Last year, students in the Copenhagen elective course, Cultural History of Travel, were asked to come up with advice for future DIS Students by their faculty member, Thorsten Wagner. If you are a DIS Stockholm student reading this – don’t fret – nearly all of the advice below can be applied to your semester abroad as well – keep reading!
Here are their 11 top tips for you as you prepare to depart for your semester abroad:
1) Give yourself time to adjust and explore your city
In the first few weeks when you arrive in Scandinavia, take time to explore and really gain an understanding of why you chose to study here. While Copenhagen seems attractive before actually arriving, it is impossible to fully appreciate all of the wonderful things it offers until you experience it firsthand. To fully appreciate and immerse yourself, we suggest renting a bike. Whether alone or with friends, biking is a wonderful way to explore and get a taste for the unique neighborhoods in your city. There’s nothing quite like the freedom you get when you hop on a bike and just ride until you stumble upon a new café, store, or area that catches your interest. If you aren’t into biking, don’t stress. Copenhagen’s public transportation system is easy to use. No matter how you choose to get around the city, it is important to take the time to avoid staying in familiar areas, eating at the same restaurants, and walking similar streets. In doing so, all of Copenhagen’s best qualities will reveal themselves and you’ll have the best time abroad!
Go to an unknown destination.
2) Don’t feel obliged to “keep up with the Joneses”
People come with the thought that there are certain cities or places that they MUST visit. It’s not the worst thing in the world to challenge this idea. Don’t feel obligated to hit every city on the “top 10 places in Europe” lists. Sometimes the best trips are to places you’ve never heard of in your life! This gives you the opportunity to experience something that you, or anyone else, never would have otherwise. It’s okay to leave your comfort zone and go to an unknown destination. You may be surprised to learn that the fourth most popular city in Portugal, for example, is actually one of the most interesting places you’ve ever been!
3) Expand your “friend horizons”
I would recommend making friends outside of your home university if you come to Copenhagen with a large group. I came to Copenhagen with four of my best friends from school. DIS did not let any of us live together, and even though we were disappointed by this at first, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. I ended up getting to know the other students in my dorm and in my classes better than I ever could have imagined going into the semester. My friends from school and I still spend the majority of our free time together, but we also all made friendships that will last beyond our time here. Being abroad with friends from school is an incredible experience, but it does not mean that you have to sacrifice building other relationships before ever giving them a chance to develop.
It’s a win-win if you know before you go.
4) Learn about your destination
While it can seem fun and spontaneous to travel somewhere without doing any research, it’s better to learn a couple of things before you go to help you make the most of your experience. Some helpful things to know are:
- Government and current events
- Cultural norms
- Traditional foods and restaurants
- Most popular sites to see and things to do
- Notable figures of the past
When you get somewhere, it can be overwhelming and it might be hard for you to decide what to do, where to go, and what to see. By doing some research in advance, you will feel more comfortable in the new place that you’re visiting and it will ensure that you don’t miss out on seeing anything. By learning more about the places you visit, you will be able to draw greater connections between your travel experiences and your studies. It’s a win-win if you know before you go.
5) Consider who to travel with
Travel with people with whom you share similar interests. Traveling is more exciting that way! Try to find a group that is flexible regarding accommodations and daily plans. Also, it is easier to travel in smaller groups. With bigger groups, it can be harder to all agree on the sights to see, places to eat, or how to get from place to place. Don’t be afraid to travel with people who you aren’t already friends with, as long as you think these new friends have the same travel interests as you.
Don’t do ‘whirlwind trips’…
6) Beware of whirlwind trips
Abroad is a time to push your limits. You are studying in Scandinavia to experience the culture of both your home city and various other European cities. There are many places and things to see in Europe, and although four months sounds like ample time, you’ll likely leave your travels feeling that you’ve missed something (and that’s ok!).
Don’t do ‘whirlwind trips’ to try to maximize your travel – this is where you cram four different countries into a week or two cities in one weekend. You will feel a pressure to experience as much as possible, but by cramming two cities in one weekend you are actually acting counterproductively. Spending a short amount of time in a city will leave you feeling like you robbed yourself of your own journey.
If you do desire to plan various weekend trips or pack three cities into a week, here’s a suggestion: set an expectation that you won’t see everything when you’re only in a country for a short period! A viable way to approach the ‘whirlwind trip’ is to research the top three to five destinations in each place you are going to visit beforehand so that you can maximize your trip. If you don’t end up getting to see everything you would have liked, remember, that you can always return in the future to see what you have missed!
