Discovering the meaning of the study abroad experience

Zoe Malkin
Staff Writer.

How to begin an article encapsulating my time thus far in Denmark: Did I want to give little factoids about Copenhagen and its people? For example, how Danes leave their children in strollers outside of grocery stores and cafés because the city is so safe. There has never been a kidnapping in Denmark! Or, that all public libraries are closed on Sundays, a college student’s prime day for work. But I thought that I wanted to share much more than that. And so here is my attempt to encapsulate this experience.
Immersing myself with reckless abandon into this new Danish culture has brought me to everything from café-lined, picturesque streets to nearly being run over by a biker on the way to class one morning. Biking is a huge phenomenon in Copenhagen and a primary form of transportation. Learning to navigate this culture and this city has meant getting off at the incorrect metro stop and walking in the wrong direction down the street more times than I have fingers and toes. But that’s all part of the learning experience. It’s the good stuff, the memories that come from turning right during a run instead of left and discovering how close you live to Nyhavn (the famous canal). From these moments, so many memories have also been shaped in the classroom through dynamic, impassioned discussion on human trafficking and prostitution – my core classes. These classes have dramatically changed and challenged the way I think about the issue of prostitution, in and of itself, as well as my role as a citizen of this world. I’ve sat in class with my peers nearly speechless because we are unable to grasp the “right way” to “solve” prostitution. Needless to say, questions rather than answers have dominated our thoughtful discussions.
Further, beyond the classroom, there are cultural practices such as hygge that continues to make an impression on me. Hygge, most nearly, translates into cozy and warm yet it is a multidimensional concept. Hygge brings people together for long periods of time, surrounded by candles while eating and drinking copious amounts of tea and wine over conversation. What’s interesting is that it can be found in cafés, too. And if there is outdoor seating, which is common even in the winter, there are fluffy blankets ready for use, and heating lamps hanging from the canopies. There is an element of togetherness that dominates the Danish tradition in a way that is touching. It enables even foreigners like me, called sojourners, to feel at home.
Prior to my departure into the land of Scandinavia, the welfare state of Denmark, people tried to express how much study abroad changes and molds your sense of individuality. I would look at them in awe, wondering how on earth a few months could really do that, or how my experience would compare. And I must say, study abroad is powerful – that was clear within the first few weeks. There is something about the type of academic engagement, the adventures, and the new responsibilities that take shape that have enormous impacts on who we are as individual humans. And it’s pretty remarkable.

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