Exchange students at the German snack hour on Sept. 27. Credit: Courtesy of Caroline Omolesky

Exchange students — nondegree-seeking students — gather around the food of each other’s country about once or twice a month at the Office of International Affairs.

For the third academic year in a row, the OIA has organized snack hours for the current 55 undergraduate exchange students, coming from international Ohio State partner universities around the world. The main objective is to encourage exchange students to socialize among themselves and learn a bit more about each other’s culture.

“Food is a great conversation starter, and serving food at an event always boosts attendance,” Caroline Omolesky, program officer for sponsored programs and academic liaison, said in an email.

Marco Castaldi, a third-year Italian exchange student in mechanical engineering, organized the latest snack hour, in which he cooked three different types of pasta dishes and a conglomerate of mozzarella, tomato sauce, garlic and onions.

For Castaldi, sharing food allows people to share their ideas, opinions and talk about their lives.

These events are intended to be an opportunity for exchange students to hang out and destress, Omolesky said. It also pushes people to try food they might have never tried, said Juliette Rosset, a French third-year in international studies.

“Sharing food is a sign of hospitality, friendliness and respect in all cultures around the world,” Rosset said.

At snack hours, students present the food they brought by explaining how it is important in their country, how it is made and the occasions when it is usually eaten.

The students also create slideshow presentations to illustrate their explanations, with music played to immerse students in cultural ambiance, for about an hour.

Students are free to pick what they want to serve and eventually prepare a dish to share.

“It’s fun to see how personal the dishes often are,” Omolesky said. “Students frequently use parents’ and grandparents’ recipes, and make specialties of their hometown or region.”

Exchange students can choose the date and time they want to organize the snack hour for their country. With the help of OIA, the students purchase the necessary items with an allocated budget of $75 for each country.

The food is bought either in regular grocery shops or in international markets, where students are more likely to find imported items.

Students are not obligated to cook a full meal and usually buy preprepared food or small snacks. The one requirement is that they must serve at least one vegetarian option.

On average, 20 to 25 students attend snack hours and most of them are enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Exchange partners — degree-seeking student partners — are encouraged to participate in the process and help planning, shopping and cooking, if need be.