Over Thanksgiving break I got to do a little solo exploring around London town, as my roommate who I was traveling with headed off to Bath, England to visit a friend. We were on a pretty tight schedule, and I had heard from friends that London was nearly impossible to see in a day, but I was determined to make the most of it.
Overall, as cliché as it is, I have to say that London is so-far my favorite place I’ve visited. Maybe it was something about the magic of being there at Christmas-time, or maybe I’m just really homesick and it reminded me almost of America. Either way, here are some highlights from my favorite travel adventure so-far!
What I saw:
Despite what you may have heard about London, it’s actually not so difficult to hit almost all of London’s main sights in one day. I took the tube straight to Westminster Station, and I was shocked to realize that I could get a nice view of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the London Eye all within a span of about 5-minutes walking distance. In fact, while London transportation is one of the easiest systems I’ve yet to encounter, I hardly had to use it at all and spent a lot of my day walking from sight-to-sight. It didn’t hurt that it was an uncommonly sunny day for London.
What I ate:
Please, for your sake and mine, visit Milk Train Café for all your sweet cravings in London. Famous for surrounding soft serve cones with a layer of candy floss, Milk Train creates the best ice cream I’ve probably ever tasted. I tried the special flavor of the day, Black Sesame, and it tasted kind of like creamy peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. ‘Twas absolutely delectable.
If you find yourself in London on a tight time schedule, never fear! If you plan ahead, prioritize the sights you want to see, and walk quickly, you too can see all of London AND have time to enjoy the most delicious ice cream ever to grace this great planet of ours.
My roommates Allie and Kyle and all the sweet friends I’ve traveled with
Starbucks baristas. Like, okay, I’m aware that we have Starbucks baristas in America, but shoutout to my homies at the Starbucks on Vestergade. They are the real MVPs this semester and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
Cinnamon rolls and chocolate rolls and croissants and pastries and I promise I don’t have a problem.
My walk to class everyday via a narrow street paved with cobblestone aka walking through a fairy tale book.
If you are like I was before studying abroad, you have no concrete idea of what studying abroad actually looks like. You’ve scrolled through study abroad Instagram posts, read blogs, watched videos, done country research and thought about potential weekend excursions. But, if you are like me, you need details.
Some of you are thinking, “Gee, Abigail, you’ve written some nice posts about your travels and a little bit about Danish culture, but what do you actually do week in and week out in Copenhagen? How do you travel so much? Do you even study?”
Firstly, yes I study. In fact, I’m currently sitting in Starbucks procrastinating a paper by writing this blog… But that’s beside the point.
Secondly, for all those wondering what I actually do day-in and day-out while studying abroad, I thought I’d walk you through what a typical week at DIS looks like! Of course, no week studying abroad is “typical” and everyone’s experiences differ, but here are mine!
5:30 a.m.: I like to wake up nice and early to start my day by drinking a cup of coffee and spending time reading my Bible/journaling like I normally would at home. This is one of the only times as a homestay student that I get entirely to myself, so it’s nice to have some reflection time to prepare myself for the day/week ahead. After a little bit of breakfast which usually involves cereal and yoghurt (Oooo now she’s telling us about her breakfast, how exciting!!!!! Detail-oriented folks, this is for you), I pack my rugbrød sandwich for lunch and get ready for the day.
7:40 a.m.: Just before 8:00 a.m., I hop on my bike and bike to the Vanløse metro station, which is just about 10 minutes away. I used to dread biking every morning, and trust me, some mornings are more strenuous than others, but my daily bike ride is now just part of the routine. As it’s gotten cooler in Copenhagen, I’ve actually begun enjoying my bike rides more and more. Nothing like some fresh air to wake you up! The metro takes me directly to the center of the city near DIS facilities in just about 15 minutes, and then it’s another 15-minute walk to DIS from there. All-in-all, it takes me about 45 minutes to get to DIS. Not bad at all!
8:30 a.m.: I have morning classes every day of the week, which I chose purposefully because I tend to be more productive and focused early in the day. My first class on Monday is Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflict, my core course, and I have really enjoyed it. As a Human Rights student at SMU, I’ve had the opportunity to take many courses about the history, sociology, etc. of human rights abuses, but I’ve never been able to study human rights abuses from a legal perspective. This is also my first opportunity to study conflict environments in-depth. Humanitarian Law makes 8:00 a.m. fun.
