I’ve been neglecting by blog. If you can believe it, it isn’t because of writer’s block or laziness this time: I’ve honestly just been too busy to stop and write.
I am currently sitting in a dorm room at Stanford, listening to a house full of international teenagers through my window. But, that’s not the story I want to tell right now. I never finished the story about Denmark, and I can’t leave such an important four weeks of my life as unfinished business (although I hope that this is not the close of a chapter).
The last time I wrote, I was in my room in Copenhagen. Copenhagen: what a beautiful city that gave me so many stories to tell. I ate, I drank, I sprained my knee (again). I spent too much money. Some things never change. And although all I brought through customs with me were two thimbles and some rocks from the Baltic Sea, I know I brought back so much more.
To put some perspective on things: I’m just a poor kid who grew up in a small city no one’s ever heard of in the middle of the Bible Belt. Up the last few years, I hadn’t visited more than 4 states. Travelling was a foreign concept to me, and I never really thought much about it, except in that distant, fairy tale dream way. Then one of those crazy dreams came true: I went to California to study creative writing at Stanford. Then something even crazier happened: I got into Yale. And there I met the the coolest people; people I never would have imagined would be my best friends. And then I was accepted into a study abroad program, and before I could even blink, I was on a plane to Copenhagen.
I would say I’m the luckiest girl in the world, but we all know that’s not quite true. And besides, to chalk all the good things in my life up to luck would diminish my achievements; and I’ve worked too damn hard to get to where I am to not take some of the credit.
But, back to the point, I keep finding myself in situations that younger me was too afraid to really dream about. And I don’t know how to express how overwhelming it is to experience theses things with that knowledge in the back of my mind. Even now, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I just spent four weeks in Europe and and am currently spending two weeks at Stanford; just like I still have these moments of absolute shock that I am a student at Yale University. It’s mind-blowing. So I put a lot of pressure on myself to get a lot out of these experiences. I want to be constantly learning something.
What did I learn while I was studying abroad? Well, I learned a lot about Danish and Finnish education systems and child care (as that is what I was studying). I could (and did) write a lengthy academic paper about that topic, but I won’t do that here. I learned a lot more than that though. Talking to people never gets any easier, but forcing yourself to do so is rewarding (and nothing worth doing is easy anyway). I love chickpeas and hummus and pistachios (pistachio ice cream omg) and salmon: I guess you could say I learned to not knock it ’til I try it. You can become great friends with people in a very short amount of time. You can communicate with anyone regardless of language barriers. Sometimes getting lost is just a part of the adventure, and you can having fun doing anything, if you’re doing it with the right people.
More than anything, I was reminded of a lesson that I’ve been learning for years now: growth only comes when you step out of your comfort zone.
So I played with Danish kids who didn’t speak a word of English. I ate things I didn’t think I’d like. I went to bars and clubs and danced and met new people. I got on trains and hoped I was going in the right direction. I sat in a sauna and then jumped into a freezing cold Finnish lake. I spoke up in class. I got a tattoo!
I made friends. And it’s crazy to think that I only spent four weeks with some of the people I met, because it honestly feels like I’ve known them for years. More than anything, when I think of my time in Europe, I will remember dancing down the street, singing, gathering evidence that Pekka is a vampire, laughing over tinder messages, screaming along to High School Musical in a Finnish karaoke bar, running through the rain to get pizza, sitting in a cozy spot and feeling warm and comfortable and happy to be with friends. I will remember hygge.
Hygge. If I could use one word to sum up my experience abroad, it would be hygge. Hygge (pronounced like ‘who-guh’) is a quality of coziness that one gets when very comfortable in their surroundings; it leads to a feeling of warmth and contentment. This is a defining characteristic of Danish culture, and I felt it, surrounded by friends, talking and laughing. I love the concept so much that I got the word tattooed on my arm.
So, there it is. A fraction of what I how I feel about my trip to Europe and all of the wonderful things I experienced there.