One week ago, I was squeezing the last of my sweaters into my suitcases, double and triple-checking the weight of my luggage, and trying to figure out which Danish cell phone plan to buy, in final preparation for a semester studying at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) in Copenhagen, Denmark. Very suddenly I was in the car with my family, driving to the airport – a drive that I had been picturing over and over again in my mind for weeks with unbounded enthusiasm. This drive would be the transition I needed, and the 7-hour plane ride would give me plenty of time to sleep, learn a few more Danish phrases and prepare myself mentally for all the newness and adventure that the next four months would bring. As the plane would land, I’d be completely ready, and I’d walk out of the plane energized, confident, and absolutely stoked for anything and everything that the semester would bring. I’d heard a lot of my friends talking about the major last-minute misgivings they’d had in the days before they’d left for their JYA programs, but I knew that wouldn’t be me. I’d wanted this opportunity for so long, and I’d finally be beginning a semester studying climate change and sustainability in one of the most environmentally progressive cities on Earth! Leaving would be liberating, no doubt, and I was sure that everything about it would feel right.
As soon as we pulled out of the driveway, though, I completely surprised myself by starting to second-guess everything. Why was I doing this?! The past semester at Vassar had been my favorite one yet, and I was finally starting to feel like I had a handle on what I wanted to do for the rest of my Geography degree. There would be fantastic courses offered at Vassar this spring that I would never be able to take if I went abroad, and I’d be cutting short the precious time I’d have with friends before we all graduate. Before we all graduate…shit. The next time I’d be at Vassar, I’d be a senior. WHAT.
Scrambling for reasons to justify my decision to get on the plane, I slowly thought through what I’d planned for the semester. I’d be taking a class about Arctic glacial history, which would take me to Greenland for a week of independent ice core research. I’d also be taking courses excitingly titled “Environmental Policy,” “Renewable Energy Systems,” “Waste Management Systems in Europe,” and “Sustainable by Design,” all classes whose syllabi promised a challenging and critical investigation into some of the most pressing issues that my generation will face. I’d also be taking a music elective that would take me to Vienna in the spring for box seat tickets at the Vienna State Opera, later taking me to the St. Charles Church to hear Mozart’s Requiem. Maybe this whole thing would turn out to be pretty cool, after all…
I’m sure those second-thoughts will come and go throughout the semester, just like the occasional moments of doubt that I have had every semester at Vassar. For now, though, my worries have been slowly but surely drifting away with each hour I spend in Denmark, especially as I get to know my host family, begin digging into my textbooks, and slowly acquaint myself with Copenhagen’s public transportation system. I’m lucky to be staying in a very cozy and beautiful apartment in a neighborhood 12 km (~7.5 mi) northwest of Copenhagen, with my two fantastic host parents (who are expecting a baby this summer!). We’re situated right next to a train stop, where I can catch a 25-minute train ride directly into the downtown area, only a few blocks from where my classes are.
I’ve never lived in a city or used public transportation much before, so my commute to classes has been fascinating, and really quite fun. The introverted, suburban American in me definitely gets a bit claustrophobic when I see big groups of people moving toward me on Copenhagen’s narrow sidewalks, especially when five bikers zoom past me in the bike lane right next to us (I may or may not have already had some very close calls…), but I’m feeling more and more certain that I will get used to the speed and volume of commuters around me every day. Bicycle traffic is very regulated here, and heavily prioritized in the city’s traffic patterns, and I’m hoping that I will soon become familiar enough with all of the rules that I will be able to join the 35-40% of Copenhageners who commute every day by bike, even in this blustery and bitingly cold weather!
My classes started Thursday, but I am already getting the sense that they will be comparable enough to Vassar courses to be compatible with the research I’ve been studying at Vassar but also different enough in their very open-ended structure to allow me to take deeper responsibility for the directions that my own learning takes while I’m here. I’m really looking forward to learning more about myself as a student, environmentalist, American, and world citizen while in Denmark, and I am very optimistic that this semester will inspire me to do extraordinary work when I return to Vassar for my senior year. Det er dejligt endelig at møde dig, Danmark! It’s so nice to finally meet you!