10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Mondays are typically “work days” for me, so I usually head to a nearby coffee shop to get a fair amount of work done since I only have one class. I also use this time to Skype my mother dearest, which always sets my week on the right track.
1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.: I like to use the early afternoon for personal time–afternoon naps, jogs around the lake, etc. Then maybe I’ll get some more homework done and get ready for dinner.
6:00 p.m.: Every night I share a meal with my host family, and this is one of my favorite parts of the day. Danes don’t necessarily pride themselves on small talk, and while we all love spending time catching up on each other’s lives at meals, dinner conversation usually evolves into in-depth conversation about any number of cultural and political topics. I’ve learned so much about Danish culture just through dinner time alone, and I love sharing new information about America with my host family.
7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.: After dinner I either go for an evening jog, stretch, read, or work on some homework. It’s nice to unwind after a long day.
9:00 p.m.: My host family and I always end our days with tea time! This is a great time to decompress together, chat about plans for the upcoming week and watch Danish television together. Now that I am picking up on more and more Danish, it’s fun to watch Danish news and see if I can understand what’s being reported. If I’ve got a lot of work, my roommates and I may even spend tea time studying for Danish together with our host family acting as private tutors. Sometimes my host mom will even make sweet treats like apple cobbler or flødeboller! Overall, it’s a peaceful way to end my day.
8:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: On Tuesdays and Fridays I have three classes in a row, beginning with Danish Language and Culture at 8:30 a.m. Danish is a very challenging language, and it can definitely be a struggle to coerce my brain to cooperate at such an early hour, but overall I’m glad I’m taking Danish. Although I think it’s entirely possible to pick up the language via daily experiences in Copenhagen, my Danish class has given me the confidence to speak Danish in public with Danes. My most-used Danish phrase? “En stor kop kaffe, tak.” (Translation: “a large cup of coffee, thanks.”)
Next I go to Stolen Childhoods: Migrant and Refugee Children in Europe and Fleeing Across Borders: International Refugee Law. These classes give me two very different perspectives on refugee-related issues. While Stolen Childhoods focuses on how refugee issues affect child development, Fleeing Across Borders focuses on the asylum process in Europe. Overall, Fleeing Across Borders is my favorite class as it has given me a wealth of background knowledge that will allow me to effectively communicate with my peers about the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. As this issue will only continue to grow in relevance in America, I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend a semester dedicated to learning for the sake of learning rather than learning for the sake of performing.
Let me elaborate: while the academics at DIS are certainly rigorous, Danish educators take a vastly different approach to learning than American educators, at least in my experience. Rather than focusing on performance, as American educators tend to (i.e. consistently reporting my learning progress to professors via essays, tests, quizzes, etc.), Danish educators focus on topics that are interesting to the class. This is learning for the sake of learning. It’s a refreshing break from my college education (which I love, don’t get me wrong!), and I’ve found myself more engaged and attentive this semester than ever before.
1:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.: Repeat evening schedule.
Wednesday is a bit different because it’s field study day! Rather than having regularly scheduled classes, I attend field studies periodically throughout the semester that give me hands-on experiences with the subject matter I’m studying.
Throughout the semester I’ve done everything from touring a Danish kindergarten to a walking tour of Copenhagen to guest lecturers to cultural workshops and much more. These experiences not only provide a nice breather in the middle of the week, but they also greatly enhance my understanding of course material. Again, this is all part of what I like to call, “learning for the sake of learning.”
Wednesday nights are also special because my roommates and I cook dinner for my host family. Though we keep it simple on most occasions and follow recipes provided by my host family, sometimes we like to mix things up and share a little bit of American culture with them. I’ve attempted real Tex-Mex enchiladas, breakfast for dinner, and most recently, a full Thanksgiving dinner. Though it’s a challenge trying to convert metric measurements to fit American recipes, the most challenging part is the subtle differences between Danish ingredients and American ingredients. My proudest culinary moment will always be the time I converted Italian pasta sauce to enchilada sauce.
5:30 a.m.- 10:00 a.m.: Wake up, get ready, go to my core class.
10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.: I try to leave Thursdays free for adventure! There’s so much to see in the greater Copenhagen area, and with so much independent travel planned, I knew I couldn’t fit my Copenhagen bucket list into a few weekends. There’s nothing like grabbing a to-go latte from Emmery’s (a favorite organic coffee shop of DIS students) and hopping on a train to see Helsingør or Hillerød or beyond.
