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Studying Abroad as a Vegan

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By: Asha Swann 

 

At the end of January 2020, I completed my first-ever course abroad in Paris. It was so incredible getting to see the contrast between my home school in Canada and my new school in France. I loved getting to learn new things every single day about all the incredible history this city had to offer. However, I was a little bit nervous about how people would react to a vegan coming into an area primarily known for its meat and dairy heavy cuisine. Thankfully, my roommates and classmates were super supportive and helped me find vegan options every time we went out to eat. Of course, it’s relatively easy to have a quick Google search and find vegan-friendly restaurants in the area, but what about ordering food in another language? Making friends? Getting along with non-vegan classmates? Here are some tips I wish I had known when I began studying abroad as a vegan. 

 

 

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Learn a few important words in the language of your host country

Thankfully, heading into Paris I was already an intermediate speaker. This meant that whenever I went into a grocery store, I could quickly scan the ingredients list for milk, honey, fish, meat, cheese, and eggs. If you don’t have any bilingualism under your belt, check out different translating apps. Even putting in a simple phrase (“Is there any meat or cheese in this?”) and hearing how it’s pronounced can help you navigate ordering in a restaurant. 

 

Take advantage of fresh markets 

Here in Paris, as well as many other parts of Europe and Asia, fresh markets are abundant throughout most of the year. From what I’ve noticed, Parisian markets tend to be all sorts of different food (including fish, meat, and an abundance of local cheeses). But in equal abundance are fresh fruits, veggies, and even beautiful little houseplants. These markets are also seasonal: if you’re studying abroad in the summer, the selection will be different from what you’ll find in the spring or fall. Use this opportunity to try all sorts of new, local produce that are staples to the cuisine. Usually, the vendors are local farmers who can also give you insight on how to cook certain veggies and what other foods they pair well with. 

 

 

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Bring snacks with you

Not every neighbourhood will be vegan-friendly. When you’re studying abroad as a vegan (or even just a student in general), you should definitely consider bringing some emergency snacks with you wherever you go. Hope for the best but anticipate the worst. Remember: you’re heading into a whole new culture with a whole new cuisine. Sometimes the most respectful thing you can do is have your own snacks handy, rather than argue with a street vendor to customize a meal for you. Plus, having snacks handy are perfect for those days when you just want to sit in a park after class and have a little picnic.

 

Join an animal rights club

A quick Google search should tell you if the city you’re staying in has any up and coming animal rights groups. This is a great way to meet more like-minded vegans in the area. Or check out a local cafe: sometimes hey will have little notes on the wall about an animal rights group meeting soon. Maybe even some of the servers at a vegan restaurant will have tips about navigating the cities vegan scene like a local. 

 

 

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See if your school has a group for other vegans/vegetarians 

If you don’t have any classmates or roommates that vegan/vegetarian, consider seeing if your school has any clubs for vegans/vegetarians. This could be a great spot to meet new friends, learn new recipes, find people to explore the city with, and a great way to bond with people you might not have met otherwise. If not, maybe start one yourself. You never know, there could be other people at your school who are also studying abroad that are equally nervous about finding new meat-free friends. Whether you’re studying abroad for a semester, a year, or even a short-term course like me, it’s important to be able to form those connections. That way, you don’t feel so lost in a new part of the world.

 

Enjoy yourself and be flexible

Remember, you are in a new country to study and experience new things. If your classmates don’t want to go to a vegan restaurant, try not to take it personally. After all, they’re trying to have the local cuisine just like you. Translating the menu will help you understand what you can and can’t eat at any restaurant. While you should never be asked to forget about your vegan morals while studying abroad, flexibility is key. Can’t find any vegan food on the menu that interests you? Check out a drink menu: see if there are any local juices or signature cocktails specific to the region or restaurant. Try to have fun when you go out to eat! Even here in Paris, I found that the vast majority of vegetarian dishes could be made vegan by simply asking for no cheese or egg. Above all, saying please and thank you goes a long way, especially when someone is modifying a dish to suit you!

 

 

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The Veganary is currently fundraising in support of its first-ever Veganary Mini Tours! These tours are personalized to you, the traveller, so you don’t have to frantically Google search what your options are. The best part? These tours are given to you by a local resident: a vegan who has lived in the city you’re travelling to and can answer all your pressing questions about the local cuisine and culture. Not sure where to stay while travelling? Click here to learn more about some of the best vegan-friendly hotels. 

 

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