Few study abroad programs offer meal plans such as those that are available on campus at UR. Your university or program may have a dining hall (as is often the case in Australian residential colleges, for instance) or—more commonly—a variety of on-campus eateries. However, in many cases, you’ll have a greater degree of independence and flexibility in planning your meals. You may be able to choose from a number of local restaurants. This can be a great way to try out the local cuisine, but it can also be a very expensive way to feed yourself, depending on the cost of living and the caliber of the restaurant. Also, pay attention to the sanitary conditions wherever you eat. For example, the food stalls at the local farmer’s market might be very cost-effective and culturally authentic, but they might also serve up a sure recipe for traveler’s diarrhea (see the section on “Health Care While Studying Abroad” for more on this topic).
In many cases, your best bet will be to prepare your own meals. This is usually the most affordable option, and a good way to stay within your budget. It may sound intimidating if you’re accustomed to relying on a Platinum Plan here on campus, but most students find cooking and food shopping an exciting aspect of overseas living. Your program staff can give you advice about the best places to buy groceries (don’t expect to find a Wegman’s nearby), and your housing will often include kitchen facilities. Particularly if you’re staying with other students, it makes sense to share meals and take turns cooking. Preparing your own meals allows you to regulate the sanitary conditions of your food preparation. So, for example, you can avoid raw vegetables if you’re not confident about the quality of the water used to wash them. And while you might be able to find boil-and-serve comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese, you can experiment with local delicacies, too.
Last but not least, if you’re living in a homestay, your host family will typically provide at least one meal per day. This, of course, is a wonderful way to sample some home cooking typical of your host country. Sometimes it can also present awkward dilemmas which require you to balance sensitivity against dietary requirements. It’s important to be clear up front about any special dietary limitations you may have. That way, if you’re a vegetarian, your host mother will know not to put chicken feet in your soup. Also, your program staff will usually provide the host families with guidelines for food preparation, since foods that seem ordinary to them might present gastronomical challenges for someone newly arrived in the country.