While this blog has had a focus on the big and exciting moments of my experience abroad, I think it’s important to be honest about what it’s actually like spending a semester away. On social media, we are used to seeing a highlight reel of people’s lives and I want to make sure that I’m transparent about my experience.
With that being said, here is the honest truth about studying abroad in Copenhagen.
Housing is a huge factor that affects your study abroad experience GREATLY. Luckily for me, I get to live with my sister in her beautiful apartment in Vesterbro, which is a lively and fun neighborhood here in Copenhagen. But realistically, most people who are here are living in DIS housing, which could be a host family, a living and learning community, or a “kollegium”, which is a mix of Danish and American students.
Some people who have had host families have had experiences that did not meet their expectations, but others have loved their host families like they do their own. It is definitely a case by case basis, and you will know best whether or not a host family is the right option for you.
LLCs, residential communities, and kollegiums will help you get to know DIS students, helping you make friends outside of your classes. From what I’ve heard, everyone’s experiences have been relatively positive, but keep in mind, you’re typically sharing a room with someone.
While you aren’t out with friends, traveling, or in class, you’re probably home, so it’s really important to know what you want out of your housing. It really affects your overall experience of studying abroad!
When you’re living in Europe, it can be really hard to learn how to balance school, travel and mental health.
For me, studying abroad has been like going to school in a different place with the opportunity to jet to new countries every other weekend. I have placed a huge emphasis on my academics here in Copenhagen and still have found ways to be happy and healthy while making time for travel.
Here are a couple of suggestions!
- Work ahead! Get lots of schoolwork done early so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re traveling.
- Spend time outside, even if it’s cold. Being outside and in nature has proven to be great for your mental health, so it’s worth trying to schedule that in for a little bit every day.
- Spend lots of time in Copenhagen! While all of Europe seems to be calling, Copenhagen is an excellent place to be and is worth at least a couple of weekends.
It’s not a semester off
While many people talk about studying abroad as a semester off of school, that has not been the case for me.
I decided to take the maximum amount of credits here, as I have two majors and wanted to get as many credits as I could for back home in Seattle.
Academics have always been important to me, so getting my homework done and staying on top of assignments is something that is high on my priority list everyday. Professors here at DIS assign a lot of reading with discussions about the texts in class the next day, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time doing work for my classes.
Along with this, November is a PACKED month. All of our final projects and papers are assigned towards the beginning of the month and due at the end, so it’s very busy. We also have a travel break this month, so it can be difficult to balance the workload and life outside of school during this month.
Whether it’s about your hometown or your college, everyone feels a little homesick at some point. What’s nice about it is that you are surrounded by people who can relate and eventually you are able to find home in those people.
For me, my homesickness for my school in Seattle hit the hardest in October, when all of my friends went to Fall Ball, which is an event that our school throws for its students. They were all together, all dressed up and having fun, which made me miss them and my school so much more! Luckily, I had friends who were going through similar things, so I was able to talk with them about it and feel a lot better.
Homesickness for home, where your family is, is a little bit different. A lot of people’s parents have come to visit during the semester (including my own!), which makes it easier to be away from home, but for me, I really miss my dog, who didn’t come on the journey across the Atlantic. A lot of my friends are feeling the same way about their own pets, so I’ve built a pretty strong support system here regarding our canine and feline friends.
The big thing that you think won’t really affect your homesickness is the time difference. Most people think that the distance is what will be hard, but if you already go to college out of state, you know what that’s like. With the time difference, you’re asleep most of the time when your friends and family back home are awake and vice versa, so it can be hard to keep in touch as much as you may like.
Here in Denmark, it gets dark. By 3:00pm in the late fall and winter, the sun is already setting, so sometimes by the time you get out of class, it’s pitch black outside.
It can be hard when it’s dark. Sometimes it can make you a little sad, it can be harder to get work done, and for me, it threw off my regular circadian system.
Here are a couple of suggestions that I have!
- Follow the ideas of Danish “hygge”! Light some candles, wrap yourself in some blankets and spend quality time with your friends.
- Take Vitamin D supplements! This is something that I do back in Seattle, as it can also be pretty dark there, and it has helped my mood so much!
- Spend lots of time in cafes! The cafes here in Copenhagen tend to be very warm and cozy, which helps counter the cold and dark outside factors.
DIS is a study abroad institution for American students. This means that everyone you go to class with and most people that you will meet are American. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I think getting to know people of the culture in which you are is super important for a fulfilling experience abroad!
For me, meeting Danes and people from other countries hasn’t been too difficult! If we exclude the family that I already have here and the friends that I’ve met through my sister, I still have met a lot of non-Americans! For this to happen, I have had to step out of my comfort zone… Here’s how!
- If you’re out on a weekend, talk to the people around you! Regardless of the stereotype, a lot of Danes are really friendly and are willing to chat with you!
- Frequent a cafe or restaurant! I’ve met a lot of Danes from going to the same cafe or restaurant a fair amount of times and they’ve been there as well.
- Travel alone! While it may seem daunting, traveling alone or with a friend makes you more willing to step out of your comfort zone and talk to others. If you’re in a big group, it can be easy to hide within your group and only talk to your friends.
While DIS doesn’t hold your hand in meeting non-Americans, it’s pretty easy to do on your own if you’re willing to try!
While all of these factors have been elements of my study abroad experience, it has still been one of the best experiences of my life. Being able to handle all of these things is attainable and is DEFINITELY worth what may be a struggle sometimes. Copenhagen is a wonderful place to spend a couple of months and also provides you with many travel opportunities that you would never have in the States.
As the semester is winding down, I’ve been getting very reflective about my time so far here in Denmark. I’ve been thinking about what it’s going to be like when I’m back in Seattle, how I’m EVER going to say goodbye to my friends here, and how this semester has changed my life so far.
That’s why I thought a very honest post about the study abroad experience in Copenhagen was necessary. I know this post really seems to only apply to prospective DIS students, but I think a lot of these topics can apply to semesters abroad in general and also provides true insight into my experience so far in Copenhagen.
Thanks for reading!