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Slagelse, Denmark

Catherine Jean

UMBC Faculty-led: Dance in Denmark 

Major: Biological Sciences and Sociology

 

December 22nd, 2019

Pre-Departure Post

Somethings just make for the worst combinations. Like peanut butter and chocolate. (No use in trying to convince me otherwise, I’m not interested). Or conflicting feelings. I have a long standing untreated case of wanderlust. I also have an overactive imagination that likes to dwell on fears a little too much sometimes. Put that together and what do you get? Muted and un-pursued dreams. Arguably the worst kind.

Hi. I’m Catherine. I am a Biology and Sociology major at UMBC. I am in my fourth year of study. I am studying abroad in Denmark for the winter term. When it comes to studying abroad, I can truly say that it’s something that’s been on my heart for a while now. I’ve just never committed to the idea. Why now then? Honestly, a number of reasons. But I think one of those reasons is definitely that I’m in my senior year of college. If I don’t take advantage of this opportunity now, I know I’ll regret it in the future. And so… WE go for it. Yes “we”. You’re coming along for the ride too ;).

Firsts things firsts. The prep step:

Honestly, I don’t think it’s really hit me yet that I’m leaving the continent and going to be away from everyone I know for a while. The thing is, I’ve been so busy preparing for this that I haven’t had time to stop and take it all in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely excited and sometimes I get nervous, but I haven’t been able to fully process all the emotions yet. But don’t worry I’ll update you guys once I’ve figured it out.

Check back in with me weekly. I’ll be updating you on the experience as a whole. Emotions, studying, cultural immersion, the whole nine yards.

January 10th, 2020

Ever been on a roller coaster? You know that incredible knot you get in your stomach as the coaster ascends closer and closer to the top? You know, the one that grows with excitement and fear because it knows what’s to come. It knows that once you reach the top, there’ll surely be a drop that takes your breath away. Do you feel it? Your heart beating. Your throat closing. Your eyes widening. You can’t breathe during the drop. It just happens and your breath is forced back as you take it all in. It’s captivating and exhilarating. That’s what it felt like driving to the airport. The closer we got, the higher the coaster ascended. I could feel my breathing getting shorter. Fear and excitement creeping in. Finally. We arrived.

I think right now-this first week-I’m going through the drop. Right now we’re only three days in. It’s a lot of introductions and physical activities (this school is big on physical activities). The food is amazing, grown by local farmers. The students here are extremely nice and welcoming. So far it’s great. Exhilarating. Captivating. An experience you don’t want to miss. I’m not sure what the bottom looks like-if there is one. But I’m just going to enjoy the drop.

January 13th, 2020

One of the hardest things to do here is stay awake. There is a six hour time difference between Maryland and Denmark (Denmark is ahead six hours). As a result, even five days in, I’m still jet lagged. This is interfering with my daily schedule. When we go over PowerPoints and/or videos in class, I sometimes find myself struggling to stay awake. When we have breaks during the day (in between classes/activities) I often go to my room and take naps. This poses a serious issue for me. It interferes with my studying. How can I concentrate and be engaged in class when I’m struggling to keep my sleepy eyes open? Even more, how can I immerse myself in the local culture and interact with the students if I’m napping during free time? Connections are built through interaction and immersion. I can’t interact and immerse when I’m not awake or around. Consequently, I have been working to help my body adjust faster.

As of late, I’ve been trying to intentionally fight the fatigue and stay awake. I’m hoping that if I can maintain this for the next three days, then my body will adjust to the different time zone. Also, I purposefully don’t go to my room during all the breaks. I’ll stay behind and talk to or play games with the other students. So far it’s been working. I’m more awake and engaged in class and student social life. I’m still feeling jet lagged, but I refuse to allow that to stop me from fully enjoying this experience.

 

January 17th, 2020

A nonstop 8 hour flight. 3,897 miles away. And a six hour time zone difference. Yet with the world at our fingertips, none of that means anything. With widespread internet access, we have at our disposal all sorts of applications that allow us to connect with those even the farthest away. We can keep up through email, social Media, call/text and so much more. The culmination of all these options make it as if we never went away. While the innovation of instant connection with so many people so far away is an incredible luxury, it has intensified issues of immersion. This raises the very pertinent question, “how do we let go of home and immerse ourselves into a foreign culture?”

