My name is Caitlyn, and I have a life threatening peanut allergy as well as an allergy to wheat and eggs.
After recently completing my first year studying at Queen’s University, I thought I would share my experiences with transitioning from high school to university when it came to being responsible for my food allergies. Although I always thought I was independent and responsible for my allergies when I was in high school, I came to realize that independence takes on a whole new level in university. In high school, I had a built-in support network of friends, parents and teachers who all knew about my allergies, what foods to avoid around me, and where my epinephrine auto-injector was located, just in case. All this changed coming to university, where I had to face a new reality: no one knew anything about me, it was my sole responsibility to be accountable for my allergies, and I had to try to rebuild a new allergy “support network.”
Of course, living in residence was a concern. Although I was fortunate to go to a peanut free high school, there’s no such thing as a peanut free residence! Not only did I have one roommate – but I ended up in a triple room, living with two roommates. I made sure that I contacted my future roommates before school started, and after explaining my allergy situation, they had no issue making our room a peanut free zone. They were also extremely cautious with foods containing wheat or eggs, so there would be no cross contamination.
I was also able to meet with my floor’s Resident Adviser on move-in day to explain my allergies to him. During residence orientation, I was also able to let my floor mates know about my allergies. While it would be unrealistic to expect everyone on my floor to avoid peanuts, they became aware and cautious of my allergies, and no one brought peanuts to any floor events. I also found that by being open about my allergies, I was able to meet and become friends with some really great people who had similar allergies as me – it was great to meet people I could relate to!
Another reality of coming to Queen’s was realizing that the food I would be eating for the next eight months was going to be prepared by strangers who had no idea who I was or what my allergies were. The day I arrived at Queen’s, I met with the cooks from my school’s cafeterias to let them know about my allergies and find out what precautions should be taken to make sure I could stay safe at meal times. That was a great move! The cooks were extremely accommodating, and it’s fair to say we got to know each other very well and became buddies over the next eight months.
Another big change I experienced with moving to a new city was the challenge of going out to eat, since most of the restaurants were completely new to me. I personally preferred not to order delivery and would avoid doing so. I felt more comfortable eating out at a restaurant, where I could discuss my allergies in person with restaurant staff to ensure they could accommodate my allergies and no cross-contamination would take place.
Finally, the social scene at university can be really fun but risky for anyone with allergies, if they aren’t aware of the risks. Common sense is important when going out. Just like you should never go out alone, I realized that for people with allergies, you should never go out without friends who know about your allergies and where you keep your auto-injector. That being said, the responsibility of staying safe is primarily your responsibility – and no matter how inconvenient it can seem sometimes, there is never a good enough excuse to not have your auto-injector with you.
My first year of university was a great experience, a lot of work, and a lot of fun. I did find having allergies added a lot of responsibility – but even with that added responsibility, I was able to enjoy my first year experience while also making sure that I stayed safe. And let’s face, that’s the most important part!
For more tips and strategies for managing your allergies at school, check out these great resources:
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