Studying Abroad with Celiac Disease – A College Student’s Study Abroad Experience

Kiley Decker, Where Food Comes From’s recent summer intern, spent her Spring 2019 semester studying abroad for the first time in her collegiate career.  However, unlike most college students, her decision was harder because she has Celiac Disease, which makes cooking, let alone traveling and eating out, slightly more difficult to accomplish.  Kiley recently submitted her story to the National Celiac Association (NCA), which they featured in their recent newsletter.  Learn more about Kiley’s experience as she discusses her experience of finding Gluten Free (GF) restaurants abroad – as well as the favorite places she found along the way!

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Hi! My name is Kiley and I recently arrived back from studying abroad for a semester in Barcelona, Spain. This was an experience of a lifetime and I definitely did not let having celiac disease (CD) hold me back. There were some difficult times, which is expected, but also some moments when you don’t want to leave a restaurant because you are just amazed by the gluten-free food.

Getting Started

Deciding to study abroad for several months can be an exciting, yet overwhelming decision especially when you have celiac disease. Where do you even start? Through my research, and based on what my University offered, I decided to travel with a third-party program, American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). There are different types of living accommodations, including homestays, dorms, apartments, and everything in between. Although a homestay would be culturally enriching, I was not ready to trust a foreign home to meet my diet restrictions. I chose to live in an apartment so I could cook my own meals in our kitchen. This was extremely helpful and a huge money saver. The grocery stores actually had a decent amount of gluten-free food. Something to be aware of is sharing pans with your roommates. My roommates were always cooking pasta so I stayed away from using the pots because I didn’t want to buy a new one for one semester. Before you begin your travels, make sure you know what “gluten-free” is in other languages. In Barcelona, the items in the grocery stores were mainly Catalan with some Spanish, sin/sem/sense gluten.

Challenges

The hardest part for me was probably the first week or two. It is like going to college all over again and trying to make friends. This also entails describing how I have CD and I need a gluten-free diet. I got all of the questions over again… what is gluten? Can you eat this? What happens if you eat gluten? Do you ever want to cheat?

One of my biggest concerns was how I was going to get protein. At home and traveling in the U.S., I always have peanut butter as a quick snack. Before I left, I heard that there was no peanut butter in Europe, only us crazy Americans eat that! This is slightly true, in all of the grocery stores I went in in Barcelona, I found it in one store, and it was extremely expensive. I found plenty of other food to fill that void.

Barcelona Favorites

Restaurants:

Gula Sana: One of my favorite restaurants in Barcelona was Gula Sana. They had delicious breakfast options and sandwiches, but they also had yummy bakery items. This restaurant was dedicated gluten-free so I had no worries!

L’Arroseria Xativa: Barcelona is known for their paella, so I obviously needed to try it out. This restaurant had gluten-free labeled on their menu. This is on the pricier side, but that fresh seafood paella is definitely worth it!

Other celiac safe restaurants: M2 Gluten Free, Flax and Kale, Honest Greens, Cal Marius 449

Bakeries:

Pastiseria Jansana Gluten Free: This was my go-to bakery. Okay I must admit, I may have gone a little too much. I tried it one day and these were some of the BEST bakery items I had ever had so obviously I wanted to try it all! Tip: the cinnamon rolls were my favorite!

Pasticelia: I found this bakery the last week I was there, which was probably a good thing, because it was delicious! Scones and chocolate croissants galore! This bakery was dedicated gluten-free as well.

Weekend Trips

I met an awesome group of friends that were understanding of my dietary needs. We took weekend trips to different cities and countries. I never traveled without a few emergency protein bars in my purse or bag. Some cities were harder than others. There were definitely a few times I lived off of salads, but this was partially my decision.

I am more of a go with the flow type of person, so there were a few times where I would go to a restaurant with my friends and not be able to eat. After we finished, I would just run in a grocery store real quick and grab a salad or some substantial food. There were of course a few times when I dragged my friends to gluten-free restaurants.

