Tusind Tak, Danmark

It’s been exactly a week since I returned home from Denmark and I’ve finally had time to reflect on my semester abroad. It felt so strange walking into the chaos of JFK airport (it really made me miss how orderly the CPH airport is!) and hearing everyone around me speak English with American accents. Being in Europe for four months has made me more aware of the good and bad things that make home unique–the massive size of the U.S., the pervasive inequality, the unreliable public transportation (I never understood why Danes complain about their public transportation system–it works so well!), the diversity of NYC that I missed more than anything else, and so much more.

While it’s nice being back home, I really miss Copenhagen 😦 My last week there was a whirlwind of final exams, papers, goodbyes, and last-minute packing, leaving me with little time to reflect. Thankfully, I have this blog to help me process my thoughts and feelings about the past four months!

It’s okay not to be happy all the time

There’s so much pressure to feel like you’re having the time of your life every single day of your semester abroad, but that’s just not realistic. I had many amazing, memorable experiences over the past four months, but there were also times when I felt sad or isolated. Despite what my Instagram feed and other blog posts depict, most days were quite “average”–I would go to class, do homework, eat dinner, and do other “everyday” things. It’s important to remember that while you will have many opportunities over the course of the semester to have the time of your life, it’s unrealistic to expect to do so every day. And that’s completely okay–don’t let the pressure of social media make you feel like you aren’t studying abroad the “right” way.

Work-life balance is important

After an incredibly stressful fall semester, I was so eager to get away from Smith and be relieved of the constant pressure I feel when I’m on campus. While studying in a different country came with its own challenges, I definitely experienced a healthier school-life balance in Denmark. Of course, there were times when I was stressed out about papers and exams, but I also made a more conscious effort to make time for relaxation, fun, and hygge 🙂 I think living with a host family helped with this–I rarely did homework in the evenings this semester because that time of day was dedicated to dinner, conversation, and watching TV or a movie together after dinner.

Overall, I’m so happy I decided to study abroad this semester. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to live in such a beautiful city for four months, travel around Europe, meet so many great people, and experience immense personal growth. I also want to give a special shout out to my host family–thank you for giving me a home in Denmark and teaching me more about Danish culture than any class could have.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has read this blog over the past few months. While my posts only scratched the surface of my time in Denmark, it has been so nice to have a space to reflect on my experiences. If you are a prospective DIS student, please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions 🙂

For the last time, vi ses!!!

View from the tower in Copenhagen City Hall
The harbor by my homestay in Nivå
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Homestay FAQ

Hej and happy Easter! It’s currently Easter break for DIS students, so we’ve been off since Wednesday and return to class tomorrow. I just returned from a trip to Prague on Saturday and spent yesterday and today enjoying the sunshine and warm weather in Copenhagen. It feels so nice to finally be able to shed my winter coat!

As I realize that there are only 3 weeks left in the semester, I wanted to make sure that I wrote a post about one of the most integral aspects of my study abroad experience: my homestay. DIS offers several different housing options, so it can be quite nerve-wracking to choose your top three when filling out the housing application. My home school only allows us to choose housing options that enable us to live with Danes (i.e. homestay, kollegium, rented room, or folkhøjskole), so that made it a bit easier to narrow down my options. Even so, choosing to live in a homestay felt like a bit of a risk, and prior to meeting my host family, I was filled with doubts about whether it was actually the right housing option for me. After over 3 months, I can safely say that it was indeed the right option! However, it hasn’t been a perfect experience, so I wanted to address some frequently asked questions about homestay life:

*Disclaimer: I can only speak for my own personal experience with my host family. Every person’s homestay experience is different, so please don’t take my answers to be universal!*

Will living in a homestay limit my independence?

This was probably one of the biggest concerns I had when I found out I got placed in a homestay. The simple answer is no–you are an adult and should expect to be treated as such. My host family doesn’t have any rules regarding curfew, only that I let them know if I won’t be home for dinner or plan to spend the night at a friend’s place. However, it’s important to keep in mind that living with a family is different from living on your own or with other students. You should expect to plan your daily schedule around your host family’s daily schedule (e.g. being home in time for dinner, coordinating bathroom time in the morning, etc.). It’s not like moving back home with your parents, though–I still have a great deal of independence and freedom.

How is the food situation?

DIS provides host families with a subsidy to cover the extra costs of cooking for another person. Each homestay is different, but I’ve been very satisfied with the food situation in mine. I’m a vegetarian and my host family isn’t, which I was a bit concerned about. However, they have been incredibly accommodating by making a vegetarian option if they have meat and asking me if there’s anything I need before they go grocery shopping. We actually don’t eat much traditional Danish food, though I’ve tried rugbrød and lots of Danish candy!

Homemade pizza!

Does living in a homestay make it hard to meet other DIS students?

