About a month ago, I returned from a five month adventure studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. I have become one of those annoying people who will find any excuse to bring it up in a conversation. I like to pretend I am hip and European now for wearing black clothing, riding public transportation, and actually enjoying the taste of espresso. I used to roll my eyes when other people said this, but as cliché as it sounds, my semester abroad was genuinely life-changing. I had an incredible academic experience studying something I love, but I also learned more than I could have ever imagined outside of the classroom.
Academically, I did not have to make any sacrifices. Instead, I got to explore all of the subjects I love from a whole new perspective. As a Psychology major, I studied clinical psychology and even got to work in a social psychiatry center practicum, learning in a hands-on setting. The center was a place for people with mental illnesses to build a social support network, and my role was just to be a part of the community. For my Film and Media Studies minor, I took a class called Scandinavian Moods in Cinema, allowing me to learn about my new home and culture through a unique lens. We watched old classic films as well as modern blockbusters. I learned about artsy things like trends in cinematography and lighting, but also about Nordic humor and cultural attitudes towards religion sexuality. I had to write a few papers and take some exams, but I also gained cultural touchstones that I could talk about with my Danish friends.
Outside of class, I explored Copenhagen and the rest of Europe. I traveled to 17 different cities in 11 different countries. I spent one weekend devouring crepes in Paris, and another soaking in mineral baths in Budapest. I hiked the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland and explored art museums in Vienna. The first warm day (by “warm” I mean “above 40 degrees”) my friends and I went to Tivoli, an amusement park in central Copenhagen, and road roller coasters, even after a full day of class. Through all of this pure fun, I learned to thrive completely on my own – to navigate unknown cities and airports and train stations, to cook and clean and budget, to be independent even more than I am when I am as student here on campus.
It was WashU that made this whole experience possible. I arrived on campus three years ago nervous, confused and completely undecided. If I had not had the academic flexibility and support to discover my passions, I would not have found this abroad program and had these opportunities. My four year advisor pushed me to test out different classes and find the right major/minors. My psychology advisor and the Overseas Office helped me choose an abroad program that would let me flourish. My friends supported me from afar and welcomed me back when I returned. Honestly, the hardest part about being abroad was not living in an unknown city or translating an unknown language, it was forgoing a semester filled with WashU-specific experiences. Knowing WashU would still be there for me when I came back made it manageable.