Preparing for College Life
A guest post by Teen Advisory Group member Mimi Hymel.
I graduated from high school this past May, and I am so excited to start my next adventure – college life! I am headed away from home and will live on campus, which is another exciting adventure, but it is also really scary. Lots of college freshman get homesick, and I am sure I will too, but I have an extra challenge – eating on campus and making sure my food is safe.
I handled this challenge just like I have always handled my food allergy, by being pro-active. First, I contacted the campus nutritionist at my college. She was really helpful and told me that we had one dining spot on campus that is completely free of the eight major allergens. She also directed me to disability services, which was something I had not thought of doing. Disability services at my university, just like most, requires students to self-identify. What this means is that there is no automatic process: if you had a 504 plan in high school, like I did, it does not follow you to college. I had to “self-identify,” which required me to fill out a form for the Disability Resource office telling them what my challenges were, so that they could figure out how to help me. Attached to the form, I had to have a letter from my doctor clearly stating my allergies. Don’t delay! My doctor took a few days to write the letter for me to pick up, so you don’t want to wait until right before school starts to ask.
After notifying the disability office, I notified the housing department so that they could also help me. The thought of rooming with someone who didn’t understand or wouldn’t respect my need to keep our space tree nut-free was frightening, but they were able to accommodate me by giving me a private room. There is a community kitchen in my dorm, which I handle by keeping my own dedicated pots, pans and dishes. This way I can prepare my own food without the fear of cross-contact.
I also scoped out the town, and found my favorite allergy-friendly restaurant nearby, so that I knew I had someplace to eat out sometimes with friends. Before making the drive to my new school, I made a list of my favorite foods on Amazon, so that my mom could buy and ship me cookies and treats!
Just in case, I refilled my epinephrine prescription this summer, and I made sure to make a note of where the closest hospital is to the university. Fortunately for me, I do know some people from my high school who are also going to the same college and already know about my allergies and how to handle any emergency. However, sharing this information is also really important in case you need help! Keep in mind that more people have issues like this than you might realize. For example, on my college orientation tour, our guide actually asked if any of us had food allergies, and there were so many raised hands! The fact that the guide asked just reassured for me how seriously my college is taking this issue.
Making the transition to a new place is not easy, and the challenge of making sure I can eat and stay healthy is an extra obstacle, but it is not impossible. I am feeling really secure in my choices and the help the university has offered to me. I can’t wait to move in, meet all my new classmates and enjoy college life!