The final frontier in education – university and college! For some, it’s a chance to explore your passions, make friends, and become the person you want to be. For others, it’s the haunting fear that you are soon to be surrounded by people who could care less about your allergies… at least that’s what I thought!
My name is Arianne, and I am currently in my fourth year of university. Before that, I attended college, where I lived in residence for a year.
I was 18, and it was the first time I had ever lived on my own. I was terrified! My mother had always taken care of my concerns and worries when came to my allergies, and I felt like I was chained down to a ball of antisocial topics that would prevent me from experiencing things or meeting anyone. My biggest concerns were: what and where would I eat? If I couldn’t make my own food in my own kitchen, what would I do?
It took me until the summer before school started (not to mention a swift kick in the butt from friends) to realize that if I wanted to feel safe in an unfamiliar atmosphere, it was up to me to take the necessary steps to make it a safe environment.
My first step was to talk to my roommate (luckily, I was rooming with a girl from my high school). I taught her about of the seriousness of my allergies, what I was allergic too, and how to use my epinephrine auto-injector.
Next, I went to the residence building and talked to the head of food management. I told him that I had severe allergies to peanuts and nut. I made sure that their food facilities were cleaned professionally and the food they served wouldn’t come into contact with my allergens. After he assured me that they could provide safe meals, we made a plan to use posters and information pamphlets to inform other people, so they could understand the importance of keeping the dining area free of peanuts and tree nuts.
After I spoke with my residence, I went to the manager of food and industry at the college and asked for a specific list of all of the food outlets available. I also talked to him about what was and what wasn’t safe and asked for ingredient lists.
After talking to the people who were in charge of food handling, I felt prepared and ready to take on the challenge of post-secondary education. I learned that my overall safety was in my hands – and as long as I communicated with servers, and washed my hands and my food preparation stations, I could live as normally as the next student.
As for eating outside of the school facilities, the same process applies – check for ingredients and inform your server of your allergies. And as always, make sure that you carry an epinephrine auto-injector and teach those who are eating with you how to use it.
A safe and fun experience at university and college is not just a fairy-tale for those who have allergies. With advances in allergy awareness and opportunities for allergy-safe eating, many places have become very accessible. Just remember that ultimately, you are responsible for managing the risks of allergic reaction. As long as you’re confident and speak up, you too can achieve a fulfilling life!
A quick recap, step by step:
1) Tell your roommates and floor-mates about your allergies, and teach them how to spot an allergic reaction and use an epinephrine auto-injector.
2) Find out who is in charge of food management at your school. Talk to them about your allergies, ask them about their allergy management protocols, and ask them to take specific steps to help you feel safe.
3) Ask for a full list of food outlets on campus. Find out what is and isn’t safe for you.
4) As always, inform your servers and whoever is in charge of food service about your allergies.
For more information about managing allergies at college and university, check out Anaphylaxis Canada’s youth website: http://www.whyriskit.ca/pages/en/manage/collegeuniv.php!