange texture, I really enjoyed it and was proud of myself for trying it.

Steadily the light in the room began to fade as the window grew darker and I realized that two hours had passed and I was still enjoying my company. While I was leaving, I began reflecting on why I enjoyed that so much and I think it was because sitting at a table with friends and family is one of my favorite activities. My family is a big advocate for family dinner at the table with no cell phones out and no TV playing in the background. Just our family, our food, and our conversation to keep us entertained. Enjoying a meal with my new friends felt like going home because I knew that just spending this time together learning from each other allowed me to truly breathe and reflect on my day. Those 2+ hours without checking emails or doing homework gave me an opportunity to re-evaluate what matters to me. And the next day when I saw Emily in line for Burrito Bowl on-campus for lunch, I was able to say hi with confidence because she’s my new friend.

IMG_4527From left to right: (Hazel (the dog), Alison, Emily, Margee (me), Leila, Alissa’s empty seat (she took the photo), Dimitri, and AJ

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