Call me strange, but there is something magical about riding the train. Music is so important to me, and taking long train rides on Thursdays just to stare out the window, listen to music and process has become one of the highlights of my weekly routine. Insert cliché about “learning so much” during your time abroad.
But in all seriousness, take time for yourself during the week. You’re in Europe. You’ve got a lot on your plate. Take time to process and explore and just be. Cheesy rant over.
5:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Morning routine and classes.
1:00 p.m.: You made it! It’s Friday! I’ve often semi-jokingly lamented that Fridays don’t feel as rewarding in Copenhagen because the weeks fly by (and still feel like somewhat of a vacation). Even as my workload has increased throughout the semester, I can say this still holds true. But Fridays are still wonderful!
Though no Friday is the same, my roommates and I generally enjoy a hamburger dinner with my host family and head into the city to meet up with friends. Everyone needs a little break every once in a while though, and we take advantage of this by spending Friday evenings all snuggled up watching a movie, eating candy from a nearby candy shop or just hanging with the host family. Hygge to the max!
So there you have it! That’s my week in a nutshell. Studying, exploring, living, napping, eating… the whole shebang! Hope you enjoyed getting just a taste of my life abroad!
This post is incredibly long overdue, but I couldn’t go without sharing a few major highlights from my independent travel week. Something I didn’t necessarily realize when I enrolled in DIS was just how different it is from other study abroad programs. Because DIS is designed with American students in mind, it allows for a degree of flexibility that’s not possible when studying at a foreign university. Independent travel week is just one example of why DIS is the perfect option for students looking to get the most out of their time abroad.
For my independent travel week I trekked across Norway with some DIS friends, and then I met up with a friend from high school to spend the latter-half of my week in Barcelona.
I’ll be honest, the only reason we were in Oslo was to see my favorite band, Twenty One Pilots. Though this was my fourth time seeing them live, it was a blast watching them perform in Scandinavia for the first time. The Norwegian fans were so excited to have them there, and that energy really fed into an amazing show. Yay Twenty One Pilots!
The next day we spent wandering around the city, with no concrete objectives or destinations in mind. It was an absolutely stunning day, and while I wasn’t overwhelmed by all that Oslo had to offer, it’s undeniably one of the most beautiful places I’ve been (even if the sunset at 3:00 p.m.).
We also found this pretty wild sculpture park that featured a lot of sculpture babies attacking sculpture adults. Despite the weirdness of the artistic inspiration, I’d definitely recommend checking out Vigeland Park if you ever find yourself in Oslo. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy Norwegian scenery or play in the leaves (as we did). Also, if you’re looking for an easy, yet delicious meal, hit up Peppe’s Pizza. It’s a chain, but no judgement zone, it’s delicious and probably on the cheaper end of food you can find in Norway.
The highlight of my trip! Again, I signed onto this Norway trip with no expectations, but after visiting Bergen, I have to say that Norway will definitely be on my travel list in the future. If you’re into nature or you like really beautiful things or you breathe oxygen, you need to go to Bergen and see the Fjords. I’m lamenting that my pictures can’t capture half the beauty of the Fjords, but here they are anyways:
Finally, a picture that sums up my exact emotions in a particular moment:
Basically, this was the most fantastic day of my life. Even the rain and the cold seemed to highlight the mystery and power of the Fjords, and I was actually glad by the end of the tour that we happened to be there on a stormy day. We even had the chance to taste water from one of the waterfalls (and yes, it was delicious!)
Beyond the Fjords…
After our Fjord tour, my friends and I enjoyed time wandering around Bryggen, Bergen’s old town, and we even got a glimpse of sunlight. Absolutely stunning!
If you’re looking for a spot to escape the rain/cold, or just chill out and enjoy the most delicious Norwegian waffles and lattes, check out Bar Barista in Bryggen. The quirky décor and friendly staff make you feel right at home, and the food is absolutely delicious.
After a wonderful weekend, I waved goodbye to Norway, and headed off to warmer weather in Barcelona, Spain. I met my best friend from high school in Berlin, Germany for a short 18-hours (in which we managed to visit the East Side Gallery, escape bed bugs and get a phone stolen 😦 ) before jetting off to España. Don’t worry everyone, we survived our fair share of travel struggles and you can too!
