Student Identities Abroad: Dietary Restrictions

If you have a dietary restriction, the thought of eating in a different country might be a bit nerve-wracking. Whether you have a food allergy or intolerance, avoid some foods for religious reasons, or choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is important that you are able to eat a balanced, nutritious diet while you are studying abroad. Some countries or programs may prove more challenging than others for being able to find food that meets your dietary needs, but students with all types of diets study abroad every year.

Questions to consider with an Advisor/by yourself:

  • What is the typical cuisine of the country I will be studying in? Will it be easy or difficult to find food that meets my dietary requirements?
  • How can I respectfully communicate my dietary needs while abroad, either in a restaurant, with local friends, or with my host family?
  • Do I have any alternative options for meals while abroad, if I can’t eat what is served at a group meal?

Tips for having a positive study abroad experience:

  • Figure out how to say your dietary needs in the language of the country you are going to. Have it written down on a piece of paper you can show a restaurant server, and learn to recognize any allergens that may be written on a menu.
  • Be open to trying new foods, as long as they meet your dietary restrictions. 
  • Let your FLEAP faculty leader or study abroad program know of your dietary needs early. Ask a lot of questions to make sure your expectations are realistic.
  • You may need to think about bringing some specialty items for nutritional health, as your health is linked to how you deal with many things while abroad.
  • Be very clear with your host family or roommates of what your needs mean, as your needs may not exist where you are or are interpreted differently (e.g., “meat” vs. “fish”).
  • Try to have an explanation ready (religious, medical, etc.) as some people understand very little about what being a vegetarian (or what being kosher/halal/etc.) entails. All of this will prevent the awkward moment of having to turn down a nicely cooked meal at a family or group dinner.
  • If you take medication for a food allergy or intolerance, make sure the medication is legal to bring into your host country and talk to your doctor about getting a large enough supply to last the entire length of your program abroad. While abroad, make sure to keep your medication easily accessible, and consider letting a trusted friend, host parent, or FLEAP faculty leader know where the medication is in case of an emergency.