I am now back in the United States, and I’m hoping my blog will be just one of the things that remind me that the past few months was not merely a dream. When I look back at my first few posts, I can’t believe how the time is flown, and how I have matured over the course of the semester. Four months is a pretty long time to spend on another continent, and I am proud now to call Copenhagen a home away from home. I know I will be back to visit one day.
For those of you who read my Facebook post, a lot of this content will be very similar. However, I’ll elaborate a bit more within this blog post. My plan is to make a Study Abroad Guide this summer, but I’m only going to include things from Copenhagen and not the other cities I visited.
I have always wanted to go abroad. I remember looking at study abroad programs as early as high school; it was something that each potential college would promote as an opportunity. On the surface, studying abroad may just seem like a chance to travel the world without any real responsibilities. It is true that I have not yet graduated from college (1 year left!) and that I did travel to several different cities during the course of my time in Europe. However, my four months was so much more fulfilling than bouncing around from city to city. I won’t say that “abroad changed me,” as I hope it didn’t; rather, I know for sure it did grow me in a way that simply would not have been possible without this experience.
Prior to landing to Copenhagen, I had never even visited Europe, let alone lived there without any family members or friends for several months. Those close to me know that “nervous” for this experience is an understatement. I was apprehensive about being alone in an unfamiliar city, where navigating around has never been a strong suit of mine. I would know no one, and all the people I cared about would continue with their lives in the United States. I knew I was only a phone call or facetime away, but, still, it’s different.
Luckily, I didn’t have much time for confusion. DIS, the study abroad program that I participated in, carefully outlined exactly what I would do when I arrived in Copenhagen, and a representative even walked me to my room. There was a 5-day orientation period, during which I had the opportunity to attend several different sessions about everything from adjustment to a new culture, to how to sign up for a gym membership, where to rent a bike, and the regulations of my specific housing location. In addition to regulating my sleep cycle and recovering from jet lag, this period was helpful to get a preview of the months that lay ahead, especially in regards to my “core course,” Positive Psychology. After comparing my study abroad experiences with friends who participated in “exchange” programs or other types of programs elsewhere in Europe, I can say with confidence that a program specifically for American study abroad students was the right call for me. I briefly considered going somewhere more unique than Copenhagen (meaning that there wouldn’t be a bunch of Cornell students going there, for example), but I realized that both the academic program and the city itself were very appealing. I was also drawn to DIS because of the traveling they build into the semester; it’s not always about going to as many cities as possible–traveling every weekend in the semester. Instead, it’s about diving deeper into the places students intentionally choose to visit, in addition to learning about various places with the context lens of your “core course.” My core course, Positive Psychology, traveled to Western Denmark (including the city, Aarhus), as well as Budapest, Hungary.
DIS was an exceptionally organized program that helped me adjust to Denmark in many ways. I’ll skip the embarrassing stories of my acclimation to Europe, as you can find those in other blog posts. However, here is a short recap about some of what I’ve learned this semester. First and foremost, Copenhagen made me realize that the United States is not the be-all, end-all of all countries; there are far more flaws in the United States than I realized before living away from the country. My previous educational experiences had certainly included facts and discussions occasionally about other countries and continents, but the primary focus was the United States: the government, the way of life, and the customs. Living in Copenhagen has taught me that there is a whole different approach. Of course, it’s difficult to generalize an entire country of different people. With that said, people in Denmark—even the city itself—are slower-paced than New Yorkers. There is a focus on “hygge,” which roughly translates to “coziness,” and this includes a variety of different activities, especially time spent with loved ones, good food, and a welcoming and warm environment. People are environmentally-conscious, and they don’t just do that for the sake of conversation. Most Danes bike to and from work, even if they live outside of the city center. Danes are trusting of others; they leave their children outside in bicycle baskets while they do their errands! The first time I saw this, I was shocked. I learned that, despite having lived for all of my life within the United States, Denmark’s culture and way of life very much suites who I am as a person. It was an absolute honor to call Copenhagen my home, and I cannot wait for my next visit there. See some of my previous blog posts for more detailed accounts of things I witnessed in Denmark.
