4 Tips on Cooking while Studying Abroad

Allison Soung studied abroad at the University of St Andrews in Scotland during her last year of undergrad. She cooked up a storm during her time abroad; this is her bomb makeshift Thanksgiving dinner.

Allison Soung studied abroad at the University of St Andrews in Scotland during her last year of undergrad. She cooked up a storm during her time abroad; this is her bomb makeshift Thanksgiving dinner.

I’d like to introduce a new project to my blog. I’ve asked some of my friends to write guest posts about their experiences with cooking in college. This series will be called “Cooking Knowledge in College.” Cheesy name, I know. Here’s what’s up: We all have different adventures with food and eating in college, so I’d like to document it all in one place so that college students can read and relate. The good, the bad, the ugly… I want it all in one place. Don’t forget to comment below! Or, if you want to write a guest post, please contact me. 🙂

The first post in this series is by my good friend Allison Soung. I asked her to write a post because A) she’s an incredibly great writer, B) she’s super smart, C) she loves food just like I do, and D) she’s a world-class traveler.

Take it away, Allison!


Allison graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. As an undergrad, she studied abroad at the University of St Andrews in Scotland — 5,000 miles away from the luxury of her home kitchen. She shares how she conquered the art of cooking while studying abroad in an unfamiliar environment.

It is easy for us to idealize the food we remember from our childhoods. For me, this includes spending hours sitting at my grandma’s kitchen table watching her wrap dumpling after dumpling or chopping up all the vegetables in preparation for her mouth-watering chow mein. And through the years of watching my grandma and mom cook meals, I gained a love for cooking.  Unfortunately, this passion died down a bit during my college years (there’s something about eating dorm food that keeps the cooking gene dormant). Then I decided to study abroad in Scotland, and food took on a whole new meaning.

During my months in Scotland, I realized that my greatest connection with home is food. Cooking the foods I remembered from back home was one way for me to always keep a part of home with me. However, cooking abroad poses its own challenges sometimes. In many cases you might not be familiar with the country you’re moving to and or know anyone who lives there. In fact, you may move to a country where you’re not sure about anything, like where you’re living or where you’re working, much less what kind of food you’re going to cook once you’re there.


Honestly, what to bring or what not to bring really depends on where you are going and what you want to make. Most of your basics will be available anywhere in the world. However, some things may either be unavailable or take some time to find. Here are 4 tips and a few suggestions of things I wish I brought with me:

  • Spices: It’s hard to remember exactly what was available when I studied abroad. St. Andrews is a pretty small town in Scotland and some of the more exotic spices were harder to find. Bottom line, if there is a spice that you absolutely love, bring it.

  • Measuring cups/spoons: The rest of the world is on the metric system, which is fine except when all your recipes are in the American standard system. Converting the values isn’t that hard, but avoiding the hassle is nice.

  • Baking essentials: If you like to bake, consider bringing some of your own ingredients, such as food coloring, sprinkles, extracts, etc. There will probably be local substitutes, but you may need to do a bit of experimentation before they can replace old favorites.

  • Grocery shopping: Know what you want to get at the grocery store. It can be really easy to forget what ingredients you need to cook the food you love, or at least you might forget if you don’t actually sit down and plan it out. I challenge you on any given day to go the store and buy just the things you need for exactly one meal, without making a list first. Hard, isn’t it? The problem with trying to do this when you live abroad is sometimes what was available last week or last month won’t be available when you actually need it, especially when it comes to specialty imports.

Overall, my experience cooking abroad went quite well. Packing for Scotland, I didn’t think twice about having to cook for myself and never thought to bring any kitchen supplies with me. Luckily, I had some wonderful kitchen-mates who graciously opened their shelves to me, making my cooking experience a lot easier and more enjoyable. This is not to say that I didn’t run into a few hiccups. Sometimes I had to make things the hard way (as in made from scratch) or get creative with my substitutions and recipe adaptations, but the goal in my mind was always the same: make good food that reminds me of home. Because no matter where I am, there is nothing like biting into a warm chocolate chip cookie or digging in to a helping of stir fry.

-Allison Soung

*photos credited to Allison Soung

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