The honest truth of navigating life abroad.

Today was my last Monday living in Copenhagen. Yesterday completed my final weekend. It didn’t quite go as I’d hoped, as many friends are leaving early to ensure they’re able to get home for the holidays now that we’re required to have a negative test to enter the U.S. Instead of spending it doing everything and seeing everyone I possibly could, I spent it surrounded by the people I’ve grown to love with a quiet movie night, a coffee at my favorite cafe, a morning at the farmers market, and a personal conversation with my dear friend Sophia about our shared fears and excitements for the future over some dumplings. It wasn’t what I’d planned on or expected, but it was perfect.

I’ve been saving all of my reflections and real, raw feelings for the end of the semester in hopes that I could accurately convey all I learned and overcame this semester, but it’s been difficult to know where to start due to the overwhelming feeling of sadness to be leaving this beautiful city and in turn leaving all of these incredible memories behind.

It’s almost midnight right now, and I just came across a Tik Tok with the opening caption: “The 10 things I learned when I moved abroad.” Expecting another video filled with advice such as ‘be spontaneous!’ and ‘use ~Skyscanner~’, I was so shocked at the first point on the list I literally had to pause the video and start it over.

“Living somewhere new isn’t like traveling. You’re not really escaping your problems, but more jumping right into them,” it read.

One of the most difficult parts of coming abroad for me personally was the preconceived notion that studying abroad was just going to change my life for the better. Because, when people say something like that to you, you really think you’re just going to have the most amazing four months of your life, don’t you?

Studying abroad isn’t like traveling. Although you’ve moved across the world to a beautiful city with endless opportunities, it’s not two weeks of no worries and good times. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of good times. But there were plenty of bad times, too.

It took about a month for me to really break down and have a good cry, to really internalize the loneliness I had the nostalgia I was feeling for the comfort of my cat on my lap on my couch at home. It felt like everywhere I looked, everyone was having the most amazing time of their lives. Everyone was making friends, going to new and exciting clubs, traveling to exotic and fascinating cities, and overall just having a wonderful time. I couldn’t help but wonder: why can’t I be having that type of experience?

I bounced back of course, took an incredible trip to Paris alone, traveled with one of my flatmates to Spain, really dove into my studies in my core class, and started getting to know the people around me on a much more personal level. As I began to understand how I could navigate a life that worked for me while abroad, it became more and more apparent that despite what I’d assumed, everyone else was just trying to figure out how to live their life too.

One friend looked in depth at a flight home over Thanksgiving because he missed his family so much. One friend completely lost touch with her friends over their week traveling Greece together and was in the process of making new ones. A classmate came to our class in tears because she’d just said goodbye to her mom on the phone and just wanted to be able to give her a hug. We all experienced a sickness, a bad grade, a “why won’t he text me back” moment, a “maybe I shouldn’t have drank so much” moment, feelings of being unwanted and unliked, and just unexplained tough days.

I felt like I did all the research I possibly could before coming here. I knew there was a chance I could sink into depression, or that I really could have a perfect semester of fun and happiness, and that I would likely come back with countless new experiences that would offer a new perspective on my life. I did all this planning for the extremes that I failed to remember I’d also have to continue living life.

At this age, we think we already know what it’s like to move out and live life on our own in a college environment. I just don’t think anyone considers that studying abroad means you have to do the freshman-in-college-experience all over again! But this time, you’re not ready to accept that all of these confusing feelings might just be coming from the fact that you haven’t figured out how to live life in the way that works for you in this setting, on top of all of the other difficulties of moving to a completely new country.

I really did have a wonderful time abroad, and I will absolutely get to reflecting on those amazing memories. But failing to reflect on my experience of simply continuing my life as a 21 year old girl through all of the ups and downs would be omitting an extremely important part of my time here in Copenhagen.

I’m so thankful for it all- the excitement of walking through the Christmas markets for the first time; the heartbroken paragraphs I sent to my friends back home; and the average, un-newsworthy days of waking up, going to class, and coming home. It was all life, and it all was important to my Copenhagen story.

(the maker of this aforementioned Tik Tok is @/jonnyarnott. If you want some real, uncomfortable advice about moving abroad, go check out their videos!)

Published by hawkelki

Hi! My name is Ellie Hawkins, and I’m currently a senior at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. I’m studying abroad at DIS Copenhagen for the Fall 2021 semester and am so excited for all I will get to experience.

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