Living in the Dorms With Roommates and Food Allergies

Even before college, there were numerous times I lived with others. Every summer I lived in a bunk at camp with around 15 other girls. I also went to sleepovers, traveled and stayed with my friends and their families on vacation, among many other shared living experiences on group trips and with extended family.  These experiences are what prepared me for living in the dorms with roommates and food allergies at college.

Although I certainly had some roommates I enjoyed living with more than others, I can honestly say that every roommate I had was respectful about my allergies. I didn’t have any real problems with anyone being inconsiderate about them. I actually didn’t even worry about roommates when I was in college. Some years I had fabulous ones who turned into best friends, while other years I had roommates I got along with but would not have necessarily chosen to live with.

I have heard from some parents who are wondering how it worked to live in the dorms in college with my allergies. My freshman year of college I told my roommate about my allergies and what she would need to do before we moved in. I told her she could eat foods that I was allergic to, but she needed to keep them on her side of the room and make sure to wash her hands. We both had our own mini fridges and microwaves. She was very responsible about it and so were the other people on my floor.

Before I moved in my freshman year, I spoke to the woman who was in charge of the dining halls. She told me what was safe to eat and what I should avoid. The dining hall was right downstairs in my building, so it was easy enough, and they all knew who I was. Breakfast was always the easiest meal. Every other meal I could eat but my options become redundant pretty quickly.

My sophomore year I transferred to a big state school. I had to go through the process again of sitting down with the head of the dining services staff and asking what foods would be safe, and what I should avoid. Since I was on such a large campus, I never really knew the dining staff, so I rarely asked questions unless I needed to read ingredients. I often ate the same foods. It worked out well though. I had no problems with my food allergies at the dining halls.

The first time that I moved off campus was when I studied abroad in Australia for the summer and fall semesters. I lived with four other girls in a small two bedroom apartment with a “study” (a.k.a. enclosed porch with big Venetian blinds). I stayed out on the porch so that I had my own space.

The trickiest part of living with four other girls was trying to share a very small kitchen! We each shared a shelf in the fridge and a shelf in the cabinets. They were all very aware of my allergies, and did a good job of making me feel safe in our apartment. I bought a set of my own dishes and had my own sponge. We had a dishwasher which helped a lot. It was difficult finding food to eat in Australia, but living in an apartment with roommates was not.

When I came home from Australia, I needed somewhere off campus to live. I found an apartment with one other girl and a guy who had also just returned from studying abroad. It worked out perfectly! The three of us couldn’t have gotten along any better. We had such a great time together and they were both awesome with my allergies. Yet again, no problems!

Since college I have had a year of living in my own studio apartment (by far the easiest living situation as far as allergies go), as well as living at my parents, living on a sailboat with my boyfriend, traveling, and staying with friends. When I lived in the studio, I didn’t have to worry about having foods in my apartment that I couldn’t eat. It was amazing and the first time in my entire life where I could feel completely comfortable with my allergies because it was my own space.

Now in Italy, I am lucky again to be living with another teacher who is fabulous with my allergies. Abby is by far the best roommate I have had (especially as far as allergies go). She is extremely understanding and careful. I never have to worry about anything, which is so nice. When we first moved in and went grocery shopping she was really patient and helpful while I scoured shelves searching for allergen free foods. She is also wonderful about washing her hands if she eats anything I am allergic to and is both responsive and responsible about my allergies. Living with her has definitely made the transition abroad with allergies much easier!

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