Studying Abroad is a rite of passage at the University of Denver, where I attend college. There are numerous steps for every student to prepare appropriately for being in another country for a school quarter or semester. For me, adding food allergies into the mix, generates even more necessary preparation!
The University of Denver (where I attend college) is #1 in the nation for study abroad participation rates. Nearly 3 in 4 students at DU study abroad, typically during the fall of their junior year. I kid you not, it seems like the entire junior class disappears during the fall and magically reappears in the winter. DU makes it excessively easy to study abroad: they partnered with over 130 universities and study abroad programs around the world in dozens upon dozens of different countries. With a good GPA (3.0+), a student is eligible for the Cherrington Global Scholars (CGS) program. If you’re eligible for CGS, you pay DU the normal tuition and housing costs for a quarter; in return, they pay for tuition and housing at your host university abroad and reimburse visa and flight costs (among a few other things). It really makes studying abroad superbly easy (plus, they have an easily searchable database of available programs!)
I knew this coming into freshman year and I’ve spent a long time looking at the programs available. I knew a few things:
- Unless I magically became fluent in another language, I would need to go to an English-speaking country. The language barrier present in trying to explain my food allergies to chefs or other people in a country that does not predominantly speak English would be a challenge that puts my life at risk. That was unacceptable so I knew I would have to look at an English-speaking country in which to study abroad.
- I could not do a homestay program. This is especially true in non-English speaking countries. In a homestay, I would have little to no control over the food served and thus would be putting myself in danger. I knew a homestay would not work.
- Most importantly, I would have to find a university or program that had classes that interested me and was in a country that interested me! I wouldn’t want to study abroad in a country that I didn’t like or at a university/program that offered no classes that interested me. That wouldn’t be fun and I want to have fun while studying abroad.
I found a few programs around the world in the UK, Australia, and Ireland that interested me. After narrowing it down, I found an awesome program at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. It’s about 3 hours away from London (by train) in rural England and it’s ranked as a pretty good university!
Because I love to plan ahead, I knew this was the program I wanted to attend before I even started school my freshman year (last year). It had all of the academic courses that I desired, and the housing was on the university campus with access to a kitchen.
I did a bit more research into the program at Lancaster during the winter & spring of my freshman year and realized that the dormitory system may throw a wrench in my plans. Lancaster is set-up in a college system. Each college has its own dining hall, common areas, and living spaces. The majority of the dorms were set-up in a shared kitchen style, meaning that food would be stored in a shared refrigerator (or two) and everyone would have access to the same pots and pans to cook. That posed a lot of cross-contact issues both in storing and preparing food. I knew that I could probably buy my own pans and pots while I’m there, but I couldn’t mitigate contact between my food and other people’s in the same refrigerator. I made a judgment call and determined I didn’t feel safe with that option.
I found that some colleges have a “private ensuite” option: I have a kitchen and storage and a bed all to myself in my own self-contained suite. This mitigates a lot of the issues that could arise in a shared kitchen facility. I became really excited since I knew that the option was available! I just had to find out if I could secure a “private ensuite” while I study abroad.
I dug into Lancaster’s website and found their disability office contact. I sent an e-mail with my concerns (explaining my food allergies, their severity, the problems with shared kitchen facilities, and the possibility of a private ensuite). I heard back from the office and they said that it was a definite possibility! They remarked that it wasn’t a preferred set-up for a study abroad student simply because it limited my social interactions with other people, but they said my health always trumps those concerns.
I was really excited. I knew that I could study abroad and find safe housing at my host university. I started to research labeling laws for the UK and got some help from the Anaphylaxis Campaign in the UK in identifying the regulations. Since the UK is a member of the European Union (EU), the EU’s regulations apply to all UK manufacturers and producers.
At the University of Denver, the Office of International Education (OIE) supervises all of the study abroad programs. Students get a study abroad advisor depending upon their country and that advisor helps answer any questions regarding studying abroad and helps coordinate all of the application process.
I told my OIE contact person about my food allergies and why homestay/shared kitchens would not work. I wanted to reconfirm through him and his contacts at Lancaster that a private ensuite option would be available for studying abroad. The staff at Lancaster confirmed this! I would need to submit some medical documentation, coordinate with the disability office, and include the request on my study abroad application, but otherwise, everything was a go!
After spending the last few months coordinating with OIE, my academic advisors, and Lancaster University, I decided to add a month of research in Copenhagen Denmark, prior to the start of the school quarter at Lancaster. The research will be within my two majors: economics and public policy.
Denmark is also, technically, an English-speaking country. 86% of Danes are fluent English speakers, meaning that I won’t have problems assuring my safety in urban areas. I’m still securing a lot of the details around my research since it is a relatively new adventure! I know I’ll be staying in a no-pet and no-smoking Airbnb in Copenhagen for the month, with access to a fully-furnished kitchen. This makes it really easy to make sure I’m safe: I buy all of my own food and cook it myself! I’m still researching labeling laws in Denmark, but given that they are members of the EU as well, I’m sure their regulations are very similar to the UK’s.
I’m so excited to have this opportunity to study abroad, and to do so with my food allergies handled in a way that makes me feel safe!