Adopting a New Home: Q&A with Emily, Gettysburg College

Emily, Gettysburg College, waited patiently during the spring 2021 semester to be able to hop on a plane and arrive in Copenhagen. When finally on Danish ground, time flew by, and Emily realized that Copenhagen had become a second home. With many more items on her bucket list, and very little time left, she decided extend her time in Denmark to the fall 2021 semester.

We sat down with Emily to hear more about her time with DIS so far, and how the fall 2021 semester in Copenhagen compares to the last:

DIS: Why did you choose DIS?

E: Before considering DIS, I knew very little about Scandinavia, let alone where Denmark was. When considering where to go, my advisor introduced me to Denmark’s culture of biking, sustainability, and ‘hygge’, and those things really caught my attention. While looking at what DIS had to offer, I was drawn in by the research opportunities and some of the really unique courses that focused on topics that I was interested in.

I was really excited by the Sustainable Food Core Course because it combined some of my biggest interests in a really unique way: sustainability, food culture, and human health. I had never seen a class that focused on the food system specifically, so I was really excited to be able to explore that subject, and to do it in a place where there is a lot more emphasis on organic food and the long-term impacts on the environment.

While looking at what DIS had to offer, I was drawn in by the research opportunities and some of the really unique courses that focused on topics that I was interested in.

DIS: What was your journey leading up to studying abroad with DIS like?

E: Leading up to studying abroad with DIS, I did a lot of watching videos and reading articles to try and learn what I could about the culture before I would arrive, so I wasn’t too caught off guard. I was also really excited to get out of the rut of COVID, so I spent a lot of time getting excited to travel to Denmark. I also had a really good friend coming to DIS with me in the spring, so we had each other to bounce excitement off of.

It was really difficult to wait indefinitely for the border to open (especially because I was taking the intensive Danish language and culture course, so I was learning the language and history from the U.S.). That made it all the more special though when we finally were able to fly in late April, and I could finally go see all of the sites we had talked about in class, and meet all of my classmates in-person!

DIS: What made you choose to extend your semester?

E: Originally, I had only planned to study abroad for one semester. However, when COVID forced the first part of my semester with DIS to be taken from home in the spring, I still really wanted to have the study abroad experience that I felt was a critical part of my college experience. When I was deciding where to go for my second semester, I found myself comparing all of the other programs to the DIS program I was a part at that time. I had loved my professors; the DIS faculty are so enthusiastic and interested in their subjects, and it was so much fun just listening to them talk. I also really appreciated how the professors took a unique approach to teaching, where the classes were more discussion- and project-based. I didn’t want the unique experience to end.

DIS: What have you learned from your past semester at DIS?

E: I have learned how to explore in a creative way. I made it a point to explore something new every day, whether it was a new café, a quirky park, an old neighborhood, or an odd art museum. I learned to push myself out of my comfort zone and just see what was out there!

Another discovery from this semester that really sticks out to me is how there are such different ways to learn. I remember discussing, in my Danish class, about the forest kindergartens that many Danes send their children to, where the kids spend a lot of time outside and learning by interacting with nature. That was so different than anything I had heard of in the U.S., and combined with the discussion-based classes I was experiencing at DIS, it kind of shifted what how I see the process of learning in general.

DIS: What has been the most surprising thing about Copenhagen/Denmark?

E: As much as I learned before coming, I was surprised by how common the Danish flag is all over the country! It is used at birthday parties, it is outside bakeries, on some of the city busses, in the grocery store logos, in many people’s yards, and even on the clapping/mitten hats that are worn at sporting events.

I had heard that it was common for Danes to leave babies outside of stores when they went in, but what actually surprised me was how many very young children are biking on their own in the city. There is a different dynamic in how people go about their lives, and I think I also saw that in the work-life balance of my Homestay family. There is a bigger emphasis on living comfortably, rather than over-working, and I actually found that really inspiring as well!

DIS: What have some of your favorite activities been, and what do you look forward to doing?

E: This fall so far, some of my favorite activities have been spending time with my Career Connection host mom, and going to some of the DIS-organized events, like the Absalon community dinner and the Sanke (foraging) tour on Amager.

I am also looking forward to volunteering at ØsterGro, a rooftop garden in Copenhagen. In the few times that I have been, the other volunteers have been really welcoming and like-minded, so I am looking forward to spending more time up there, meeting new people and getting to work in an environment that I enjoy (and miss) from home!

Later in the semester, I am looking forward to my Study Tour, in Tromsø, Norway. Denmark is the first European country that I have ever been to, so I am looking forward to being able to travel, while learning more about Tromsø’s relationship to the polar ecosystems.

I love biking in the city; it is such an iconic part of living in Copenhagen, and I often tell people that biking in the city makes me feel like I am part of Denmark’s heartbeat.

DIS: Now that you have been away from home for a while, how have you made Copenhagen your home? What does Copenhagen mean to you?

E: The transportation is one of the biggest ways that I have learned to feel at home at Copenhagen! I either take the train into the city, or, if I have the time, take the long bike ride in from my Homestay. I love biking in the city; it is such an iconic part of living in Copenhagen, and I often tell people that biking in the city makes me feel like I am part of Denmark’s heartbeat. Even going out to explore on my own has been really influential, because it helps me to have my own special connection and experiences with the city that I can cherish. In another sense, Copenhagen is the home-base. While there is so much to do and see in the city, some of my favorite memories are from going far outside the city, from Bakken or Ishøj strand, or all the way up to Skagen!

DIS: What Core Course did you choose, and what have been some of the highlights so far?

E: This semester, my Core Course is Polar Biology, and I chose it because of my interest in the environment and the fact that it offered such unique opportunities to see parts of nature that I would probably never have the chance to see otherwise. In the U.S., my college is in a very rural region on the East Coast. If not for studying abroad, I would never have been able to observe the migrating starling birds form the Sort Sol, or see hundreds of harbor seals in-person from a UNESCO World Heritage site called the Wadden Sea, on our 3-day Study Tour to Ribe, Fanø, and Esbjerg.

Wadden Sea, Taken during Core Course week with Polar Biology

DIS: Has studying in Denmark been different from studying in the U.S.?

E: Studying with DIS has been so much more experiential than studying in the U.S.. Field trips are built into the curriculum at DIS, which creates a more immersive experience. One of my favorite activities so far has been going on my Core Course’s Study Tour to Western Denmark to the Wadden Sea. It is one thing to learn about the biodiversity of an area, but it is another to observe and feel the organisms you’re learning about in their natural environments.

DIS: What are the main reflections you’ve had since coming here; do any specific experiences or realizations stand out to you about your time in Copenhagen?

E: Some of the most impactful experiences that I’ve had have been with my host family. I was their first host student and it was a period of growth for all of us, as we learned how to deal with each other’s differences, to communicate, ask each other lots of questions, and of course have some fun moments together too. I realized that being able to experience Denmark through the eyes of resident Danes had helped me to acclimate a little more easily.

DIS: If a future student were to ask you for advice about going abroad to Copenhagen, what would you tell them?

E: This one is easy: always have a poncho with you wherever you go! I have stopped relying on my weather app almost entirely, because most of the time, the weather has a mind of its own. But I would also tell them to learn which side of the metro track to get on, and just go explore. I choose to do Google Maps searches for interesting places, and then I just set out that day to go explore it. I have found so much joy in just getting out! And although it may seem intimidating, riding a bike in Copenhagen can be a lot of fun!

Learn more about DIS:

>> Take a look at all the semester courses at DIS Copenhagen

>> Check out the @dis.copenhagen Instagram for more stories like Emily’s

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