Again, the simple answer is no, but it is a bit more difficult than it would be in an RC (residential community) or kollegium. DIS works hard to connect homestay students with one another by establishing homestay networks (groups of ~10-15 homestay students living within a few kilometers of one another) and providing funding for homestay network gatherings. However, you do need to make an effort to reach out to others in your homestay network and generally take initiative to make plans with people. Friend groups won’t come as naturally as they do when you live in an apartment-style setting with other students, so it is often up to you to take initiative. This can be challenging, especially if you’re more introverted, but I’ve found that I appreciate having designated time away from my peers and feel less pressured to socialize/go out all the time.

Will the distance/commute limit my social life?

Again, the distance and length of commute vary depending on each homestay. I live about 35 km north of Copenhagen and my commute is around 40 minutes (door to door). It sounds far, but I actually don’t mind it–I live a 3-minute walk from the train station, and the train ride itself is a nice time to read, listen to music, and/or sleep. While I can’t come home in between classes and have to make plans with friends ahead of time, I think it’s been worth the tradeoff. However, whether the distance is worth it for you depends on what your priorities are. If you prioritize spending most of your free time with other DIS students or in the city, then a homestay might not be right for you.

What was it like adjusting to living with a family of complete strangers? What if we don’t get along?

While I’ve gotten along well with my host family from the start, it has still been a considerable adjustment. My host family dynamic is definitely different from my own family’s dynamic, so the first few weeks were filled with moments of uncertainty about how I should fit myself into their daily lives. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s important to speak up if you have questions or are uncomfortable with something. Living in a homestay can feel like a leap of faith, and it works out better for some than it does for others. Luckily, it’s worked out for me, but the DIS housing team is available to those who do encounter issues.

That’s about all I can think of for FAQs! Living in a homestay has significantly shaped my study abroad experience, so if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out 🙂

Now, wish me luck with the final stretch of the semester. Vi ses!!

Socrates, Spanakopita, and Sunshine: Long Study Tour to Greece

Hej! This blog post is long overdue, but I had my long study tour to Greece two weeks ago and wanted to share some highlights from the trip. As I’ve mentioned before, my core course is Religious Mythos and Philosophical Logos, and every core course has a week-long study tour to a country (or countries) in Europe that is relevant to the course material. We visited 4 different cities/towns in 6 days, which was tiring but so worthwhile! Here’s a breakdown of what I was up to for those 6 days:

Day 1: Athens

After an early morning flight to Athens, we had lunch and visited some historical sites in the city. Then, we had some free time to explore Athens on our own before being treated to a 12-course dinner (courtesy of DIS) that left us feeling fuller that we’d ever felt before!

Panathenaic Stadium
Philosophical quotes on a random street corner
Sunset over Athens
Dessert (aka course 12/12) at dinner

Day 2: Athens

Our second day in Athens was one of my favorite on the trip. We visited the Acropolis in the morning, which was packed with tourists but breathtaking nonetheless. Then in the afternoon, we took a 2-hour bus trip to Sounion, which is the southernmost tip of the Attic peninsula. We spent a couple hours at the beach before visiting the Temple of Poseidon. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, and it was incredibly calming to feel so far away from the fast-paced rhythm of the city.

Day 3: Athens & Delphi

On our last day in Athens, we visited the ancient ruins of the Agora. It was surreal to see the ruins of the streets that ancient Athenians used to roam and the prison where Socrates was executed. In the afternoon, we took a bus ride to Delphi; along the way, we stopped in a town named Livadeia to see the Cave of Trophonius and hike up a mountain to an old Byzantine church.

Day 4: Delphi

We spent the morning visiting the Temples of Athena and Apollo. The ruins were up in the mountains and although it was a bit cold, the views were incredible. It was quite peaceful to simply “dwell” (as our professors, Brian and Jakob, like it call it) among nature and the ruins–it served as a nice reminder of how small we are in the grand scheme of things. Afterward, we had lunch and drove a few hours to Olympia.

Up in the mountains of Delphi

Day 5: Olympia & Nafplio

We spent the morning in Olympia visiting the Temple of Zeus; a few of us also took a short hike to the top of the Hill of Kronos. After a delicious lunch with what was at least the 5th spanakopita I’d had that week (not complaining!), we departed for Nafplio. According to Brian, Nafplio is the beach town where Athenians go for vacation, and it was the perfect place to spend our last night in Greece. We spent late afternoon and evening hiking, watching the sunset, sharing a final dinner together, and just hanging out with one another. It was a lovely way to end our study tour–I only wish we could’ve had more time there!

Ruins of the Temple of Zeus
View from the top of the Hill of Kronos
The most amazing baklava!
Sunset over Nafplio

Day 6: Nafplio

On our final day in Greece, a few of us decided to check out the flea market in Nafplio. There were tons of vendors selling fresh produce, honey, olives, clothing, and many other things. I bought some honey for my parents and host family (and sampled some in the process–it was really good!).

