The Abroad Effect

01106ba43bcbde02867eab96c67422e191a2c23783Have you ever had your heart broken? It usually happens when you realize that something incredible, something transformational, something you love, is lost. I have been feeling a little brokenhearted lately because being abroad for the past four months changed my life for the better: it made me a broader thinker, a more aware world citizen, a better friend, and a more confident person than before. But now that time is over. Studying abroad for a semester changed my world and opened my eyes to more possibilities for my future than I knew existed. I constantly struggle with reminding myself that even though the time is up, the impact this experience had on my life and myself as a person will stay with me forever.

As I anticipated, my classes were rigorous and interesting. What I didn’t expect were all the things I learned things that could never be taught in a classroom. By speaking to people from different countries, I learned about various cultures throughout Europe in addition to their perspectives on the United States. I have never been more aware of U.S. politics as I am now because the people I talked to were so engaged with political issues throughout Europe and the U.S. and wanted to hear my thoughts on those issues. Learning from people of various backgrounds about their opinions and beliefs allowed me to expand my perspective regarding multiple issues including the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the terrorist attacks in Paris and around the world, and the best way to run healthcare systems. These conversations encouraged me to consider the United States’ role in those issues from an outsider’s view and ponder solutions to those issues with a more worldly perspective. I learned to be more critical of the things I previously accepted as fact, yet I also learned to appreciate things about the United States which I previously took for granted. I also learned how to communicate better, both verbally and non-verbally as well as to be fearless in trying to speak another language instead of embarrassed about how little I know. Studying abroad gave me the skills, knowledge, and curiosity to speak to people from different cultures about their values and beliefs.

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One of the biggest changes I felt in myself was the development of independence and self-sufficiency. I no longer had my familiar city, friends, family, or even language around – yet I managed to create a life for myself. I learned how to navigate public transportation and I learned my way around the city. I had a bike and a gym and a favorite coffee shop and a short cut as well as a scenic route from my apartment to school. I learned how to not only survive, but thrive without my familiar surroundings or usual support systems. I made new friends, some of whom now feel more like family. Living so permanently out of my comfort zone forced me to grow up and rise to the challenges. It forced me to embrace adulthood with a more mature and aware perspective and to learn exactly how much I am capable of accomplishing.

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Never Stop Exploring

How lucky we are to call DU one of our homes
How lucky we are to call DU one of our homes

Do you remember the moment that DU stopped feeling like a new strange place and started feeling like home? Maybe you went away for a weekend and texted your friends that you would be home in a few hours, but were referring to campus. Or maybe you finally figured out the quickest exit to take or the best short cuts around Denver. But I think I can safely assume that at some point, DU shifted from just your school to your home. Well that happens abroad too. Its one of the greatest feelings: you finally know the lay of the land and you can roll your eyes at the tourists like the rest of the locals do when they do silly things like walk in the bike lane or get confused on the metro. You did your time as the foreigner, and now you feel like a member of the community.

However there is something about this shift is equally as dangerous as it is beautiful. You are comfortable. You have a routine, favorite places, and a schedule. The city starts to lose its grandeur and becomes a little less exciting. I am a creature of habit, and I love getting a routine and being familiar with my surroundings, so I would have let my comfort in Copenhagen happen without complaint. Luckily for me, my parents showed up just in time. I absolutely loved showing them my new city and all my favorite places, but I knew I couldn’t entertain them for an entire week on my favorite coffee shops and parks, so I signed us up for the “Urban Bike Tour” by Cycling Copenhagen. This bike tour wasn’t the typical tourist attraction – instead it was an exploration of some of the areas just out of the inner-city. It wasn’t until this tour that I realized how much more there was to discover in Copenhagen! Our tour guide pointed out a tiny shop under a clothing store, declaring it was the best coffee in Denmark. He snaked us through a cemetery that people use like a park, then led us to a gorgeous, quiet canal crowded with dainty boats with hand-painted names peeling from their sides. He showed us the wealthy district with roads three times as large as in the city and some of the world’s best ice cream.

Shoutout to Yelp! for helping me discover a new brunch spot
Shoutout to Yelp! for helping me discover a new brunch spot

I realized had developed my own bubble consisting of my apartment, school, and favorite study spots and parks – but this tour expanded my awareness of the city and re-lit my excitement for learning more about the city. There were bike bridges and paths I didn’t know existed, a remodeled meat-packing district of new restaurants and bars, a street with unique shops and flee markets on the weekends, and more. That day I challenged myself as I am about to challenge you, to explore at least one new place every week, because even when you think you know someplace like the back of your hand, there are still undiscovered nooks and crannies just waiting to be discovered. You might find the world’s best bakery or an astonishingly beautiful cemetery, a fantastic coffee shop or a stunning running trail. Take a friend, or go alone. Spend an entire day somewhere new, or just stop by for an hour or less. Whatever you do, never stop exploring. Your time abroad is limited, so you need to savor every second of it. When you feel comfortable or find yourself talking about your abroad city like home, appreciate your accomplishment of making it your own, but take on the challenge of continuously finding new places.

Word of mouth works for discovering new places too! If you don't know locals to ask, try your professors!
Word of mouth works for discovering new places too! If you don’t know locals to ask, try your professors!