Are you hoping to study abroad sometime during your college career? Staying healthy while studying abroad can be a real challenge. But we’re sharing some ways that you still stay healthy while exploring the world!
I’ve been lucky enough to study abroad not one semester, but two. I spent the fall semester of my junior year in Madrid, Spain, went home for three months, and I’m currently finishing up my spring semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
When you sign up to study abroad, no one truly tells you what you will experience. Staying healthy while studying abroad isn’t as easy as I had thought. Back at home, I worked out five days a week for at least an hour. I loved cooking and eating healthy, sometimes even difficult recipes! I had a lot of fitness goals in mind, like getting abs, toning my thighs, and looking like all the fitness models I follow on Instagram. I’m sure you can probably relate. Let me tell you…all of these fitness aspirations quickly shifted after study abroad literally transformed my life.
In Spain, I lived in a homestay with a 66-year-old abuela (grandma in Spanish) who thought that giving me three times the normal portion was taking care of me. I also went to a gym that cost $93 for three months, which was extremely expensive considering it was poorly equipped with old machines, broken dumbbells, and way too many people. I tried for two months to work out consistently, but between fighting for space at the gym, dealing with the huge portions of mostly fried food my host mom gave me, and struggling with exams and stress, I eventually gave up and told myself I’d get in shape when I came home.
Fast forward to tonight, four months into my study abroad semester in Buenos Aires, and I have learned so much. In order to make staying healthy during study abroad life easier, I have outlined a few of the things I learned about being healthy along the way.
Cooking Quick and Healthy Meals Will Save Your Life!
In Buenos Aires, I live in an apartment I found through an online ad, not a homestay, so I don’t get the luxury of home-cooked family meals. Instead, I am responsible for grocery shopping. I have learned how quickly fresh produce and meat can go to waste. I spent my first month throwing away a lot of vegetables and fruits I wasn’t able to eat in time while crying over the fact that I had to eat pasta and tomato sauce without protein again that week.
Then I discovered the joys of frozen and canned vegetables, rice, couscous, and soup packets; my life suddenly became filled with multicolored, delicious meals.
To avoid wasting meat, I add chickpeas to my meals, which are packed with protein. Adding frozen veggies to soups and sauces bulks up your meals so you are eating more and your stomach feels full. I also give myself fixed portions by immediately putting my leftovers in containers and in the fridge so I’m less tempted to go back for seconds. Another great thing about putting extra food away is waking up to a container full of already cooked rice or pre-made soup the next day!
Body Acceptance Is Important
Until I was able to study abroad, I used to scrutinize every inch of my body, looking in the mirror and wanting to cry because I hated what I saw. I was never diagnosed with any type of body image disorder, but I know for a fact that the unattainable images of women in the media influenced me heavily. I always knew Photoshop was to blame and that “no one looks like the women in the magazines,” but it’s hard to remember that when you’re constantly bombarded by images of perfectly fit, toned, beautiful women.
It really hit me when I watched a video (this is not the same video, but this is a satire showing the process) from an Argentine Facebook account that showed how Instagram models can be highlighted and contoured to look perfect. In the original video, the makeup turned an already beautiful, fit woman into a Spartan warrior with chiseled abs, defined biceps, carved calves, and a big chest.
That’s when it hit me that I cannot believe everything I see and I cannot make some girl on Instagram my goal when I can’t even tell if her body is real or not.
It also helps that there are a lot of thicker women down here, which is something to be prized by Latino men. I am not saying that I am just a sexual object or an object of desire, but the fact that men prefer thicker women here is such a huge difference to the stick thin preference pushed in the United States. One day (seriously, it happened just like this), I looked in the mirror and thought “wow, I really love my thick thighs. And look at that nice, round booty. I look good.”
Make Everywhere Your Gym
Gyms are more expensive here and even worse quality than in Spain. I went to a gym for a month with equipment in need of repair, no cleaning spray or towels in sight (gross), and what seemed to be a lack of knowledge of basic exercise rules. After leaving the gym, I decided I would run for thirty minutes each day to at least do something. That only lasted about two weeks because I hate running and the parks were always crowded with people who weren’t very considerate of focused runners. Then I went into a slump, giving up completely on working out and leaving my fitness problems and Snickers addiction for future me. Finally, within the last month, I’ve dug deep to find my motivation and I’ve learned how to make it work.
I’m staying in a small apartment and my room is about 7 by 12 feet where most of the space is taken up by a twin bed, a dresser, and an armoire. I went out, bought a yoga mat that barely fits.
Then, I hopped on Pinterest to find bodyweight and HIIT workouts, like squats, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, crunches, push-ups, and tricep dips. I then broke down my week into different body parts (arms, abs, legs, butt) and created a list of workouts that last about
I also use different yoga videos I find on YouTube that focus on different body parts to supplement my workouts. My biggest obstacle was a tiny space where I barely fit in a plank position, but I’ve learned that I can work out wherever I am and I can
make it work with a little bit of creative effort, planning, and dedication.
I am extremely lucky to have been able to study abroad in two different countries, on two different continents and I am so grateful for the lessons I’ve learned through study abroad. As a takeaway, here’s what I learned:
- You can make quick, healthy, substantial meals with a little bit of creativity (and lots of frozen and canned veggies). Also, put away leftovers so you aren’t tempted to eat more!
- Love your body. You are beautiful and wonderful and all those women in the ads don’t really look like that.
- You can literally work out anywhere as long as you put in some effort and get a little creative. Body weight exercises are your friend!
I was surprised most of the lessons were about my health and fitness, those aren’t typical study abroad lessons people come home and tell, but those were the things I needed to learn the most and I am a better, healthier, happier girl for it. I can’t wait to go home and incorporate everything I’ve learned so I can reach all of my fitness goals and become the best version of myself.
Ellen is a junior at Loyola University Maryland where she double majors in Spanish and Communications and specializes in public relations and advertising. She’s spent her entire junior year studying abroad, first in Spain, then in Argentina, where she’s improved her Spanish and learned a lot of valuable life lessons. Ellen loves working out, yelling at the TV during Newcastle United matches, cooking delicious food while listening to Dean Martin, laughing until she cries, and exploring herself and the world around her. You can follow her study abroad travels on her blog, her opinions and pictures of kittens on her Facebook, her health journey on her fitness Instagram, and her selfie-filled regular Instagram.