If you’re looking for a happy-go-lucky, sugarcoated story of what it is like to live abroad, keep moving. If you want to know how I really feel about my time abroad so far, keep reading.
This is not my first time traveling abroad. My father is a missionary to Haiti and I have gone with him three times so far. (It’s an amazing experience, but an entirely different story.) This is, however, the very first time in my life that I have packed everything I can fit into one suitcase that weighs less than fifty pounds and flown across the ocean, entirely alone, to live somewhere completely new, where I don’t speak the language. I promise, it’s just as terrifying as it sounds.
And so, upon arrival, I was entirely sleep-deprived, knew almost no one, and probably smelled really, really bad. Honestly, the most comforting thought was that everyone around me was feeling exactly the same way. A few hours later, I was settling into my new home for four months, which is actually pretty cute – if you can get over the amazingly tiny bathrooms.
If you can, think about freshmen orientation, during which you are thrown together with the people you will live with for the year and asked to connect with them almost immediately. Now multiply that by two, because my program is twice as big as any freshman class Vassar has ever seen, and move all of it to a city, again, that you don’t speak the language in and you have been in for, oh, maybe two hours.
Not scary, at all.
Immediately I realized the sense of home that I feel at Vassar had disappeared and I was overwhelmed by the seemingly endless list of responsibilities I had in the first few days, followed by the impending semester of classes I had never heard of, all while looking around for familiar faces where there were none. (As a person who struggles with her mental health, that was not the best place to be in on the first day of the program.) I proudly advocate self-care every day of my life, but it was almost impossible to love myself those first few days when I felt like I had lost control.
The days went by, and after the panic subsided, I began to find a routine. I have only been here for two weeks, but the familiarity you can build in a short amount of time is amazing. With every new place comes adjustment, and there are things I will miss about Vassar that I just cannot have here.
Walking around the city during one of our orientation activities helped me develop a sense of home in Copenhagen. Unlike Vassar, there are always new places you notice when you’re walking to class, which makes for a very exciting daily routine.
The point of me sharing the ups and downs of the beginning of my abroad story is to communicate that going abroad is not the prettiest, most glamourous, life-changing experience unless you work hard to make it that. I foolishly thought that stepping into my abroad experience would be easy and flawless, but I am quickly realizing that this may be the hardest thing I have ever done. Should you decide to go abroad, the best advice I can give you is: find out before you get there what you want out of the experience, how you can get that, and what your program will offer you. In my case, I had no idea that I wanted a hand-holding program until I got here. Luckily, there are people here who have their hands wide open, but I jumped in without thinking through the positives and negatives of the programs I applied to.
All of that said, I am loving my semester so far in Copenhagen, an incredibly lively city. I live in the city center, about a two-minute walk from my classes, and most other things that I need. It may be incredibly challenging and intensely terrifying, but I am doing it, one day at a time, and every day I learn something new and exciting about Copenhagen, but most importantly, about myself. I may not be doing exactly what “the abroad experience” is about, but I will do what is best for me, and that will be worth it.