S’mores…a cultural gateway

Photo: Adam Tuttle, via Creative Commons.

Photo: Adam Tuttle, via Creative Commons.

Last weekend, gathered around a barbecue-turned-campfire with friends and neighbors, I found myself sharing something I haven’t in years. It was something so innocent and mundane, yet it transported me back to my time at Camp Yawgoog Boy Scout Camp. The activity? Making s’mores.

The summer community at St. Lawrence is diverse. Like myself, other students here for the summer are working on research, university-funded fellowships and internships, and developing countless other projects with professors and programs both on campus and in the community. We have a great community of people from all over the country and all different backgrounds.

So, back to the campfire: a friend joined the gathering and was super excited about making s’mores… for the first time. He grew up in the city and had never had the opportunity to roast marshmallows over a campfire.

smores2While I never thought I’d be teaching one of my peers this activity, which I’ve been doing most of my life, it turned out to be fun. Watching his face light up with genuine excitement the first time his marshmallow got too close to the coals and burst into flames was surprisingly humbling (more about that in a minute). After some helpful hints and a few more efforts, he figured out the technique and enjoyed several choclatey s’mores before the fire lazily died down and everyone headed home. He’s since thanked me for helping him discover his new favorite treat. Who would have guessed someone would appreciate me for showing them how to make s’mores?

Really, I should thank him as well. I learned a lot from our exchange over roasting marshmallows. As corny as it sounds, it helped me understand and appreciate the differences in people and their experiences. Not everyone grew up roasting marshmallows at boy scout camp or summertime family gatherings. I take my childhood experiences for granted. Not everyone had similar up-bringings. We don’t all have the same experiences and values.

Fortunately, this time I took the opportunity to turn what might have seemed laughable into an opportunity for me to learn from my friend, as well as an opportunity to share the exquisite experience of s’more making and consumption.

I look forward to learning more from new and old friends and will surely be paying more attention next time I’m roasting marshmallows with others.  Who knew this was an exotic experience for people who grew up in cities?

Have you found something you take for granted that was surprising and interesting to someone from a different background? Share it here. Or, did a friend or visitor introduce you something from their background that was new or intriguing to you? Maybe the rest of us will learn something.

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