Saying Goodbye

It all happened so fast.

Just a few weeks ago, I was making plans for travel break. Talk of the Coronavirus was rampant amongst the students, but I was confident I wasn’t going home— I was determined to stay and live out my abroad experience to the fullest. Besides, I thought, Denmark didn’t have that many cases, and I would be better off here anyway with reliable, cheap healthcare. Or so I thought.

5 days later, DIS announced that it would be suspending in person programming after Denmark decided to close schools and universities. I was heartbroken to say the least, but I thought I would at least have a week to wrap things up and see what I didn’t get to see. Not an hour after, the White House announced a travel ban from Europe to the US, sending us into a panic– everyone bought flights out of the country as soon as possible. With the ever changing situation, it was impossible to tell what might happen the longer we stayed.

Barely 48 hours later, I was sitting on a plane back to DC. This is not at all how I was expecting my time abroad to finish— hurried packing, things left haphazardly behind, goodbyes cut short. In a way, it’s been a relief to be home and not have to live in constant limbo and worry. But there’s really no getting around it— I am crushed. I felt like I was just beginning feel at home in Copenhagen, and I still hadn’t gotten to see the city in it’s full spring glory. There’s still a lot of uncertainty at home, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the majority of my time outside of online classes– or rather, inside, since thats where we’re all cooped up until this blows over.

A week, many tears, and one coronavirus test later (it came back negative), here’s what I think I’ve learned from all of this.

What I learned

  1. It’s always so important to remember to put things in perspective. We get so caught up with our daily problems and frustrations that we often forget to take a step back. Don’t let domestic annoyances get in the way of connecting with the people around you, especially those you live with (Who’s dishes are always in the sink? Why am I the only one taking out the trash?) In one dramatic instant, every single disagreement or argument I ever had with any of my housemates felt incredibly silly. Clashing can be an inevitable part of sharing space with others, but don’t let it linger like a dark cloud over the house. Remember that we’re all human, and try to forgive people.
  2. In the event of a crisis, try to stay calm and listen to sources you trust. There’s a lot of misinformation and a lot of speculation that goes around, and it can cause unnecessary stress. Sometimes it’s better to take things day by day, as much as we want to know where we’ll be in a week or a month. In addition, it’s ok to be disappointed and wallow in self-pity for a bit, but don’t let it last too long. Remember that decisions are being made for a reason, even if you may not like it. In a couple of years when all of this is in the past, many people will look back on this time and laugh about how crazy it all was. I can’t help but feel that I will always see this crisis as the thing that cut short one of the best times of my life. At the same time, I know that DIS did what was necessary, and that preventing the spread of a pandemic and protecting lives is much more important than my desire to travel. 
  3. You can never predict what might happen while you’re abroad. As we’ve seen over the past few months, global situations and relations can change and become volatile incredibly quickly. For that reason and many others, it’s so important to cherish your time abroad. Take advantage of every opportunity you can. Explore beyond the bubble of your classes and housing. Go somewhere unexpected, not just the tourist landmarks. I know that for me, after the excitement and the newness of the first month passed, I began to settle into a routine like I sometimes do when I’m home. I started getting a little lazy, and would often feel the draw to just come home after class and chill. When living abroad becomes more normal, you may start to take things for granted, and that’s completely  understandable— not every waking moment can be filled to the brim. However, if I had known earlier that my time was more limited than I anticipated, I would have tried to do more. As a result, I feel like I’m leaving with unfinished business. 

    While I regret the time I wasted, I also think I did a good job of putting myself out there. On weekends, I took initiative to explore, even if no one else wanted to go with me. On nice days, I switched up my bike commute to try new paths. I tried virtually every coffee shop near DIS. Unlike many study abroad students, I didn’t go to a different country every weekend—it was more important to me to get to know Denmark intimately, and I think I achieved that with the time I had.

Although it was cut short, my time in Denmark was (and always will be) so special. I know I’ll treasure every memory I made, and I’m confident that i’ll be back one day to finish what I started. In the meantime, I’m still trying to stay connected with my professors and classmates online, and plan on keeping this blog updated. Even though I’m home, I’m taking a lesson from Denmark and staying as hyggeligt as possible.

A Moment of Sun

Something miraculous happened on Saturday: the sun came out.

I actually had plans to go out with my visiting-host mother rain or shine, but I was extremely pleased when the weather in Helsingør turned out to be clear and mild, as if the clouds had parted just for us. Helsingør is an absolutely adorable 15th-century town about an hour’s train ride from Copenhagen that is home to Kronborg Castle, otherwise known as Hamlet’s Castle. Although Hamlet was not a real person, the castle provides tours where you can follow and actor dressed as Hamlet’s closest confidant, Horatio, through the various parts of the castle where the scenes from Hamlet might have actually taken place.

From the castle tower, you can look out onto the canal that separates Denmark from Sweden– in fact, you can see the Swedish town of Helsingborg, which sits only about a 30 minute ferry ride away from the shore. The view is stunning from all angles, and you can really start to understand why the castle was placed in such a strategic spot back in the 1400s.

Kronborg Castle

Besides the castle, the town boasts colorful buildings, an indoor food market, and a city square that hosts a farmer’s market in the warmer months. As someone who has searched Copenhagen far and wide for farmers markets, this excited me– although there were only one or two people selling things when we visited (I bought some lavender honey from a local beekeeper). My visiting-host mother told me that in the summer, the entire town square is filled with stalls selling local produce, delicacies and art. Even without all the hustle and bustle, I could have walked down each and every one of the quiet streets, just to get a little taste of the past.

