Submitted by Rachel Spruill on the 2021 fall semester program in London, England…
Here in London, I’m having meaningful experiences with both locals and my flatmates; in particular, there is one recent experience I’d like to highlight. I have a gluten allergy, and traveling abroad is normally a challenge for me until I track down a few places with gluten free options. A little ways away from my flat, there is a restaurant called Niche Gluten Free Dining, where everything on the menu accommodates my allergy. My roommates are sympathetic to my situation, and to my surprise, they cleared their schedules to take me to Niche. I was incredibly moved! They matched my excitement about going to an allergy-conscious restaurant and made the experience that much more enjoyable. From gnocchi to burgers to tiramisu, we taste-tested a large amount of the menu, and it’s safe to say that I had leftovers for the following days.
While this anecdote may seem trivial to someone who doesn’t suffer from an allergy, I learned that night that when a group of students are placed in a foreign country together, they will look out for one another despite having just met. By having one another’s backs in navigating an unfamiliar setting, I feel that friendships are formed much faster and deeper in a study abroad environment than at home.
Additionally, this outing allowed me to meaningfully interact with a local. Our waitress quickly noticed that we were a group of American students, and she asked us where we were all from. I was surprised when she told me she’s heard of Delaware, and as it turns out, she lived in New York for a time! She talked about her experience living in the States, and she gave us good recommendations with regards to the neighborhood where our flat is located. She and I also had a short conversation about how different cultures approach food allergies, which I thought was very interesting! With gluten allergies often being misunderstood or frankly overlooked, it was refreshing to feel heard and validated.
I may be thousands of miles from home, but that night made this vast world feel astonishingly small. Not only am I living and bonding with flatmates who come from all over the United States, but I am finding unlikely connections with Londoners as well. Keep in mind, in order for you to find common threads with locals when studying abroad, you have to be open to conversation!