Growing up in Japan, I never truly experienced the breadth of North American food culture - especially with what you would call "student food" - until I started living here.
For my first year of undergrad (= living in Toronto), I was at a school residence with a cafeteria. There, I learned things like eating turkey on Thanksgiving, PUMPKIN PIE, this strange thing called stuffing, muffins are everywhere, and that sweet potatoes are orange. Oh, and the Friday night burrito line-up is HUGE (though I never really bothered about burritos until many years down the line...).
When the caf was closed - this was my foray into (further) uncharted territory.
The hot dog stand across the street was my
first experience (as far as I can remember) of eating street food.
However, I was never confident enough to buy food truck food. It's not a long
story. I just can't do it. I don't have a good reason why. Confidence issues?
One day, I bought a pack of ramen noodles and realized that there was no stovetop in the rez (fire safety reasons). I figured out quickly that it's totally ok to eat those noodles raw. And letting it soak in hot water was another option (it was less dry).
(The tiny 10-dollar electric kettle I got around this time is still with me. It's kickin' and doing well.)
Of course, we have instant noodles/ramen back home, but it's so different from what's here (or at least compared to the cheapest kind here). I have to admit I prefer the ones back home, but the regular noodles here (like Mr. Noodles) have really grown on me and I quite like them. It took a while to figure out my favorite way to eat it (that's another story).
And I was exposed to pizza. And late-night sushi delivery. And greasy Chinese food (which is awesome - plus, the rez was located close to Chinatown).
Delivery seemed to be a thing students did, since they were always up so late doing everything from studying, partying, to simply watching tv. Nighttime was the time to get down to business, regardless of the type of business you were in to.
Basically, I learned that anything you eat after 12pm tastes good. And the worse it is for your health, the better they taste. I guess it's that sense of "breaking rules" that appealed to me. Still does, actually.
But the biggest revelation for me in my first year was coffee. It's a story I've told a couple times to people because it's rather reflective of the confusion I was in back then.
So, there's a cafe in the rez (separate from the caf) where they sell snacks and coffee and such. I was still very unaccustomed to the weather and was cold (in retrospect this is funny because this was September), so I wanted to get something warm, like tea.
I go down, and realize it's a self-serve place. I barely went there till then (this was still maybe the first few weeks of school), so I was lost. And terrified. I couldn't find the strength to ask the cashier where the tea was or how I get them. But in front of me there were pots with "coffee" written on it. So I quickly pour myself a cup, pay, and rush back to my room before anyone asked me anything.
(As you can tell I was afraid of talking to people, period.)
I barely ever had coffee when I was in Japan. But here, in this strange new place and too afraid to ask where the tea was, I downed that cup of coffee. It was... ok. I could tolerate it. And ever since, I drink coffee. Usually black.
So that's my long and TMI story of food in year 1. There are other stories like my first Thai food experience and a messed up experiment with butternut squash, but that's for another time.
Obviously I think about food way too much.