I have found this to be a very intentional thing. Without intentionality, we naturally fall in line with our regular habits. In a study abroad program, these habits may look like only talking with people who share the same culture as you, constantly being on the phone/connecting with people back home, or sticking to foods traditional to you. When you step into an environment that is in many ways foreign to you, you have to fight the tendency to fall into these regular habits. Everyday you choose to be open to all the newness that’s ahead. Eventually, you learn the lingo, establish friendships, and even exchange culture among yourselves. Here in Denmark, intentionality has many different faces. On some days it looks like staying in the common area after evening activities. Starting conversation with strangers is a little awkward at first, but given time those strangers can become acquaintances, and over time maybe even friends. On other days, intentionally looks like sitting with the other students and watching X-Factor in Danish though you don’t understand a thing. It involves being open, asking “what does that mean?”, laughing and making jokes. In the end, you may be one of the very few invited to hang out in a fire heated hot tub under the Danish skies late at night

 

January 20th, 2020

How often do you decide to take a chance? To just close your eyes and jump? To completely disregard all the reasons not to and completely shut out every fear or safeguard? For me, rarely. Which is really funny because I love spontaneity and exploration. But I think fear is necessary. It keeps us from making stupid decisions and it keeps us alive. I also think fear is deceptive. It makes you think things that don’t even make sense. There are a thousand and one reasons not to and fear will have you think of everyone of them. This experience so far has been amazing. All the people I’ve met, all the sightseeing I’ve done, all the cultural exchanges I’ve been able to participate in and so much more. I wouldn’t trade it. I’d do it all over again. And now that I think about it, why was I so scared?

I think fear of the unknown is one of the biggest fears there is. Maybe it’s a human thing. Maybe we just like to have things in our control. And the unknown is…well… unknown. We’re so used to going into situations with at least some type of background knowledge. I mean think about it; we Google reviews of movies before we watch them, we Facebook search people before we meet them, we check the weather before we go outside. We like to be prepared. But you can’t be prepared for the unknown. Maybe that’s why it’s so scary.

I love my time here in Denmark. But this fear of the unknown is about more than just this Scandinavian country. I feel like coming here opened the door for me to travel as a whole. I’ve proven that I’m capable to putting fears aside (we’re not talking about logical fears here) and do something that’s bigger than me. Going abroad is bigger than me. The things I learn, the lives I touch, the lives that touch mine, and the humility I’m forced to, are bigger than me.

I don’t know what your fears are, but spend some time and evaluate them. Are they as logical as fear would have you believe?

 

January 27th, 2020

 

 

Did you do enough?

 

Lower the curtains. Turn off the music. Dim the lights. The stage is empty. Everyone’s gone home. Now there’s…silence. And here I sit on the edge of the stage with my legs dangling over the ground. Thinking. Did I do enough? Was I memberable?

 

Veni, Vidi, Vici.

I came. I saw. I conquered.

 

I came.

I came to the land of the Scandinavians. The land that is what it is today because of the lives that were lost and the blood that was shed on the battlefields. The land of the Vikings. Not the mythological creations of our imaginations. No, not the burlesque men who wore horned helmets. But the land of a laborious people who farmed and who fished, who sailed and who conquered, who pillaged and who plundered. Denmark. The nation nestled in its own little corner of the world. A nation that is laden with architectural beauty and character. The streets of whose capital are filled with color and whose walls overflow with history. The land of the Danes

 

I saw.

I saw the nationalism in the eyes of the people. The light that shines in their eyes every time they talk about their country. The pride. The pride of culture, way of life, and sustainability. With the help of a Danish professor, I also saw that this same national pride creates a fog that hovers over the people and the nation. I saw that the unity of the people, which is what makes the country thrive, comes from the overall homogeneity of the nation. I saw how the thought of immigration and vastly different ideals poses a threat to the ideals of the country’s democracy. And I question, with increasing globalization, can a nation stay nestled away and homogeneous for much longer? And I saw the uncertainty of the people in answering this question.

 

I conquered.

I conquered my hesitancy. I’ve wanted to travel for so long, but it seemed like there was some sort of barrier before me preventing me from taking the chance. Though I wanted the experience, I couldn’t get over the fear that immobilized me. It took so much faith for me to come here. So much courage. It’s as if I tore apart the barrier holding me back, and now I can do anything and go anywhere. I conquered on this trip. On this trip I conquered. I am not naive, however, to believe that every endeavor to push forth from now on will be smooth sailing. I am not naive to believe that I am completely without fear. But I am now empowered to know that I will succeed. I will take on the world and I will conquer it.

 

But what did I leave behind? Will my bed remember the rhythm of my heartbeat? Will the air remember the flow of my breath? The way that I inhale. And exhale. Will the chairs remember the impressions-the familiarity of my body; the rooms the presence of my being? Will the dining hall remember the heat of my hunger, the length of my stride? Will the streets of Copenhagen remember the weight of my steps? The space between each footprint? Will the air hold onto and embrace every word that I spoke, the very sound of my voice? Will it employ envoys to seek me out to even the far corners of the world to bring me back just to hear the melody of my laugh? And the people, Gerlev. Will your eyes beg to see me again? Will your arms yearn for the warmth of my embrace? In the times to come, will your heads turn and your hearts jump at the sound of my name?

 

Lower the curtains. Turn off the music. Dim the lights. The stage is empty. Everyone’s gone home. Now there’s…silence. And here I stand in the middle of the room staring at the stage. Thinking. Did I do enough? Walking toward the exit, I question, was I memorable?