[disclaimer: looooong post – but it’s a good one filled with pictures and thoughts, yay! I’m also happy because I’m done my first semester of my master’s!]
Almost 5 months ago, I arrived at Copenhagen airport, sleepy-eyed and jet-lagged from a long flight from Vancouver. I didn’t know a lot about my classmates at that point, but our brief exchanges on Facebook showed me that they’re keen travelers, curious about cultures, and open-minded.
I have to admit being nervous and a little bit intimidated because my classmates had backgrounds that made my experiences pale in comparison. They had seen so many parts of the world that I have only dreamed about. It was the first time I was surrounded by people who have traveled as much and more than I have. It was the first time that saying I speak three languages was normal. They spoke 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 languages. Leading up to my flight I distinctly remember the anxious feeling filling head/heart that made me wonder ‘do I belong here?’
But it’s crazy HOW crazy that thought seems now. When I finally met my classmates, I instantly felt at ease. I was humbled by everyone’s kindness. I realized I was going to be surrounded by people who cared about the value of being abroad and about cultural exchanges in the same way I did.
There’s a special connection you make with people you grow up with. There’s a special connection you make with people who share the same interests with you because you come together for that one thing. There’s a special connection with people you meet when you’re traveling because you share the same sense of wonder about a certain place. Which just goes to show that a myriad of people enter, leave, or stay in different stages of your life.
There’s a special connection I’ve created with the group of students that’s unique and different than any other kind of connection I’ve made before in my life. These relationships have formed a friendship that’s hard to describe, but for the sake of finding a word, they are/have become, family. Sooooooo cheesy right? But I love them and I know I would do anything to help them and see them succeed.
I was randomly placed in an apartment with two girls before coming to Denmark, one from France and the other from Taiwan. Over these past months, I’ve come to love and care about so deeply about them. I’m searching for the right words to describe my gratefulness for every time and way they’ve helped me. They were the best swimming partners! But beyond that, they were warm smiles to come home to, and they were always selfless and thoughtful.
In general, this year has been a year of learning. It’s been discovering ideas that make me stay up and wake up early. This year has been humbling as I realize how little I know about the world. Complexity, diversity, and interdependencies have seemed to be words that have seemed to define my master’s so far.
It’s been a semester of frustration, trying to react and act in a different style of learning. But it has also been a reminder that the different approaches should be celebrated – as with cultures. This semester has been a process of unlearning, too, which is more difficult. It’s humbling realizing you’re wrong, or that your perspective of something was misguided by bias.
Here’s a summary of travel & memories in/outside of Denmark. August/September was time well-spent in Kolding, soaking in the warm lingering summer sun. October was almost a full month of travel outside of Denmark, thanks to a week-long autumn break and minimal school related work – it was easier to find time to go abroad. November was grounded in Denmark, with the exception of a trip to Romania. Each trip was special in a different way. It was meaningful to travel with different people and always be surrounded by laughter and joy.
I’ve always been an advocate for solo travel, but if you’re not going to travel alone then travel with people that can make you laugh, people who can see the best in bad situations, people who are resourceful, and willing to say ‘hi’ to a stranger, who want to see the world through the eyes of a local – challenge your comfortable travel with people who help you push past your comfort zone – this is how you grow. Special heart-felt thank you for those who traveled with me.
*click on the title if you’re interested in reading more
barefeet in the mud and ocean
value of nature
footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen
reunion with a Czech friend
blue sky strolls
coffee sipping, food finding, story sharing
time with friends
time with a mentor
time with my mom
reunion with dear Danish friend
new Finnish friend
street food market
rollercoaster rides weeeeooo
sore feet, sore arms
stronger feet, stronger arms
12km race in the dark
Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda – Lithuania
cepelinai (potato-based dumpling dish)
šaltibarščiai (cold beetroot soup)
peace atop mountains
running out of excitement
stopping out of awe
ice climbing, ice floating
Bergen – Norway
mountain top views
sea meets city
Pisa – Italy (layover)
cheap wine + plastic cups
Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Brașov, Sibiu – Romania
locals extending kindess, again and again
Pálinka (traditional brandy)
cheap and good food
cheap and good beer
zacusca (eggplant + pepper spread)
vibrant autumn foliage
And that’s a glimpse into the handful of precious memories I’ve made during my time as a student in Denmark. At the end of the day, it was nice to come home. Walking along the river in Kolding made me feel at peace. It was this feeling of knowing you can rest. When I went abroad it felt good to be back in Denmark.
Maybe Kolding felt like home because my favourite memories over the semester were in this town. Our almost weekly food-filled gatherings, sharing space in the small apartment was home. It was joy and warmth. Even taking into consideration that I had the opportunity to travel to one of the most beautiful corners of the earth (namely, Iceland), these gatherings were my most treasured moments, easily. Already going through withdrawal thinking that I’ll have to say goodbye in a year’s time.
This country has been a blessing in so many ways. In reflection, I see that’s society is incredibly well-functioning. Its welfare system is as close to that “utopia” can get (maybe).People are happy and they feel safe. At the same time, I’ve become more critical over the months at what makes this society “work”. I’ve often felt like an outsider, where it was a feeling of “us vs them”. A closed off society in many ways, locals were often friendly but not welcoming. I don’t know how to feel other than it was a valuable lesson of one-way society can function.
It’s been a semester of trying to fit puzzle pieces of my life together, with the aim of making sense of the fragmented ideas. It’s been a semester of reminding myself of my worth, not because I’ve felt worthless – but because I’m learning and relearning to be comfortable in my own skin. Accepting of who I am, and accepting that I have the capacity to create positive change.
2016 was in general, for the world, a terrifying and scary year. But my classmates were a daily inspiration that people can come together, that differences can be set aside, and that collaboration is possible. If change is made in small steps, we are taking leaps together as a class. Thank you dear friends for making 2016 a year (personally) worth celebrating and be immensely grateful of. Here’s to a better 2017 for us, and hopefully for the world we live in/create.