Being abroad feels like being frozen in time. It’s as if I’m stuck in some alternate reality where everyone else is growing up and moving forward while I’m just floating in a sort of limbo. Being so far from everyone and everything has made everything back home seem like a distant dream. Studying abroad pushes you out of your comfort zone and allows you to gain new life perspectives but you also enter a new sort of bubble in itself; especially in the homogeneous city of Copenhagen, known for being safe and having an excellent social welfare system. While Denmark still faces many issues of its own, particularly in regards to issues of racism and immigration, the brutal injustices I have experienced and learned about seem almost non-existent, especially underneath the wing of a study abroad program like DIS.
Sometimes I feel selfish studying abroad. While everyone else is dealing with real-world issues and doing meaningful things with their lives, I’m off being a tourist in Europe. At Bryn Mawr, I am always busy with different activities that serve the greater Philadelphia community and our own campus. I feel bad shirking my responsibilities for a whole semester. I guess the scarier part is thinking that life goes on. My clubs and activities are running just fine without me and my friends are continuing to live their lives which I’m happy and proud of but it definitely serves as a blow to my need to feel needed.
During the first week I was here, I turned 20. Something about 20 just feels so much more real than turning 19 or 18. Suddenly, you’re a fifth of a century old; halfway to forty; no longer a teenager. In less than ten years, many of my friends will be married with children.
I don’t feel like a junior but I also don’t feel like I’m a sophomore anymore…maybe I’m like a sophomore and a half? I’m still having a hard time accepting that my 2013 friends are seniors. Every time I see a picture from convocation or a Facebook status about thesis writing from one of my senior friends, I just want to cover my eyes and go, “LA LA LA THIS IS NOT REAL. YOU ARE NOT A SENIOR.” The thought of them applying for jobs, graduate schools, and internships is just too much to bare. It’s just so weird being abroad for so long while real life keeps coming by.
Last year, I was a customsperson for the freshmen on my hall, meaning I had the opportunity to become very close to many of the first year students. In a way, becoming friends with people younger than me allowed me to re-live my own freshman year and in the process I sort of forgot that by the end I was halfway through college. I think I’m going to have to be back on campus for it to really hit me that I’m actually a junior, the 2012 seniors have truly left, and there’s a new class of light blue lanterns.
After not getting rehired for two jobs and having to deal with an unsuccessful job search and the realization that I had become disconnected from most everyone at my high school, I was completely and utterly ready to move past and start fresh. My sophomore year was the greatest school year I’ve ever had. I was often overwhelmed and burnt out from all the responsibilities I had taken on, but I learned to take pride and be confident in my accomplishments while also becoming extremely close with friends who have loved and supported me through every hardship. This past summer, I had one of the most amazing summers of my life in Indonesia. In a way, this has made it much more challenging for me to let go and grow up. I’ve grown accustomed to small, tight-knit supportive communities so in a program of 1000 students, it’s been challenging to make friends and find my niche.
Growing up stirs up a lot of anxieties for me as I slowly come to terms with having to start thinking about the future but truthfully I couldn’t be happier to start seeing everything fall into place. There is a new sense of maturity among my peers. Gone are the days of middle school drama. There will always be people who continue to wallow in their high school personas but soon these people will realize it takes real skills and genuine characteristics to survive in the real world and form real, adult relationships.
Deep down, I know everything’s going to be okay for me too. Sometimes I feel bad about taking a semester to experience things for my own pleasure but I know that ultimately I’m changing and becoming a better person. There’s already been a shift while here in Denmark. I’ve found people I really connect with from both my classes and even people I wasn’t close to from Bryn Mawr. I’ve taken ownership of my own happiness and recognized my own limits by moving out of my folkhighschool and in with a Danish roommate. I’ve reached a new level of self-sufficiency and independence: buying my own plane tickets, booking my own hostels, planning my own itineraries, and embarking on my own adventures. Most of all, I’ve learned to enjoy having time to myself. I’ve come to appreciate solitude and having time for self-growth and reflection. I’ve realized that it’s okay to take time for yourself and do things simply because they make you happy. Just like at Bryn Mawr, I’m becoming the person I want to be rather than the one people expect me to be.