Throughout most of Europe, they generally use very fresh ingredients. I found that most restaurants do not add any gluten ingredients in their sauces, but it is always good to check. I highly recommend traveling with the “Gluten-Free Dining Cards”. Although I can speak Spanish, I carried one in my purse just in case. The time that this card was needed for me was in Morocco, Africa. The card was in Arabic and the server definitely understood what it said and brought the card back to the chef. Their food was so freshly cooked, I did not have a problem.

I went on a few trips organized through the study abroad program and these were probably the hardest. We were traveling with a group of students, sometimes it was around 50 people. Obviously, I did not have a say in what restaurants we ate at, so I packed extra snacks and protein bars. And yes, my friends slightly made fun of me for always being prepared, but hey, I would rather be prepared than starving! Also, I needed to be very straight forward with the program directors and let them know how serious my dietary needs were, before the trips I always sent a reminder email.

Communicate!

The most important part about having CD is not being afraid to communicate with everyone, whether it is your friends, a program leader, chefs, or a random roommate pairing. As I mentioned, I went on some program led trips, during these I realized my dietary needs were a new concept to some trip leaders. I found that giving the leader a Gluten-Free Dining Card worked best, it explained everything and they had it in writing for reference.  Just telling them was taking a chance as to what they would remember or how they would translate it. I brought extra cards in a few languages where I thought I might be traveling so I didn’t have to worry about asking for the cards back.

Weekend Trip Favorites

Rome, Italy: La Pasticciera

The morning we got to Rome, we checked into our hostel and wanted to start our exploring until we realized we were starving! I quickly googled what GF options were around and to my surprise, a dedicated gluten-free bakery was right below us! (My friends thought I planned this on purpose!) They had everything from sandwiches, pizza, cookies, cakes, croissants, and my favorite, a true Italian cannoli!

Rome, Italy: Mama Eat Roma

Italy can be a tricky place when it comes to celiac safe restaurants. This staff takes GF very seriously and it is the BEST pizza I have ever had… EVER. It is located in a very quaint Italian village, just off the beaten path, but absolutely worth the walk!

 

 

 

 

 

Iceland: Friðheimar Greenhouse

The whole atmosphere and experience of the restaurant is worth the trip. The seating area is right inside the tomato greenhouse that grows a large portion of Iceland’s tomatoes. If that’s not cool enough, they use all Earth-friendly technology and even have their own bee hives to pollinate the plants! Now for the food, they have delicious, fresh tomato soup and gluten-free bread.

Palma de Mallorca: St. Lorenzo Tapas

This restaurant staff was basically my second family. They were so kind and their whole restaurant is GF. They have GF croquettes, one of Spain’s staple tapas, calamari, pizza, pasta and so much more.

London, England: Leon at King’s Cross Station

Sometimes travel days can be the hardest part. Leon had GF clearly marked on their menu with a dedicated fryer (chicken nuggets and fries). There are also salads and chicken and rice bowls available. They ask everyone when they place their order if they have an allergy.

How did I find all of these AMAZING restaurants? The majority of them came from my searches on the Find Me GF app. This app gave a lot of options, but I realized there was so much more. One of the most successful things I found was to search on Instagram. For most cities, there is an account, such as Gluten Free Barcelona, or the hashtag #glutenfreebarcelona, and there are several celiac friendly recommendations in those posts. Remember, if you find a GF restaurant, put it on the Find Me GF app so others can easily find it!

Don’t let having celiac disease stop you, go travel the world! Try everything, don’t be a picky eater while you are traveling. You never know what new flavors might surprise you. If you have any questions, I would be more than willing to help. I am off to my next adventure for an internship in Denver, CO! So far this is a great city for GF!

Now that I have made you hungry, GO TRAVEL THE WORLD!

About Me – Kiley!

I am from Norwell, MA and was diagnosed at age 11 with celiac disease along with sister who was 8 and brother who was 13. I am currently a Senior at Coastal Carolina University studying Marketing with a Spanish minor. I played Division 1 lacrosse at CCU for two years, but made the decision to stop playing in order to study abroad in Spain this past semester!

Follow me on Instagram: @justglutenfreethings

 

 

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