Finally, we drove back to Athens for our flight back to Copenhagen. I was sad to leave Greece, but felt very lucky to have had such a memorable study tour 🙂

Orange trees outside our hotel in Nafplio
Nafplio was so beautiful!

It’s hard to believe that I only have one more month in Copenhagen before I head back to the states. It’s a bittersweet feeling, but I’ll be sure to make the most of my final month and keep you guys updated along the way 🙂

Vi ses!

Travel Week Tips

Hej there! I apologize that it’s been a while since I last posted, but I promise I haven’t forgotten about this blog 😉 I had my travel week two weeks ago, which was sort of like my spring break. Some core courses went on their long study tours but since my long study tour is next week, I had the week off to travel on my own. A few friends and I took a trip to Italy and Spain – two places I’ve always wanted to visit – and had an amazing time! It was such a fun experience and definitely one of the highlights of my study abroad experience. In addition, I learned some valuable lessons about traveling independently that I thought I’d share with you guys:

  • Plan an itinerary ahead of time: You don’t have to know what you’ll be doing down to the minute, but researching things to do and places to visit before traveling will make things so much easier once you get there.
  • Give yourself time to relax: This is something I wish I’d done more of! We were perhaps a bit too ambitious on this trip (4 cities in 9 days) and while I enjoyed visiting so many places, it would have been nice to stay in one place for a bit longer.
  • Be flexible: Traveling, especially with other people, can be stressful – particularly when figuring out directions, scheduling, and activities to do. In these situations, it’s best to be flexible and willing to compromise – it just makes the whole process easier 🙂
  • Pack lightly: This makes flying easier, and there’s nothing more cumbersome than dragging heavy luggage around before or after you’ve checked out of where you’re staying!

And if you’re curious about how my travel week went, here are some photos from my trip:

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about traveling (or anything DIS-related), please don’t hesitate to reach out 🙂 Vi ses!

Hygge Highlights

Hej! It’s been hard to keep up with my goal of blogging every week, but I wanted to make sure I posted something before leaving for my travel week this weekend. The semester is flying by, which is both exciting and nerve-wracking! Copenhagen has really begun to feel like home.

As I’m sure many of you know, Denmark is known for its “hygge,” which entails “a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment” (thanks, Wikipedia). I though I’d share with you all some hyggeligt experiences I’ve had here in Denmark:

Hygge Dinner

Last week, I helped my friend Amelia host a “hygge dinner” at her homestay. We live in the same homestay network, and DIS gave us money to purchase groceries and cook a meal for people in our network. The dinner was a success (we didn’t burn anything!) and I even had the opportunity to do an Instagram takeover on the DIS account, so check out @dis.copenhagen on Instagram to see more 🙂 (archived under “Housing” stories).

Tivoli

Last week, some members of my homestay network and I also went to Tivoli, which is an amusement park right in the middle of Copenhagen. Winter in Tivoli was magical (but cold!)–we rode rollercoasters, drank hot chocolate, and admired all the lights. I can’t wait to go back when it reopens in April!

Finally, I don’t know if this counts as hygge (can you have hygge by yourself? hm…), but I recently discovered that I live a short walk away from the sea. I went for a run there this morning, which provided beautiful views and a nice break from being indoors 🙂

Well that’s all for now – vi ses!

Core Course Week

Hej everyone! It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, so I wanted to let you all know what I’ve been up to. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been accepted as an official DIS student blogger, crossed a few more sites in Copenhagen off my bucket list, joined the Copenhagen Business School choir, and visited two new countries. Needless to say, it’s been a busy time with plenty of new experiences! I’ve officially been in Copenhagen for one month, which is surreal–in some ways, it feels like I’ve been here for ages and in others, it feels like I just got here yesterday.

Last week was core course week at DIS, meaning all my classes except for my core course were cancelled. I’m in the Religious Mythos & Philosophical Logos core course, which has been really fun and interesting so far. Here’s a recap of how I spent my core course week:

Monday

We had a regular class session in which we discussed Hegel and Heidegger’s views on art. I hadn’t read much of either philosopher’s works prior to this class so it was interesting to explore their philosophies on the function of art. I can’t say I find either of their arguments particularly convincing, but the discussion was valuable nonetheless.

Tuesday

We met for coffee at a cozy café before visiting the Glyptotek, which is an art museum in Copenhagen. The vast majority of works in the museum are sculptures, and it was by far one of the most beautiful museums I’ve visited. Our professor, Jakob, showed us a few of his favorite works before giving us time to explore on our own. We were tasked with thinking about how the artworks we saw fit (or didn’t fit) in Hegel and/or Heidegger’s philosophical frameworks.

