My last few weeks in Copenhagen were a crazy mess of trying to pack, clean, finish my work, buy last-minute souvenirs, and finish my Copenhagen bucket list of places to see. Many of my classes ended with celebrations where we got to go have hot drinks or soup at nearby cafes at DIS’s expense which was a fitting, hyggeligt way to end the semester. It seemed almost sudden to be ending. With all the travel breaks, time really flew and I’m still not done processing the fact that the semester is finally over.
The last weekend before I leaving, my friend Esther, who went to Ghana with me as a part of our 360 program last semester, came to visit Denmark for a couple days since her study abroad program in South Africa ended in November so she took the opportunity to go visit various Mawrters throughout Europe. Although it was a hectic time with finals, it was wonderful getting to see her and catch up plus it gave me a chance to go back and see Copenhagen through fresh eyes and see everything again before I left.
The first day we met up, we went to Christiana to see the Christmas market they had set up though it was so crowded that I felt like I was waddling like a penguin everywhere we went. After walking around to see the sunset against the frozen lakes, we walked to the nearby Church of Our Savior to get a 360 view of the snow-topped city. Afterwards, Esther and I took the bus back to my apartment where we went grocery shopping (involving an embarrassing moment at the check-out when I had left my food card at home so we had to leave everything, run home, and then come back to get everything) and cooked dinner together. We then went back into the city to go to a free concert at a coffeeshop with Lucy, another Mawrter who was also in our 360 last semester. On our way to find the coffeeshop, we asked two women for directions and discovered one happened to be from my same hometown of Portland, Oregon! They ended up tagging along with us to the concert where we all talked and got to hear different perspectives on Denmark and the U.S.
The next day, there was a giant snowstorm so we didn’t get to do any Copenhagen sightseeing. Instead, I stayed in my apartment all day and curled up in my duvet with hot chocolate to catch up on the latest Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock episodes. On Monday, Esther and I met up again to meet with Noreen, another Bryn Mawr student studying abroad in Copenhagen. We got famous duck sandwiches from the glass market and delicious Agnes Cupcakes for dessert! Afterwards, Esther and I met up with Lisa, yet another Mawrter in Copenhagen (and another Oregonian like me!) We had hot chocolate at a hyggeligt coffeeshop in Nørrebro where we had long discussions about gender, race, and class while abroad. It was so refreshing to have these deep, critical sort of conversations with my fellow Mawrters that I had missed so much.
The next day, after I took my Biological Conservation and Biodiversity final, Esther and I were off to see Hamlet’s Castle back in my old town of Helsingør. It was beautifully haunting to see the castle covered in snow and I was happy I finally got to see the inside of the castle! I learned that the queen would vomit into a pail which would signal her other guests to do the same so that they could continue feasting. After our trip to the castle, we had lunch and ate some traditional Danish smørrebrød (open faced sandwiches with rye bread) before heading off to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Although I had already been there in September, it was as if I was going to a whole new museum since they closed the Nordic Architecture section and had opened an exhibit all on self-portraits which featured everyone from Basquiat to Dali to Picasso. My favorite piece was an installation art piece titled Gleaming Lights of the Souls which consisted of a dark room covered in mirrors. You step onto a platform surrounded by water and shut the door to find yourself immeresed by hanging globes of light that change color and are reflected infinitely around you. It was one the most beautiful things I had seen in my life; an almost spiritual sort of experience. I spent a good ten minutes in there, just watching the colors change around me and taking lots of selfies. We headed back home afterwards to cook a delicious, eloborate stirfry and cookies and the next morning I said good-bye to Esther before she was off to visit another friend in Scotland.
In addition to buying last-minute Christmas gifts/souvenirs, getting some final hours in for my work-study job at the architecture studio, and trying to finish my last paper before my flight left on Saturday, I saw my visiting family one last time. I went over to their house to help them manage 15 eight year old boys during my host brother’s birthday party. We served them hot chocolate, warm buns with butter and chocolate, and æbleskiver. There was an interesting moment where one of the boys spilled his hot chocolate and refused to clean up because he thought “the au pair would do it” while gesturing to me before quickly being berated by my visiting parents that I was a guest, NOT an au pair. My visiting parents explained how they lived in a very well-off neighborhood so many of the children grew up with international nannies (primarily from Southeast Asia; one of the kids asked if I knew where The Philippines was since his au pair was from there…) but how they would never have one because the kids never learn to be independent. I was pretty shocked to hear how many Danish families have au pairs because there is such an emphasis on being with one’s family and equally sharing housework within Danish culture. After the boys had all left, we went out for an all you can eat sushi buffet before parting and saying our final good-byes.
Aside from my visiting family, there was no one I truly felt compelled to say good-bye to in Denmark as anyone I cared about I’ll be seeing back in the States. It was sad to see other DIS students at the airport wishing their Danish families and other American students good-bye when no one had really had that impact on me over the past four months. Switching my housing option half-way through the year and having to commute an hour or more to each home on top of having no free social events for people in my program made it really difficult to connect with people in my program. I was also frustrated that there was very little interaction with Danes in my program, which is largely my fault for choosing a program with classes only with Americans. I didn’t think it would be a huge issue back when I was applying for programs but after my summer in Indonesia, I realized how important is to connect with people from the country you’re living in to truly understand the culture and to have a meaningful experience. In a way, I was lucky that I got to experience two very different sort of abroad programs: one being a small, structured program in the Global South with a warm climate, with a group of Americans with whom I did everything with, and built a strong community with both American and Indonesian students versus the other being a large program in the Global North in a cold climate with classes only with Americans focused more on integrating travel versus staying in the same city. During the summer, I met some of my closest friends, had a ton of fun, and learned a lot about Indonesia through conversations with my Indonesian friends and within the context of Jogja but there were a lot of hidden politics and we never got to experience Indonesia outside the context of our program. In many ways, Denmark was not the perfect study abroad program that I had imagined for myself and things were really hard sometimes, especially since I never really got over missing people from Bryn Mawr and it was extremely difficult to transition from Denmark to Indonesia in a matter of less than a week. I do not regret studying abroad however. The opportunities to travel, particularly to travel on my own for the first time, has taught me so much about myself and has allowed me to become independent and self-sufficient. I’ve had the opportunity to hike the Irish coastal cliffs, to savor real Italian gelato, to nearly burst into tears from finally seeing the Parisian landmarks I had read about for years in textbooks, to marvel at some of the most influential paintings of all time, to take in the terraced, rice paddies of rural Indonesian while celebrating a traditional Javanese wedding, to realizing everything would be okay in Ghana during our three day flight delay after having cold drinks while watching the sunset on the Accra beach and experiencing the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, to watch the autumn leaves fall into the Dutch canals, to wake up to the sun rising over the Norwegian fjords, to gaze out on the London skyline by night from the London eye, to share stories, to laugh until no sound comes out and tears stream down your face, to make friends in unlikely places, to meet people who change you and your perspectives on life, and to be alive and be completely present and “infinite” in these moments. All my hard work and applications and dedication paid off to send me to these places. And that is a beautiful thing.
As a final note, My study abroad program just released our “video yearbook” so if you are interested in seeing different students from my program and the sort of things we’ve been doing all semester (I’m actually in a small clip when we were helping make our five course sustainable meal in Amsterdam!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=0MistaSTlPI