After struggling through our short time in Berlin, we decided to approach Barcelona with a relaxed attitude and to see where the city took us. Turns out Barcelona is really great at taking people to eat a lot of tapas, drink a lot of sangria and admire a lot of Gaudi.
My personal favorite spot was La Boquería, a touristy Spanish market with more fresh fish, meat and produce than you can imagine. Can you say guacamole plate the size of my face? Because we did…
And of course… no trip to Barcelona would be complete without margaritas on the beach (which was CRAZY gorgeous guys!!!)
PRO TIP: If you’re looking for a more laid-back stay in Barcelona with great access to all tourist attractions, I’d definitely recommend Itaca Hostel. It’s got a great, cozy atmosphere and is just a few streets away from La Rambla, the main tourist shopping area. Free coffee, great people to meet… what else could you want in a hostel experience?!
Overall, I was thankful to get a taste of many different parts of Europe during my travel week. From freezing Norway to sunny Barcelona, I wouldn’t change a thing! And I won’t even mention how hard I crashed when I finally made it back to Copenhagen…
Wow. It’s been awhile. I could lie and say I’ve been avoiding this blog because I’ve been overwhelmed with work in the past few weeks. That is partly true. Guys, studying abroad entails actually studying. Who knew?! After arriving safely back in Copenhagen after my study tour to Kosovo, I hit the ground running, working diligently on a number of major midterm assignments. I wrote my first series of legal analyses for my Refugee Law and Humanitarian Law classes. I presented. I researched. I drank a lot of Starbucks.
After midterms week, I spent a week traveling around Scandinavia and Europe with a few fellow DIS students for our free travel week. More about that in a later post.
Right now I want to talk about why I haven’t posted in a few weeks. I’ll tell you the truth: I’ve been in a slump. Midterm stress, travel misadventures and disappointments, anxiety, job-hunting for next semester, finances, time-change, the U.S. election… it has all been weighing on my heart and mind, and honestly, I’ve felt a complete lack of inspiration in the past few weeks. I need to be honest with you all. It’s felt very overwhelming, and, at times, I’ve felt just about ready to hop on an express plane back to the U.S.
This is not the first time I’ve felt this way.
Ever since I was about 13-years-old, I’ve experienced periods of extreme anxiety and depression. In the fall of my junior year of college, I fell into a depression so heavy and overwhelming that I found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the daily task of going to class, participating, talking with friends and getting my work done felt like a heavy, unending burden.
With the help of good friends, the support of my parents, encouragement from my mentors and reliance on God’s grace, the sun came out again in the spring. I started to feel lighter than I had in years, though my anxiety reared its ugly head occasionally. After a long period of such darkness, I felt free and started practicing better self-care. This was mentally where I was at when I applied for my study abroad experience with DIS.
When I received my acceptance letter to the program, I was thrilled. I began googling and Pinterest-ing and considering my housing options. I was excited to finally accomplish my lifelong dream of studying abroad.
However, as the reality of studying abroad dawned on me, I began to fear. Surely I could not escape the darkness again. I felt it dangling above my head, following me as I walked to class, waiting for the ball to drop, waiting to fall into exhaustion and restlessness again. I began to worry:
What if my depression and anxiety flared while I was studying abroad?
It was hard enough to battle constant exhaustion and, frankly, numbness at home, and I didn’t know how I would react in a new environment with none of my family or friends to rely on.
But I went anyways.
So, hear me all you prospective study abroad students who have also struggled with anxiety or depression or mental illness in its many forms and intensities: You are capable.
You are capable… of what? Of navigating a new place on your own. Of feeling homesick, feeling sad, really feeling those emotions, and then letting them pass. You are capable of looking your host family, your new roommates, your Danish friends in the eye and letting them in on the reason that you need some space or some comfort or some peace and quiet. You are capable of it on your own. Just this weekend I traveled to Brussels with my roommate. This was just your run-of-the-mill weekend trip, but just last Monday I was in tears, feeling the familiar grip of anxiety at the thought of traveling. But I went anyways, and I am so glad.
I don’t want this to be another post about “taking control of your body” or “taking back your life” or “not letting your fears control you.” Trust me, I’ve been there when those words feel empty and frustrating because they feel impossible. I just want this to be a post from a girl with anxiety and depression who is also studying abroad. I’m here. I’m with you. We are all with you.
Now go on out there and get on that airplane. I’m wishing you all the best.
