I said one last goodbye to my family before getting on line at security.
“See you in…May,” I said. The words sounded harsh coming out of my mouth. May? I thought. Four months? The longest and farthest I had ever been away from home was when I went to South Africa, and that was only for a month (I’m not counting school, it’s only 4 hours away).
There was no turning back. I couldn’t suddenly have a change of heart, drop all of my belongings, and run into my parents arms, I change my mind, I change my mind, take me back! I was about to board the plane that would take me to Denmark, where I would be spending a semester in Copenhagen. And to top it all off? I did not know one person in my program, which was called the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. I was even the only one from my University.
I consider myself a friendly person. I love meeting people, making friends from around the world, and experiencing new cultures. But four months out of my comfort zone seemed tough. And, to make matters worse, I was leaving the freezing cold winter in New York to go to the even colder winter in Denmark, where the sun rises at 8:30 am and sets at 3:30 pm (it sounds like a tropical paradise, doesn’t it?).
When I arrived in Copenhagen, it was around 11 in the morning. But by the time I got to my dorm, the sun was setting (not that I could really tell, it was cloudy and raining). This was my first impression of Copenhagen. Hundreds of thoughts were running through my head; should I have gone somewhere warmer? Did I make the right choice? I’m stuck here, and I can’t just go home for the weekend if I hate it. But I still went in with an open mind. It was the middle of January, in the middle of winter- of course it’s going to look miserable.
My dorm was an old mental hospital near one of the University of Copenhagen buildings. In order to get to my dorm, I had to walk up four flights of stairs, with roughly 20 steps on each. I dragged my suitcases up the stairs, exhausted from jetlag, carrying two 90 pounds bags (yes I overpacked, by a lot), and having gotten no sleep on the airplane.
The dorm was strange. There was one long hallway painted green with motion censored lights that flickered on, one at a time like a strobe light. Every time they turned on, I half expected something to be standing at the end of the long hallway in the dark (it was so creepy).
My room was even stranger. I had to walk through my roommates room in order to get into mine- so here I was, having just met her, having to walk through her room every time I wanted to get in and out. It was not the best situation…
It all came to me when I had a moment of clarity. I threw my suitcases on the floor of my dorm and looked out the window. I had the most gorgeous view of the canal (which I spent the rest of my semester staring at in awe), and my room was pretty big.
Four months. I would be here for four months. And that’s when the homesickness hit me. My friends and family were thousands of miles away, and here I was, in a dorm where I knew no one (however, it was full of American students, which was a plus). I didn’t know what to do with myself those first few hours, except accept the fact that I couldn’t leave- and once I did that, everything else became much, much easier.
I’m not going to lie- the transition is tough. My transition was probably tougher than others, mainly because I arrived during the winter, when everyone was hiding and everything was dead (just picture arriving somewhere when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping- it makes a bit of a difference). But I was still so thankful for the opportunity to be there, that it didn’t bother me- it was the fact that I was away from my friends and family for so long that scared me the most.
Some of you reading this may have studied abroad before, and some of you may have wanted to, but did not have the chance, or you may not have done it because you feared the unknown. My advice is, do it. Don’t even think twice about it. It’s the best decision I have ever made in my life, and I am so lucky that I was able to have the experience that I did. I went out that night in Copenhagen, and the next night, and quickly made friends that I still keep in touch with to this day- which you will, too. The homesickness went away within a day. It may take some other people longer, but you cannot let it stop you from putting yourself out there.
Throughout the rest of the semester, I visited several countries, went on multiple adventures, and got to explore a brand new city which I quickly fell in love with. I went on a 70 mile bike ride through Southern Denmark, I met and befriended many of the local Danes, and I even went to several events that the University of Copenhagen was hosting. You will learn so much about a brand new culture then you ever would in a classroom. If you have the opportunity to travel and study abroad somewhere, then do it. Grab that opportunity, make it yours, and don’t hold back.