7) You’re always a tourist… And that’s also okay
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘tourist’? You probably have an image of someone wearing socks with sandals, cargo shorts, a fanny pack, and a ridiculous “I HEART [CITY HERE]” T-shirt (probably stained). You may not be that type of tourist. But, you are still a tourist. And, that’s totally fine. Being a tourist is not a bad thing. It allows you to experience new places, cultures, people, and even food in a way that can actually enhance your time with DIS.
The only way you can be a ‘bad’ tourist is by being oblivious and ignorant to the fact you are a tourist in the first place. Acknowledging you’re a foreigner in a new place doesn’t mean you’re a walking stereotype of where you’re from, and it also helps you understand that the locals aren’t all stereotypes of the place you’re visiting as well. Embracing your identity as a tourist is probably one of the smartest decisions you can make abroad.
Don’t make decisions around what is ‘Instagram-worthy’
8) Don’t do it for the ‘gram
When you’re studying abroad next semester, don’t make your decisions around what is most ‘Instagram-worthy.’ A lot of the most memorable moments that you have abroad aren’t going to be the ones you create for social media. Of course, you’re going to want to share your experiences with friends and family. But your entire study abroad experience shouldn’t revolve around social media.
The truly memorable moments are when you’re exploring Copenhagen and the rest of Europe without a phone attached to your hand. You have to remember that, many of the photos you see on social media can’t truly showcase the reality of the moment. For example, that photo you see on Instagram of the perfect “Mad og Kaffe brunch” (Mad og Kaffe is an amazing breakfast place here in Copenhagen) excludes the 45+ minute wait for a table and doesn’t showcase all that Copenhagen has to offer.
9) Basking in the mundane
Abroad is still a semester of college. It is not a perfect world where every day is ideal. The train is going to get canceled, it is going to rain…a lot, and you probably will get sick. Sometimes you just need to binge your favorite TV show and eat comfort foods. Social media might make it seem like everyone is always having a blast for four months…that is unrealistic. Do not feel bad or guilty about staying in one night. In order to have a great semester, you need days off.
Find the balance that works for you! Do not be afraid to lean on people who might be having the same experience. You are allowed to be upset and frustrated. It’s ok to vent. Do not put too much pressure on yourself to like everything about your time abroad. You will grow through all events, both good and bad, that happen. If you’re having a tough time, hygge comes in handy. Spend time drinking coffee and daydreaming or enjoy candlelit movie nights under super soft blankets. You do you!
Don’t fear being alone
10) Finding comfort in your own company
At the beginning of your abroad journey, you are surrounded by fresh faces. Being in a new place is daunting and scary sometimes so you may feel that you have to quickly make friends. Try not to succumb to this pressure of needing to make friends immediately. Don’t fear being alone! Embrace your independence.
You can do this by exploring a new neighborhood in Copenhagen by yourself, or taking a spontaneous solo weekend trip. Traveling by yourself and doing other solo activities are exciting opportunities for self-growth and discovery. These experiences result in getting to see more of the places you want to see and doing the things you want to do, maximizing your opportunities for adventure. You can even go wild and go to the gift shop BEFORE seeing the museum! Navigating life a little more independently is a great experience and will surely boost your confidence.
11) Learn about yourself
Now that you have all this great advice, just remember that your experience abroad will impact you. There is a lot you can learn about yourself if you just take the time to be a little introspective. You could learn that you love to travel frequently, that you like to travel alone, or that you have a keen interest in foreign history and museums. On the flip side, you might also realize that you don’t like to fly on budget airlines, that you would rather spend three instead of one-and-a-half days in a new country, or that spending four continuous months away from family is not something you would want to do again. Being abroad is a formative time. So, you should set aside time to reflect on your experience here.
Decompress. Journal. Make a blog. Draw. Whatever works for you, just don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn about yourself this semester.
Who did this advice come from? Contributors from the Fall 2017 Semester Cultural History of Travel course are the following:
Allison – Sewanee, University of the South
Ayanna – Wesleyan University
Caroline – Dickinson College
Casey – Bucknell University
Chase – Yale University
Claire – University of Richmond
Courtenay – Grinnell College
Danielle – Providence College
Delani – Loyola University Maryland
Elizabeth – Tulane University
Eric – University of Richmond
Erin – Fordham University
John – Providence College
Katie – Emory University
Mary – Goucher College
Mary – Wake Forest University
Micaela – Tufts University
Rebecca – University of Richmond
Ryan – Vanderbilt University
Shanique – University of Rochester
Sophie – Smith College