It is not just in the classroom that the 3,000-plus foreign students at Montgomery College make their food preferences known.

Hang around the food vending machines in the basement of Campus Tower in Rockville and watch the world go by. Literally. The lunchtime scene at the machines is a pan-cultural gathering as many of the foreign students congregate.

They gather not necessarily to buy typical American vending machine offerings such as sodas, potato chips, candy and microwave sandwiches. They're also there to use the microwave to warm up the lunches they have brought from home.

No peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for this international group. The area sounds like the Tower of Babel and smells like a Hong Kong street market crossed with a Middle Eastern bazaar and a Latin American bodega.

Foreign students from more than 100 countries comprise 16 1/2 percent of the almost 20,000-pupil enrollment on the three campuses (Rockville, Takoma Park and Germantown) of Montgomery College. There are approximately 800 Orientals, 700 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and more than 200 from the Indian subcontinent. The number of Iranians has dropped well before its peak but there are still almost 200 enrolled.

All of these students naturally bring along preferences for the foods of their homelands that the vending machines -- with their assortment of candy, chips, cookies, donuts and other non-nutritious foods -- cannot begin to accommodate. So most of them brown bag it.

The result is a competition between the Oriental aromas of Vietnamese cha gao, Korean chap chae and Japanese yakitori and the Spanish scents of El Salvadorean pupusas, Chilean emapanadas and Guatemalan black beans. And the outcome is a tie. All the foods smell equally appetizing, and, as I have learned from years of testing, taste equally wonderful.