The “hard” part of studying abroad
As the temperature here in DC starts to dip below 40, I am starting to feel “cold” again for the first time since trekking through the dark, snowy streets of Copenhagen last winter. As students begin to button up their jackets and complain about this week’s forecast, I’m thinking to myself, “You think this is cold? You don’t know what cold is!” This isn’t cold – this is like spring-time weather in Denmark! It is absolutely stunning here in Georgetown, and I’ve taken good advantage of it too, spending long nights out on my back porch while working on my research paper in the dim light. There are even a few small candles lit on the table. Ahhh, the memories of hygge.
I know you’ve heard it a million times, but where has all the time gone? As each month passes, I’m getting closer and closer to the one-year anniversary of my departure for Denmark. Last week, we even had the closing panel discussion and ceremony for the Junior Year Abroad Program (JYAN), the group of student-bloggers writing for Georgetown’s Berkley Center. We talked about lessons learned, challenges overcome, and surprising twists to our study-abroad narrative. Most people had nothing but the fondest of memories.
That conversation really made me think about writing another post – a really honest post. Because looking back on the previous semester, all I can remember is people saying how fun it was, how good of a time they had, how they traveled and met people and experienced those once-in-a-lifetime events.
For the most part, I think this blog has followed that trend. When you see someone who was abroad that you haven’t seen in a while and ask them “how did it go?,” the answer is always the same. “I had an amazing time with amazing people and saw some really amazing things.” That’s the standard 30-second answer. It is absolutely ridiculous, and it gets me frustrated. “Fun.” “Amazing.” “Cool.” Those words are so utterly inadequate to describe my whirlwind of a semester.
Fun? Sure. But no one ever talks about how hard it was. How hard it was to meet new people, to adjust to the culture, to stay warm in the blizzard, to get used to paying $10 for a drink and commute 25 minutes to school every morning. I was thrown a curveball, and I definitely swung and missed a few times. I got lost in the city. I fell asleep on the bus and missed my stop. I was awful at Danish. I was thrown into an environment so different than what I was accustomed to at home, and it was hard knowing that everything back in Georgetown was so easy and familiar.
But somehow I got through it all. I stumbled through Danish classes, found more than a few welcoming churches to attend, got cozy with my dorm floor watching Game of Thrones, and managed to cook some delicious meals in the tiniest of kitchens. I attended a Muslim prayer service, marched with the Danish socialists, walked around free-town Christiana, went couch-surfing in Berlin, met family members for the first time in Ukraine, and did some things I never imagined I would experience.
It wasn’t always comfortable, and it wasn’t always easy. But it was in these very challenges that I learned the most – about myself, about Europe, about politics and religion and culture and whole bunch of other things. Just remember that being abroad is not a one-dimensional reverie. There’s so, so much more going on than you think – and if you want to enjoy it all, you’ve got to keep that perspective.