Around the Kitchen Table
In Louisiana, the United States, food is being passed around the kitchen table in between lively conversation and jokes, capturing the warmth of the Beaudoin family. Vibrant smells from the dishes not only tell about their origin as Creole, but with inspiration from influences around them such as Mexican cuisine. There is no one around the table who would disagree with the fact that the mom is an incredible cook.
This is what Londyn Beaudoin thinks about while standing in her small kitchen, cooking for herself over 5000 miles away from home. She is 21-years-old, a Psychology major at the Louisiana State University, but has now arrived in Milan, Italy, for a semester study abroad experience at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
The story of how she came to Italy already started forming ten years ago when she was 14-years-old. That’s when she first thought that, one day, she would like to go to Europe to study. “The driving reason was to get out of my comfort zone and experience something that was different from what I had ever experienced.”
From there on, the idea remained with her all the way until 2020, as Londyn made the final decision: Italy was where she wanted to go. However, as she was finalising the plan, and taking the last steps - the COVID-19 pandemic happened. This could have discouraged her completely, but instead, she waited it out, patiently, with her mind set on her goal. And two years later, Londyn finally packed her bags and embarked on the flight.
When she first arrived in Italy, not only was it her first time being in Europe, but she did not know anyone when she arrived. She had never taken the metro by herself, not even in the United States, and although she had taken some Italian lessons, she was surrounded by a completely different language and culture.
But as time passed by, she found herself getting used to the pace of the new city. She started taking in what was around her; having studied art history, she was thrilled when seeing the Duomo for the first time and could recognise all the details she had learned about the architecture, and its history unfolding in front of her. She enjoyed her Italian classes, feeling like she finally learned so much more than she had ever been able to do before, now that she was also using the language outside of the classroom. Jokingly she adds that her favourite way of practicing Italian is ordering food at restaurants.
As you would pass Londyn in the streets of Milan, or on campus, you would see this bubbly and sweet girl, on her way to a class or perhaps to meet up with a friend. Engage in a conversation with her and you would soon find a bright mind and warmth that could drag anyone into the conversation. Then, listening to her story, getting all the details - you see courage and strength.
Having faced mental health issues, the road to where she is today has not always been easy. She talks about it with an admirable insight, and what she keeps referring to, when looking back at her own journey, is the importance of the support she always received from her family, especially her mother.
“My mom, she's always been there, no matter how far I am. She's a strong woman and she's very fiery, and never once have I doubted how much love she has for me. She truly is an inspiring feminine figure in my life.”
And Londyn gives an example of this as she explains how her entire family originates in Louisiana, and that nobody really branched out to leave. “But, that's what my mom did. When she was in her 30s, we all moved to Texas, in the Dallas area. Just because she wanted to provide us with more opportunities. She raised us single for many years, and I feel like I really learnt how to be strong from her.”
So, as Londyn is standing in her small kitchen cooking dinner for herself, even though she misses the amazing food of her mom, she knows that when she goes back home, she will return after having faced the fear of going abroad by herself and, at the same time, proven to herself that it was possible.
"I think coming here really is my biggest accomplishment. That's what I'm proudest of, that I could do what I said I wanted to do, which has been my dream since I was 14-years-old. And I think I underestimate myself in a lot of situations, but I think being here has helped me to push myself to that point where I recognise, “hey, I can do this. I'm fully capable.”
And now, Londyn is using all her strength to not only grow but to make others grow - because her dreams and visions don't stop with this experience abroad.
With her Psychology degree, she aims to go back to the United States and help those who need it the most. “I just want to know that I'm doing something rewarding. I just want to know I'm helping somebody else other than myself.” And she has in fact already started. For some time, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she did an internship as an ABA therapist for children with autism and explains how rewarding that experience was and how, even though she doesn’t know if she aims to work with children or adults in the future, her ideas became clear.
”I would like to cater to those with historically disadvantaged backgrounds. For kids with autism, people of colour, and women - everyone who just hasn't had the same opportunities. Those who society, in some way, has not paid enough attention to. Those are the ones I want to dedicate my career to.”
For now, though, Londyn is looking forward to coming back home to the United States for Christmas, to celebrate with her family all united around the kitchen table, chatting and enjoying their time together; her favourite place to be. With the people who always supported her, and gave her the strength to take a leap of faith.
And perhaps that’s where it all begins. Around the kitchen table. The strongest source of inspiration sitting right next to you, alive and sparkling in the midst of conversation, in the way you are listened to; in the way you are loved. And from that, the strength you gather, that accumulates in every word that makes the implicit promise that you are more than good enough, you go out in the world, and - just as Londyn does - you make a difference.