The weather surprised me yet again a couple days later when a few of my housemates and I decided to take a morning run to try the famous snail rolls at St. Peders Bageri. It was supposed to rain, but the sun peeked through yet again and cast a heavenly glow over the city in the early morning. We ran about 2 kilometers from our house in Amager to the bakery, which is located right by DIS. After having done martial arts with our LLC the night before, I was still extremely sore– not to mention the fact that I hadn’t worked out properly in…longer than I’d like to admit. The run was a bit of a push for me, but I have to say, the cinnamon rolls might have tasted just a little bit sweeter after having worked for them.

“Snail Rolls,” or giant cinnamon buns, from St. Peders Bageri

Regardless of weather, I think that taking little trips can create unforgettable moments, whether it be to another city or just down the street to a new bakery. If I had stayed in bed an extra couple of hours instead of getting off my butt and taking a run, I might not have had the sunny experience I did that day. Going on even a short adventure can create bright moments on even the cloudiest, rainiest of days.

Copenhagen at First Glance

Flower market located in a central square near DIS

As I sit at my desk looking out the window at the fairy-lit apartments and quiet streets of Amagerbro, I’m struck by how at home I already feel in Copenhagen. Although it’s only my third day, my housemates and I have started to settle into a comfortable ease around each other, sharing blankets on the common room couch and tossing around jokes as we cook in our shared kitchen. I was immediately surprised when I arrived not only by how nice the living accommodations of our LLC are, but also by how friendly the people were after only knowing each other for a few hours. Our LLC, which is Outdoors themed, has already had a couple opportunities to get to know each other better– first with a pizza dinner on arrival night, then with some icebreaker/trust-building games at the local gym, and today by walking around the city center and hanging out in the common room together.

Monday was the busiest day so far, as we attended the opening ceremony and got our first look at the DIS facilities. The ceremony was held in the Wallmans Circus building, where they sometimes hold Danish music awards and other performances. We got to hear from former DIS students and the DIS director, as well as listen to a musical performance by an up and coming Danish artist named Drew (check out her music here!)

Some of my LLC housemates and I at the opening ceremony when the DIS director told us to “take a selfie”

We then walked around the city streets and checked out some the bookstores, vintage stores, and of course, spent about an hour in the Flying Tiger (a very popular danish chain for basically anything you would ever need). We also grabbed a cup of coffee from Next Door cafe, where they were expecting the rush of DIS students and coincidentally had country music playing on the radio. The coffee was cheap for Copenhagen, about 30 DKK, but the quantity was much smaller than your average Starbucks cup.

Me and my roommate with our chocolate croissants from Next Door cafe

In the afternoon, we attended “living like a local” talks, where we could learn about biking in the city, local fashion trends, where to get affordable food, and more. It was a really great chance to hear from both Danish locals and former DIS students who now live in the city, and get to learn about some really cool deals and spots that I will definitely be checking out.

I’ve had the chance the last couple of days to use the Metro and the Bus, as well as my bike (from ABC bikes). The public transport is extremely clean and organized, and super convenient– I already know that the DC Metro is going to seem grimy and dark by comparison when I get home. I’m particularly a fan of the honor system, which means that you not required to swipe in to the subway. Instead, officers sometimes do checks to make sure that you have actually purchased a transit ticket. This makes things go much faster and smoother, especially during rush hour. Speaking of which, I had my first experience biking during rush hour, and I definitely have a lot to learn. The bike lanes here even have turn lanes, and locals seemed to bike two times faster than me with minimal effort. Despite struggling with all these new concepts, I found it extremely refreshing to bike home over the canal and watch different parts of the city pass me by. I am excited by the autonomy that biking allows, and I look forward to exploring on my new wheels.

A typical Copenhagen “parking lot”

My first impressions of Copenhagen are that of wonder and amazement. Despite the fact that it has been rainy and cold for the past two days, I find myself feeling more energized and excited than I have in a while. I cannot wait to get to know Copenhagen inside and out.

Pre-Departure

I would be lying if I said that the days leading up to my departure have been exiting. My schedule consists mostly of waking up at noon, catching up on reading, doing some packing, watching Netflix, and maybe hanging out with a friend. Needless to say, I’m anxious to get to Denmark. Coming back home for the break can be relaxing, but it can also cause me to fall back into a lot of my old and mostly undesirable habits. Once the warm, hazy glow of the holidays has worn off and most of my friends have started going their separate ways, being at home can feel a bit too static.

Winter break feels at first like a time without bounds where anything is possible, but usually ends up being one big slug-fest. As the hours and days blur together, I’ve been looking forward to having structure back in my life. At this point in my college career, going back to school has lost its excitement of newness and promises of a fresh start. Only this time, I won’t be heading back down south– I’ll be going much further north.

As I struggle to pare down the absurdly large pile of sweaters and start to learn more and more about my classes and living arrangements, I can’t help but feel that I have an unbelievable opportunity ahead of me to be a first year again– entering a new place full of unfamiliar faces, all of whom are in the same boat. I get to leave everything I know behind and immerse myself in a completely different culture, full of new foods to taste and new sights to see. While I know that there will be challenges ahead, I feel incredibly lucky to have the chance to explore myself in a new country.

I’d like to start off with a few goals to help focus myself for the upcoming semester. I want to be able to take full advantage of this opportunity, and to do that, I would like to:

  • stay present and off the internet as much as possible
  • grab on to as many opportunities that come by me as I can – did someone invite you to go check out the cute cafe a few subway stops away? DO IT!
  • keep up with work so that it remains manageable
  • journal or document my experiences
  • step outside my comfort zone socially and experientially
  • take advantage of the resources around me, especially from locals
  • learn about and understand the successful parts of Danish sustainability that I can take back home

These are good reminders to have along the way, and at the end of my semester, good points to reflect upon.