The winter garden inside the Glyptotek

Wednesday

Not much to report from this day–we had an exam in my core course, which wasn’t too bad, and had the rest of the day free. I went home to relax and pack for my study tour before heading to a choir rehearsal in the evening.

Thursday

We left early in the morning for our short study tour to Germany! Every core course goes on a 3-day study tour during core course week, and I was lucky enough to visit two cities in Northern Germany–Hamburg and Lübeck. After a 5-hour bus ride that included an hour on a ferry, we arrived in Lübeck, where we visited a church and museum. At both sites, we were again challenged to think about art within the context of Heidegger’s philosophy.

Afterward, we checked into our hotel, ate dinner, and explored the city a bit more before getting some well-deserved rest.

Friday

We woke up early for breakfast and boarded the bus again to drive to Hamburg. After dropping our bags off at the hotel in Hamburg, our professor, Brian, led us on a walking tour of public art throughout the city. Here are a few of the sites we visited:

After a tiring day of sightseeing, we had a fancy four-course dinner courtesy of DIS!

Saturday

We spent a couple of hours at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, an art museum in Hamburg. The museum was huge and had artworks ranging from medieval to contemporary.

After the museum, a few friends and I explored Hamburg a bit more. We stumbled upon another beautiful church and the state parliament building.

Courtyard of the parliament building

Finally, we had lunch at the (very fancy) restaurant inside the parliament building before heading back to Copenhagen.

Double rainbow appeared right before we left 🙂

Overall, it was a tiring but fun and exciting core course week! I can’t wait for my long study tour to Greece next month 🙂

Vi ses,

Dana

Week 2: Host family, friends, and field studies

Hej!!

It’s my second week here in Copenhagen and my first full week of classes. I’ve been settling in and getting more comfortable with my surroundings–I’m finally able to walk from the train station to my classes without using Google Maps, which is definitely an accomplishment!

I thought I’d update all of you on three core aspects of my study abroad experience so far: my host family, new friends, and my classes.

Host Family

My host family has been a wonderful constant in my daily life here in Denmark. I will admit that I was initially hesitant about living in a homestay because of the commute, possible restraints on my independence, and the chance that my host family and I wouldn’t get along. I’m happy to say that these concerns have not been a problem! My host family has been nothing but warm and welcoming, I am treated like an adult, and the commute has actually been quite nice. I live a 3-5 minute walk from the train station and from there, it’s about a 30 minute train ride into the city. I use that time to relax, listen to music, and watch the transition from city to countryside from the window.

One thing I was worried about was being isolated from other DIS students. While living in a homestay does mean that you will not be eating and hanging out with your fellow DIS students as regularly as those living in kollegiums, residential communities, and LLCs will, it is a unique opportunity to experience Danish family life. On a typical weekday, I’ll come home from classes around 5, relax for a bit, help my host parents make dinner, eat and talk for an hour or so, and then watch TV together (anything ranging from Black Mirror to the handball world championship).

DIS also does a good job of connecting homestay students through homestay networks. My network had its “jumpstart event” this Saturday. Each family brought a homemade cake and we spent a couple hours talking and getting to know one another.

So much cake! The one with the Danish flags was a carrot cake made by my host mom.

Friends

There are at least 20 other students from Smith studying abroad in Copenhagen, but I’m not close with any of them. It seems like a lot of people here are studying abroad with friends from their home schools, but I think an important part of studying abroad is to leave your comfort zone and meet new people. My homestay network has been great–this weekend, we visited Christiania together. Christiania is an alternative community in Copenhagen that was founded in 1971 in an abandoned military area. The residents have their own community rules and are somewhat autonomous from the government. The community is open to visitors and was really cool to see.

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but we found a mural outside that provided a great photo backdrop 🙂

Classes

I’m taking 5 classes here at DIS:

  • Religious Mythos & Philosophical Logos (my core course)
  • Kierkegaard’s Authorship (taught at the University of Copenhagen to a combination of American and Danish students)
  • Health Economics & Health Policy
  • Trade of People: Modern-Day Forced Labor
  • Danish Language & Culture

All of my classes have been really interesting so far! The academic setup here isn’t too different from what I’m used to back at Smith–the classes are relatively small and tend to be discussion-based. A great thing about DIS classes is that they all have a field study component! I had my first field study yesterday for my Health Economics class. We visited Danske Regioner (Danish Regions), which is the interest organization for the five regions in Denmark (similar to the states in the U.S.). We were treated to coffee & croissants and listened to presentations about healthcare lobbying and ongoing changes to the hospital system in Denmark. It was interesting to learn about the Danish healthcare system and some of the healthcare policy debates currently taking place in Denmark.

That’s all for now! I’ll leave you with this beautiful photo of Nyhavn at dusk: