I Am UMass Abroad: Brennan Dwyer
So, there I was, sitting in a restaurant in Italy, preparing for the best meal in my life. Since I have severe nut allergies, I am always cautious about what food I order and eat. Being abroad was a little nerve-wracking for me because each country has different laws and regulations regarding food allergies, and of course language barriers. I had prepared notecards with all of my allergies, translated into different languages. I gave the notecard to the waitress, and she signaled that everything would be fine.
When the waitress brought out the dish, I could see what looked like pesto drizzled over the top of the meal. I tried to ask her about it, but I don’t speak Italian and she didn’t speak English. After a few minutes of trying to confusingly communicate, the restaurant manager came out. He also didn’t speak any English. At this point, the entire restaurant was quiet and staring at me and the manager. Ten painstaking minutes passed with unsuccessful attempts to communicate. Finally, a couple walked in and I could hear them speaking English. I went up and asked if they spoke Italian, and they said they did. Ohhh the relief!!! I was able to explain the situation to them, and they conveyed the message to the waitress and owner. Once they understood what was going on, I could tell their mood totally changed. They whisked my plate away and brought out a new one a few minutes later, without the pesto drizzle.
Pro tip, yelling the same thing, but louder, doesn’t help if they didn’t understand in the first place.
Regardless of whether it’s food allergies, or other concerns, at some point during your study abroad experience you will probably find yourself in a similar situation where you’re facing a challenge, are struggling to communicate, and don’t know what to do. My advice: Keep your wits about you, and make sure you try to understand where other people are coming from. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and ask questions in any situation you feel unsure about.