A few years back (I won’t say how many), I spent my third year of undergrad in Nice, France. When I arrived in Côte d’Azur at the end of September of that year, I was in fine shape indeed. I had spent the summer toiling on a road construction crew, and I was in the best shape of my life. This newfound form would be fleeting, however. Little did I know that nine months later I would be leaving l’Hexagone (as the French affectionately call their hexagonal country) in a decidedly spherical shape, with a much larger wardrobe, and sporting more rolls than a French bakery. To say I got chubby would be putting it lightly.
So to save you from yourself, here are a few tips to help you avoid my mistakes and stay in shape while you’re abroad.
1. Shop at local grocery stores
The first error I made was renting an apartment above a kebab shop. Huge mistake. The establishment was a bit of a hole in the wall, but the kebabs were first rate, and the owners had a Canadian connection, so I quickly formed a conversational and culinary bond with my building mates. I quickly adopted the habit of popping downstairs for a kebab instead of heading to the grocery store or market. If you know where to shop (local markets are great) and what to buy (local and in-season food), you will be able not only to eat healthier but also to save money.
2. Make good bad-food decisions
Bad-food decisions are unavoidable, and we all get our cravings from time to time. If you’re going to fall off the wagon, at least think about eating something that is made with natural ingredients and isn’t deep fried or overly processed. Think about adding a bit of culture and sampling the local delicacies.
3. Explore the city on foot
The best way to discover a city or town, whether you are visiting for two days or two years, is to walk around. You can check all of the blogs and travel guides you want, or cruise Instagram for days, but the best places are always the ones you stumble across by accident. Plus, you never know who you might run into…
4. Join a local gym
Gym memberships aren’t necessarily the cheapest proposition, but they don’t always have to be expensive. If you are an international student, your institution will likely have some kind of gym. Physical activity is good for the mind as well as the body and should help you stay mentally healthy as you transition into your new home. If you do join a gym, just make sure it’s not like the one I joined in France. Perhaps it was the clientele, perhaps it was the culture, but the first time I went there a gentleman plopped himself down beside me and promptly began smoking a Gauloise while performing bicep curls.
5. Get into a routine
Routines are a good way to go. The danger of living abroad is that you risk feeling like you are on vacation 24/7, and most of us take vacations to break up our daily routines and indulge for a few days. A routine will help you create a strong foundation, which is crucial as you adjust to your new surroundings.
I followed some of these tips, but not all of them, and rarely with any degree of consistency. I’m not saying don’t indulge—I’m just telling you to remember that if you live for two, four, or six months like you are on a week-long vacation, you will likely return home a well rounded individual.
Preparing for an adventure abroad? Don’t forget your travel insurance.