How to study abroad with dietary restrictions

study abroad with dietary restrictionsAccommodating dietary restrictions and needs abroad is not as daunting as it may seem and should not deter students from studying abroad. If you are a vegetarian or have certain food allergies or other restrictions, you will need to plan accordingly, but you can still be confident in finding the types of food you need. It is essential that you research the diet and cuisine of the country you are visiting to see how you can satisfy your personal dietary needs. Also, a bit of research before you travel can show you that although diets across the world vary greatly, they all incorporate things that you are familiar with and can eat.  There are some key matters you should keep in mind to make your experience abroad easier.

Home stays

If you live with a host family, then they should be able to accommodate your special needs. Communicate clearly with them! Most host families are used to dealing with students and are very willing to make changes to their meals to accommodate spacial diets. Do not be afraid to tell them that you do not like a certain food or that you cannot eat anything.

Living on your own

If you live on your own, it’s a lot easier to decide what to eat and not to eat, but there are also drawbacks and other considerations. No matter where you live, your diet is always manageable if you’re willing to take the extra steps necessary to ensure restrictions are met. Ask questions when eating at restaurants and do not be afraid to keep walking if a certain establishment cannot accommodate your dietary needs.

Consider your location

In some places, it will inevitably be harder than in others to hold to a special diet. For example, if you are a vegetarian in Spain, you may find it difficult to eat healthy at restaurants, depending on the level of your vegetarian restrictions. Don’t think you’ll always be able to prepare your own food because Spaniards love to go out to eat, and often! I once traveled to Spain with a vegetarian, and all she ate was cheese and bread. I don’t think she was able to find too many vegetable dishes.

Flexibility is key

By virtue of the fact that you’ve decided to study in another country, you should try different foods. If you are able and willing, then be flexible when making food choices abroad. Food is a very distinctive aspect of a country’s culture and you may find that there are dishes that fit within your dietary needs. Vegetarians may choose to eat vegetables that are cooked in the same pot with meat; because that’s the way food is prepared there. For example, I was a vegetarian when I went into the Peace Corps, but chose to eat meat that wasn’t injected with hormones.

Allergies are different

If you are allergic to certain foods, or have another medical reason for maintaining a certain diet, then there’s no room to be flexible. I met a man who was mildly allergic to wheat. Whenever he’d eat anything with wheat, he’d break out with a rash. He was able to bend the rules here and there, but not much. I also met someone who had a severe allergy and she had to be extremely careful with what she ate. One teaspoon of peanut butter could have hospitalized or killed her at worst. If this is the case for you, be extra vigilant and ask questions when in doubt. Also, you may want to avoid eating at places where they do not understand you clearly or cannot assure you that the food does not include what you are allergic too. It is not worth the risk!

Be ready at all times

In particular for food allergies, carrying emergency medicine in case of an allergic reaction is essential. This may buy you the time necessary to get you to a hospital and save your life. In the case of other dietary discomforts that may arise from eating foods that are not in your diet, be prepared with anti-diarrheal, constipation, and general stomach medicine that may alleviate the initial symptoms. If your symptoms continue, you may want to go to a clinic just to be safe.

Traveling anywhere is an adventure that includes the exploration of a different culture’s cuisine. Regardless of what your dietary needs are a bit of research and flexibility can ensure that your diet does not become an impediment to enjoying your trip.

Resources:
  • Green Earth Travel – Caters to travelers who desire to maintain their vegetarian and vegan lifestyle, throughout the world.
  • SelectWisely – Customized travel translation cards for food allergies and special diets.

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