On the weekends (for fun) and during some of the weeks (with my DIS classmates), I was fortunate enough to have the ability to travel to 12 cities that spanned 10 different countries, which is pretty darn cool. While I did not have the same immersive experience in all those places as I was able to have in Copenhagen, I still learned a great deal about so many other cultures. And, because my home base was Copenhagen, I was more aware of the differences between each city: language, food, lifestyle, clothing, culture, etc. I learned that I love sightseeing, trying new cuisines, and even just walking around the streets of each city to get a feel for the place. While I traveled with DIS friends for many of the trips, for other trips, I met my school friends in various cities, which required me getting around these cities by myself, at least from the airport to where we were staying. Or, in Barcelona, for example, I commuted by myself many, many times as I switched between being with Emma and Adina’s family. Before studying abroad, being alone in a city was a very scary concept. Now, however, I feel so self-sufficient in that manner. I have a better understanding of how to read a map and understand where I am in the world. I’m also okay with the knowledge that I won’t always know where I am, knowing that as long as I stay calm, I can figure it out. This was a big growing experience for me, and it makes me look forward to my future travels. The world is such a beautiful place, and at several different points in new cities, I would feel breathless—with chills—as I looked at different sights or lookouts. A few moments that are worth mentioning was when I looked up at the Colosseum in Rome, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and the city of London from the top of the London Eye. For me, this experience was my first opportunity to see so much of the world from a young adult perspective. It allowed me to challenge what American customs I’ve never thought twice about previously. And, it’s funny: seeing all these places was such an enriching experience, but nothing made me happier than each arrival back in Copenhagen, my cute neighborhood, the bikes, and the Danish language. If I had to do it all again, I’d choose Copenhagen hundreds of times over. And, I know this Copenhagen pride will stay with me long after the semester is over. If I ever heard people speaking Danish in the United States, I’d recognize it instantly, and I’d probably strike up a conversation. Studying abroad (especially with my writing assignments from Travel Writing) made me better at talking to strangers, too.
I feel tremendously grateful to the people in my life who helped make this semester possible. First and foremost, my parents. Fundamentally, they are the people who graciously allowed me to have this life-changing adventure. I am so grateful to them for giving me the gift of a lifetime to explore, travel, learn, and grow. I am also thankful for my Cornell advisors and professors, who have been nothing but encouraging for me to have this enrichment as part of my curriculum. Ever since the beginning of sophomore year when I just started to consider where I could study abroad, I have received so much personal attention and support from Human Ecology and Cornell in general. Paul Fisher in the Human Ecology Study Abroad office was especially helpful when he listened to what I hoped to accomplish within a semester of studying away from Cornell, and he was the one to recommend DIS-Copenhagen in the first place.
Throughout the semester, several highlights included visits from friends and family members. For each of these occasions, I was so excited to greet my loved ones and show them around “my” city. I’m so grateful to mom, dad (missed you, Eric), Josh, Bella, Sherry, Aunt Sheila, Emma, Rachel, and Hannah, for bringing the ultimate form of hygge to Copenhagen. A big part of Danish culture is spending quality time with people who matter to you, and it is only because I feel so loved that I had enough courage to study abroad in the first place. I hope all of these people enjoyed their visits as much as I did. 🙂
Last but not least, I need to thank Adina and Goldie for being my support system and closest friends in Copenhagen. The way the DIS housing system matched me with Adina is truly one of the best things that happened to me this semester, as living with her made even mundane tasks and random evenings the most fun. We not only lived well together, but also became very close friends, and she knows me and my stories incredibly well (in addition to everything I tell people via facetime), which makes her a person I can literally talk to about anything. Even though Adina and I compared our housing essays side-by-side in the beginning of the semester (and, yes, we did very much sound like we’d be good roommates from those essays), I’ll never know how I got so lucky. DIS is a huge program, which is great, but it also means that I went the entire semester without meeting hundreds of people. That makes the start of my friendship with Adina all the more incredible, and I am blessed to have someone that will forever understand each and every part of this semester we shared. Goldie, as you may remember from an early blog post, came into my life in a similar way, in that I never would have met her if it wasn’t for a mutual friend she shares with Adina. Goldie and I didn’t have any classes together, nor did we live in the same part of the city. However, seeing each other was a priority for both of us this semester, so I still managed to spend plenty of time with her. Goldie and Adina have lots of mutual friends (they’re both from Boston), but from the first day when we sat in Emmery’s and chatted, I think we all immediately felt so comfortable. The rest is history. The semester would have been very different had I not had these two incredible people in my life, as you can probably tell from all the blog posts. 🙂
Anyway, thank you to my loyal blog followers for keeping up with my adventures this semester! It was always fun to get comments (on the blog or via text) about your reactions to reading my stories, as it reminded me that blogging was a good choice for me in terms of keeping everyone up-to-date. I hope I have been able to convey some of what I learned and experienced through writing, but I also have to say that if you ever get the chance, Copenhagen is an incredible place with warmth and energy that’s worth seeing in person. I think I know someone who can give you lots of suggestions for your trip. 🙂