Note: I am not an expert on mental illness, and I in no way want to generalize mental illness with this post. I am of the mindset that everyone’s experiences/treatment/lack of treatment/etc. are different and valid. Much love!Be kind to yourself.
You are wonderful. How did I get so lucky as to visit you with my Humanitarian Law and Armed Conflict class for our long study tour?
You’ve had a rough time over the past twenty years, dear, sweet Kosovo. To be quite frank, I knew next to nothing about you until I enrolled in this class.
Now I know that you are a self-determined country that formally declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. In the late 1980s, amidst a communist regime in Yugoslavia, ethnic tensions began to rise between Albanian and Serbian ethnic groups, largely fueled by Serbian President Slobodan Milošević. Many ethnic Albanians were forced to flee the country or face cultural oppression by Milošević’s regime, and by 1998, the Kosovo Liberation Army took up arms in resistance to Serbian oppression. Only in 1999 with NATO intervention did the violence subside, and Kosovo was placed under UN administration until its independence in 2008. But of course, you already know all of this. You know the violence that existed on both sides of this conflict.
It is still unclear how many lives were lost during your war due to the thousands of Albanians, Serbians and Roma still classified as “missing”, but estimates reach as high as 11,000 dead and over 1 million displaced by the war. With less than 20 years since the war, you still bear the scars of that violent and hateful conflict. But, you are so alive, Kosovo, teeming with youthful energy and vibrancy.
I have to say, my classmates and I didn’t quite know what we were getting into. As students of humanitarian law and armed conflict, we were excited to observe a post-conflict environment firsthand. Are tensions still alive between the Serbians and Albanians? How are you, Kosovo, adapting to your new and fragile statehood? What does the future look like for you? As we drove through the eerie fog that clung to your decrepit buildings and unorganized infrastructure, our expectations began to crumble. I didn’t know what to think of you then, Kosovo. I felt like you were weeping and still bleeding from the war.
But then we met your people, Kosovo, and everything changed. Everything changed when I saw your children, young and old, laughing in the streets, studying at your universities, chatting in your coffee shops. Everything about you, Kosovo, cries out, “We are still here. We are alive.”
You spoke to us through NGOs, through political leaders, through students, through ambassadors, and through the people we encountered in restaurants and on the streets. You spoke to us through countless meals filled with countless pieces of the most delicious bread I have ever tasted in my life. You spoke to us through open spaces and mountain-side trails and 600-year-0ld monasteries.
Thank you for bringing my classmates and I together. Thank you for giving us a place to explore together where we felt safe, welcomed and at home. Thank you for helping us to band together to have our questions answered, our expectations defied and our hearts changed. Thank you for welcoming us.
I don’t know if I will see you again, Kosovo. I am so far away from you, and it’s hard to say when our paths will diverge again. But I’m placing my confidence in you, Kosovo. It’s been a long road, and the road ahead is still rocky. You’ll have to face the challenges of corruption, a budding economy and a politically unstable status. And still, I have confidence in your future because of the hearts and dedication of your people. Thank you for welcoming a rag-tag group of American students; I am forever grateful for your generosity.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, and boy was I blown away with this country! Everything was beautiful: the people, the streets, the architecture (did I mention the people?) Here are a few highlights from my weekend:
The city itself is unbelievably beautiful:
The Vasa Museum:
Want to check out the most visited museum in Scandinavia? The Vasa Museum hosts a salvaged 17th century Viking ship, and it is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Ice Bar Stockholm:
A unique experience for all those willing to brace the cold! Imagine your favorite bar, but inside an igloo. Plus it makes the perfect photo-op! Don’t let the smile fool ya; I was absolutely freezing.
Swedish Tea Time:
I’ll let you in on a little secret: the Swedes love pastries just as much as the Danes. Check out Vete Katten in Stockholm for the full Swedish tea time experience! My personal recommendation? The Budapest Mandarin cake.
Gamla Stan (Old Town Stockholm):
This is the best place to get lost in Stockholm. You could easily spend a day wandering the streets of Gamla Stan, checking out Swedish cafes and souvenir shops. My favorite stop of the weekend.
Overall, I have to say I underestimated Sweden. Though Stockholm was not originally on my “need-to-see” list of places to travel, I’m so thankful some friends of mine roped me into joining this trip. Stockholm will undoubtedly go down as a highlight of my time abroad, and I’d recommend it to any future DIS students.