Hello from Denmark

Copes 09 286

It’s been ten weeks since my arrival in Copenhagen and I’m having some tea while the rain pours steadily outside, a vast jump into autumn compared to the bright, long days of August. Thankfully, an Indian summer has pushed sunshine into October, a stroke of luck that all Danes have assured me is rare and to be enjoyed. This week is a mid-semester break, so many students are off to Iceland or elsewhere in Europe for vacation or a visit home. It’s pleasantly quiet in my building, with family visiting a few of the remaining residents – the hallway smells like Indian food tonight – and I’ve finally sat down to write my first entry for UM’s abroad student blog.

Writing about the ups and downs thus far for me will be somewhat of a confusing thing, I think, and I hope that if you are reading this, you will have a spoonful of salt instead of a grain. My struggles here in no way reflect the usual experience of Miami’s adventurous abroad-ers, and I cannot thank Lisa enough for being my #1 supporter back in Florida. I can hardly believe that I’m here most days.

Ups and Downs

1. Arrival in Copenhagen
I don’t think this needs much more explanation. This is my first dip into Europe, and it was awesome. My flights were on time, I had a very nice layover in Frankfurt, I enjoyed the movie selection, and a mentor came to greet me at the airport and accompany me to my temporary housing. The sun was shining, it was in the 80s, and life was good.

2. Housing struggles
Here’s the salt part: housing in Copenhagen is notoriously difficult to secure. Due to city planning desires, Copenhagen grows out and not up, which makes centrally-located rooms expensive and insanely hard to find, even with the assistance from the university’s housing foundation.

I talked to scammers on the internet, other struggling international students, students who had no problems at all, local Danish, and the housing foundation. I had several leads that ended up going nowhere, fantastically shady offers, and the prospect of returning to Miami looming. I struggled. The lack of housing is something all Danes are well aware of, and they’re not particularly empathetic towards foreigners who have never lived in a city where the supply and demand are so drastic. It is what it is. You either get through it or leave Copenhagen, and no one is concerned about the outcome because it won’t affect them. I went through ups and downs with potential rooms and apartments that didn’t pan out, and every new closed door discouraged me.

3. Rock bottom
Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more desperate – I’d been to two different airbnb rooms and was planning an eight-day adventure couch-surfing with other students I’d met before going to a hostel – my debit card was withheld at a local bank. No one knew why, no one knew how, but it was gone, and suddenly I had $40 and three suitcases to my name.

I’ll move on because the story has a happy ending, but let’s just say that I didn’t have much fun during this time; to top it all off, I had a Danish language exam on my plate, both written and spoken. I passed, with a 7, which is literally the equivalent of a C in the States but relative to the Danes, feels like a B+ because it’s better than a mere pass and the average grade. I was proud of myself, all things considered, but still homeless with no access to any of my funds.

4. Upwards
In a tiny stroke of luck, I had already ordered a new bank card, which was ironically waiting to be sent because I didn’t have an address. I got it soon enough, and from then on forcibly smiled because I was still here. Still. Here.

Through my couch-surfing and despite all of my griping and panicking, I somehow convinced a few people to like me as well, and started making friends. (Which, if you did the pre-trip modules like a good student, is suggested as a way to combat culture shock.) I started having lunch with people, generally smiling more, spending more time being sociable and felt better.

And in an amazing move, I got a room in the heart of the city – somewhat. If the heart of the city was a real heart, I live in the aortic arch. It’s not perfect, amenities are limited, and sometimes the people make me crazy… but it’s mine. After six long weeks of moving around in temporary places, I finally had a place to unpack. It was so good that I swear I tasted it. And it was tasty.

That week at school I didn’t even care when someone stomped on my foot, that’s how happy I was. And I mean stomped as in I thought my toe might be broken because it hurt so badly. But I didn’t care. Because I was back in action and ready to dance around in the few sunshine-filled days I had left. I was so happy I think I felt my hair grow, and that doesn’t even make sense.

5. Nothing gold can stay (Robert Frost)
Three weeks after moving in, I had settled down in Copenhagen enough to be miserably homesick. I listened to YouTube playlists of Hawaiian music, wrote novels to UM friends on Facebook chat, Skyped my sister every other day and emoted like a Tony nominee. And I had rude thoughts about everyone. I remember one day in particular I thought, “No wonder everyone loves Europe but hates Europeans. God, they can be so terrible. How could anyone be this mean to a stranger?” The funny part was, not everyone here is even European.

I also set off a fire alarm cooking spinach, and when everyone rushed into the kitchen to see ‘the damage’ they were disappointed to find that alas, the American was actually not completely inept. However, it didn’t stop some from bringing it up again… and again… and again… ugh. It wasn’t as bad as rock bottom, but I avoided everyone like the plague for the next three days because I was tired of being teased.

6. It gets better
Today I slept until the tragically late hour of 11:18am and then woke up and did absolutely nothing all day. This blog post is probably the most productive thing I’ll do all evening as well. Classes are… well, that’s a whole new post that I’ll write later (maybe.) but going well and actually almost done for me, thanks to an odd perk of scheduling. I’ve made more friends, am smiling as we speak, and spent the weekend doing fun things (which maybe I will also write about later) and have no plans for the autumn break other than sleeping, catching up on school stuff and maybe a visit to Tivoli for the Halloween season.

I’m off to eat dinner now, which means that the upward trend is still holding, and tomorrow I’m going to shop for my first-ever pair of winter boots so that I don’t fall and die in the slick streets here. In the words of my former yoga instructor, thank you, I appreciate your participation; the light in my heart acknowledges and admires the light in your heart.

Copes 09 303


One Comment
  1. Hi Sarah,

    As you know, I am incredibly proud of you and not just because you made it through the ups and downs of study abroad and came out a more resilient person but because you are willing to share your experiences with others. As a study abroad advisor, your blog is an invaluable tool for my future advisees who will learn from your experience that study abroad difficulties can be overcome.

    Just like regular college life, everything is not always rosy. It is how you manage the non-rosy challenges that teach you how persistent you can be in the face of adversity. When you look for your first apartment after graduation, you will be much less stressed about it than your peers who did not have to find housing abroad. When something doesn’t go your way in the future, you can remember your trials and tribulations in Copenhagen and put it all in perspective so you can move forward. Most importantly, I can almost guarantee you that 10 years from now, you will laugh hysterically about all the housing struggles much like I made you laugh when I told you about my trials and tribulations finding a hostel in Barcelona at the height of tourist season during my backpacking adventures.

    Looking forward to hearing more about the good and not so good of being out of your comfort zone for a semester abroad. :)

    Lisa A.

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