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Collages and Gluten Abroad

Fun fact: Spain has many varieties of chocolate (and assorted gummy candy) and I happen to be a low-key enthusiast of chocolate and sugar. Within the first week of living in Spain, I made it my personal goal to try every kind of chocolate on the shelf of the local supermarket (to get the full experience, you know?). As you can imagine, I was eating a lot of chocolate…partly I say, to make up for the lack of gluten. And I started feeling a little self conscious about it. I got over it by watching how much Europeans smoke and decided if Spaniards ate as much chocolate as they smoked, we’d be on the same level. The lesson I’ve learned: pick out a favorite two or three foods that will hold you over when you’re collapsing of hunger or need a pick me up. I like getting a pack of nuts, raisins, and chocolate every week from the grocery store. Nuts because they fill you up and they taste good with chocolate; raisins because if you don’t have chocolate they can quench a sugar craving; chocolate because it’s chocolate and we have a goal to meet here people! When I decided to study abroad for a semester, I knew there was a chance collages could disappear. I had made one every day for more than a hundred days before I was to leave and I remember telling myself, “Morgan, there’s no way you’re going to keep up with this all through busy study abroad— in a different country— where you may not even have access to paper (because Europe is so short on paper) and mod lodge besides the time or creative energy to focus on making stuff… And yet, here we are 239 days later, not having broken the streak.

I thought this same thing about gluten. I thought I might starve at worst, eat nothing but chocolate at best. When I came to Spain, I had already warned myself about tapas— or in Basque country, pintxos— which are tapas except on a piece of bread. I was prepared; I would just have to venture through Spain, discarding pieces of bread as I survived on pintxos. BUT how that has turned out differently as well. Besides the one time I accidentally ate a cereal my host mom bought with wheat germ in it, I have yet to eat anything containing wheat or gluten in Spain. It helps that my host mom is super healthy, but even though she eats bread, she always fixes me a ton of vegetables, rice, fruit, and even meat, although she’s a vegetarian. I say this because there are many fears that encompass making the decision to study abraod. FOOD ALLERGIES SHOULD NOT BE ONE OF THEM. You can get by most any place as long as you’re open to trying new things and maybe not having exactly what you want at every moment. I've found that many people are more than willing to participate in a collage as well as help you eat your leftover bread. One thing I’ve loved doing with collages while abroad is (using Spanish food as my media, yes!) collaborating with other people. The flexibility of collage media makes it great to do any place, anytime, with anyone. And oh, the conversations I’ve had with people about art because of this. On one occasion, I was out late getting pintxos with a good friend plus four of her friends I had met that afternoon. She, having fallen victim to my making of collages, explained to these newcomers why I was picking up cigarettes off the street and putting them together as an artistic political campaign against smoking. They happened to be smoking at that moment, so I can’t say they were all for it, but you get the picture. Motivating myself to make collages everyday and steering clear of gluten while abroad has taught me how comfortable you can get in a place so far from home. I’ve learned what to do to get by when surrounded by gluten gluten gluten and that I can make collages ANYWHERE. And that feels good.

Morgan McGill

Louisville, KY, USA

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