One of the most exceptional experiences that I’ve had in college has been a two week trip to China with the UD Symphony Orchestra. Traveling away from home for any period of time is scary when you have allergies, and when you go somewhere that has a language barrier, it makes things even scarier. As someone who is allergic to sesame, nuts, and shellfish, I never really ate much more than edamame and rice at Asian restaurants back at home so I really did not know what to expect as far as eating. After traveling there, I can confirm that it was very difficult at times to find food. In addition to barriers of communication, and cuisine, the Chinese people are also not very allergy aware. Most food was served buffet or family style, and sometimes, there would be one serving spoon to be used with every dish! In short, there were several days that I had to sustain myself on granola bars and white rice.
One of the scariest moments for me while I was in China occurred during the third lunch we ate in Beijing. In China, it is typical for a teapot to be placed on the table before the meal is served, and as an avid tea drinker, I usually poured myself tea while waiting for meals to start. At this particular lunch, I had just poured myself a cup of tea and let it cool on my saucer before drinking it. A few tables over, one of the other orchestra members stands up and shouts “Does anybody have a peanut allergy?” to which a bunch of my friends pointed to me. This orchestra member then informed the orchestra that the tea had peanuts in it! I had never seen tea with nuts in it before, but after this person (I still don’t know her name) saved my life, I did not drink any more tea in China unless I was able to ask what was in it first.
Luckily, I had prepared myself before the trip so that things could run smoothly. The most important part of keeping me safe was notifying the trip leaders. Before I made a down payment, I informed the trip coordinators and they promised that I would be safe. While in the restaurants in China, I was always with a tour guide or a UD student fluent in Chinese so that I could reduce the communication barrier between me and the food. Another thing that helped decrease the communication barrier was creating personalized allergy cards from FARE’s website. This also helped when we had to grab food on our own– and in one instance, it allowed me to get bubble tea all by myself since the employee could understand the card, and was very accommodating. I also was saved on numerous occasions by packing of instant oatmeal and safe granola bars for those days when the only thing I could eat at the group meals was rice. This intense snack packing also helped out my friend on the trip with Celiac Disease, and left me with plenty of room in my suitcase for souvenirs as I ate through my snacks. Despite several close calls, I avoided eating anything that could have been potentially dangerous and was able to experience a whole different continent and get closer with the people that I had been playing with in orchestra. The biggest take-away from this experience for me is that no matter what struggles you go through, the experience is always more important that the food.