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Gluten Free in College: Studying Abroad Gluten Free

Gfcollege logoThis month, Guest Blogger Julie Bourne of the Campus Celiac departs for a semester studying abroad in Rome. 

 As I find summer coming to its close, I am preparing for my long-anticipated four-month study abroad experience in Rome, Italy.  From late August to mid December, I will be studying journalism and marketing at the American University of Rome in the historic Trastevere district of the city.  I’m more than just a little excited, to say the least!

The decision to study abroad is a big choice that college students may approach at some point in their time at school. Whether it is the time away from home, the differences in culture and language, or the challenge of meeting all new people, it can be tough to commit to spending a semester or a year abroad. For a student with strict food restrictions, the decision to go abroad is taken to another level of difficulty, as it can be intimidating to go somewhere that may have completely different foods and understanding of allergies than what we have in the United States. However, these students should not feel deterred from the prospect of studying abroad. With just a small amount of research, gluten free students may even find themselves in a place that is more accommodating of their food restrictions than the country they currently live in.

A problem that many students wanting to go abroad face is that they simply do not know where they want to go. If you are in this situation, a good way to narrow down your choices for studying abroad as a gluten free student is to consider the general idea of what people traditionally eat in various countries and cultures. For example, you might find that China uses soy sauce in most of their cooking. Many African countries only use very simple meats, fruits, and vegetables. Countries in the United Kingdom may have somewhat familiar food offerings compared to what there is in the States.  While these are just mere generalizations, it can help you move along with your decision-making.

Rome colisseumAs I have mentioned before in previous posts, online search engines are one of the best resources you can utilize.  If you are interested in a particular country, use the power of the Internet to gather some information about the gluten free friendliness there. This could be a great time to utilize what GlutenFreeTravelSite has to offer! Using this site, you can find reviews of gluten free restaurants and other businesses all over the world. GlutenFreeTravelSite also has a listing of domestic AND international Celiac Associations and their contact information on the Resources page of their newly re-designed website. I'd recommend contacting a local association or support group in the area you're planning to live/travel. They will have some great first-hand knowledge of local restaurants and markets that are GF-friendly, and they will probably be thrilled to share this information with you! Through your research, you might even find yourself pleasantly surprised about certain places that you might initially have written off as not being gluten free friendly. For example, when I did some research about eating gluten free in Italy, it appeared they have some serious gluten free savvy over there…especially for being the supposed land of pizza and pasta!

If you have already chosen where you would like to study abroad, be sure that you are prepared for your gluten free experience in that particular country. Know how to communicate your need to eat gluten free in whatever language is spoken in your country of choice. Basic phrases such as “I have Celiac Disease” or “I need gluten free food” will come in handy when it comes to eating out. If you are staying with a host family, be sure to communicate with them about your food restrictions so that they can feel prepared for your arrival. It will only work to your benefit if you alert your study abroad coordinators of your food restrictions ahead of time. They might even be able to get you housing with fellow gluten free eaters.

The choice to study abroad is a big decision that should not be taken lightly, but it can also be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. In speaking with my fellow classmates who have already studied abroad, they have expressed a newfound sense of independence, an appreciation for variant cultures, and a generally widened awareness of the rest of the world. Rather than looking at your Celiac Disease or gluten allergy as a roadblock for studying abroad, look at it as a chance to learn the local language more quickly, become a familiar face at GF-friendly restaurants, or bond with international gluten free folks. With organized research and preparation, you can travel the world to your heart’s content, free of gluten! 

In my next post, I'll let you know about the gluten free dining scene in Rome! Stay tuned...

Julie is a Guest Blogger for the Thriving GF in College series we feature each month on our Gluten Free Travel Blog. You can read her past posts here.