The Allergy-Friendly Guide to Study Abroad

If you are like me and you have a food allergy, you may feel like your options are limited for where you can go to study abroad. Because of my gluten allergy, I was worried that I would not be able to study abroad in South America, as celiac disease is far less known and common than it is in the United States. I also did not think I would not be able to stay in a host home as I was wanting to, due to the demand it may put on my host family.

I scoured the internet for articles about studying abroad with food allergies, and they were few and far between. So here I am creating my own.

When completing my host home application for ISA, I was able to inform them of my food allergies, and I was placed with a host family who was willing to learn about my needs and provide food that is safe for me. 

My first day at my host home in Medellín, Colombia, my host mom took me to the kitchen to show me all the gluten free food she has prepared for me: gluten free pasta, bagels, bread, rice cakes and everything else someone with celiac disease could want. My first week, my host mom continued to ask me questions about what I could and could not eat, and shared with me local restaurants that had great options for me, so I knew where I could go out to eat with friends.

My first Sunday in Medellín my host sister invited me to go with her to the Ciclovía. The Ciclovía takes place every Sunday morning, when one of the main roads in Medellín is closed to cars, and instead the streets are full of runners, bikers, families, musicians, workout classes and more. It has quickly become one of my favorite traditions.

However, on my first Sunday when my host sister invited me to accompany her, she led me on a route to show me how to walk from our apartment to local grocery stores where I could buy allergy friendly snacks, as well as some healthy and organic stores with gluten free options. She pointed out restaurants and ice cream shops we walked by that had options for me as well.

In summary, what I have learned since arriving in Medellín, is that food allergies do not need to hold you back when it comes to studying abroad. Travel somewhere you want to learn about the culture and people, and research ways other people with your same allergies have felt during their travels. For me, Colombia is supposedly one of the least “gluten-friendly” countries in the world, but thanks to the advice of my host family, I have been able to enjoy authentic Colombian cuisine while staying safe and healthy.

Here is a list of my recommendations if studying abroad with a food allergy:

  1. Plan ahead: Research what other travelers or locals with your same allergies do to stay safe and eat well in the city.
  2. Ask locals: Explain your needs to a friend or local you meet and get their recommendations of where you should go and what food you should try or avoid.
  3. Always bring a snack: If you are like me, you do this all the time anyways. It is always good practice to make sure you have an allergy safe snack with you at all times, just in case you are served something you cannot eat.

Corinne McCaw is a college student at Samford University. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in Medellín, Colombia.

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