The first time I lived abroad I found it challenging, but I realize now that it was an important first step. I lived in Australia, where they speak English (well, Aussie English…ha). I could order food and understand ingredients, yet there were still many obstacles.
Almost everything packaged was labeled “May Contain…” with something that I was allergic to. The only crackers that I could find to eat were Carr’s crackers imported from England. Even some wines said that they “May contain traces of nuts and fish.” It was impossible to find ice cream that I could eat, or really any chocolate for that matter. As far as eating goes, it wasn’t easy. Living wise, it was amazing and totally worth all the food quandaries I faced.
In Australia, I lived with four other girls. There were five of us in a small two bedroom apartment, with a “study,” also known as an enclosed porch with big Venetian blinds. I lived there. I wanted to make sure that I had my own space. I didn’t want to have to worry about my allergens in my bedroom. I already had to be careful in our common space.
The girls were respectful about my allergies. I had my own sponge and dishes that I used. We had a dishwasher luckily, which definitely helped. I had to be careful, but I felt comfortable there. It was also my first experience living in an apartment and having roommates outside of a dorm setting.
While studying abroad in Australia I learned my different levels of comfort, how to live somewhere unknown, and how to find food, even when the going is tough. Without this first living abroad experience, the second one in Italy would have been much more challenging.
Living abroad with food allergies in Italy was more complex because of the language barriers. When I first moved there I spoke very little Italian. In the area of Italy I lived, no one speaks English. It isn’t touristy at all. Every ingredient is in Italian. I can’t find any safe chocolate or ice cream (you know…the really important things in life ;) ). I am good at adapting to new places, and even with these hurdles, I found enjoyment in this unfamiliar adventure abroad!
- As soon as you arrive in your new country, make sure to get your mobile phone sorted out. It is an instant comfort to know you can reach family and friends when you are far from home.
- Allow yourself time to adjust. Don’t stress if you don’t feel comfortable eating out immediately. Go to the grocery store and stick to whole foods that are easy, familiar, and friendly.
- Accept that living abroad will present new and many even fairly unusual challenges that will test your comfort zone. Trust your gut and stick to what you feel comfortable doing and eating.
- Enjoy yourself! There is nothing better than truly immersing yourself somewhere new.