After all this time, I’m finally somewhere else.
Going abroad feels like starting anew. Not just in the sense that you’re plunging yourself into an unfamiliar place, language, setting, or that you’re meeting new people. You’re crafting yourself anew. Continuing to write the story of you, but in a different color pen.
That’s what it feels like.
If traveling forces you to turn perspective on its head, studying abroad is something else entirely. It’s learning about the potential for a life you scarcely knew could exist. It’s confronting the realization that the place serving as a learning experience for you is a permanent home to others. And so you accept a little bit of that home into yourself, you absorb it. It’s a pretty beautiful realization, isn’t it though? The idea that this is what life could be.
So as daunting as it was to leave the familiar after so many months in the same place… I’m so excited to get a dose of fresh perspective.
I’m Simran, and this summer I’m studying abroad at DIS Copenhagen. I’m taking two classes: Sustainable Business Strategy and Nordic Culinary Culture. At my home college, Northeastern University in Boston, I’m a business major with dual minors in Sustainable Business Practices and Environmental Studies.
So far, the integration of course material with the city has been stunning. In my Sustainable Business Strategy class, we’ve already had three guest speakers and have taken field trips to visit local businesses. (That explains the mid-class ice cream break, right?) I’ll be covering the class, as well as an exploration of Copenhagen’s sustainability mindset, in-depth in a future blog post.
My reason for going to Copenhagen could have been any endless number of alluring things: the whir of bicycle wheels on cobblestone; the tiny, bitter espressos served on wooden tables outside warm coffee shops; the multicolored buildings framing canals teeming with life in the summers. Before I came here, I kept hearing that Denmark was one of the happiest countries in the world; I kept wondering why. (I kept being a little bit obsessed.)
But my primary driver for studying here is actually sustainability. The DIS program is recommended by my university for Sustainable Business Practices students, and I’ve been looking forward to studying in Copenhagen since my second year. Particularly, I admire the way DIS integrates the city into classes, and I can already tell from firsthand experience that the combination is seamless.
I’ve also already seen sustainability in action here—in fact, it’s impossible to avoid. Copenhagen is the greenest major city in the world, and is committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2025. I’m planning an in-depth blog post about sustainable initiatives here, but for now I’ll say this: it’s not just the biking. I’ve been in the city for three days and I can already feel it. It’s a collective conscientiousness, a feeling of mutual responsibility and trust that, to be honest, might be impossible to quantify, force, or imitate.
Now for the good stuff! We spent our first few days here in hotels due to a 4-day quarantine required by the Danish government. (Yes, even if you’re vaccinated, but fingers crossed it’s lifted soon.) While unfortunate, it did give me a chance to research everything I could about the city. As a self-professed foodie, I will say that this research consisted mostly of me staring longingly at photos from the local cafés and famous bakeries and rewatching the Copenhagen episode of Somebody Feed Phil.
(I also watched Eurovision, but that’s neither here nor there.)
On Sunday, we finally moved to our housing. Many of us are living in Kollegiums, where we share apartments with local students. I was nervous to live with Danish students, but when I entered my new flat, I immediately saw Velkommen, Simran! written in huge letters on the whiteboard. Turns out my flat is quite international—I live with a German girl, an Italian guy, and a Danish guy! They are absolutely wonderful, and after I settled in we cooked dinner together. Later that evening they even invited me to hang out on a nearby rooftop with some of their Danish and Icelandic friends.
On Monday I had breakfast at a café that matched my outfit (total coincidence, I swear), went to class, and got my bike!
Ask any Dane: bicycle is definitely the most authentic way to see the city. Many of my friends in the program are intimidated, but the massive bike lanes here—separated from the street itself—seem absolutely luxurious compared to the cramped biking conditions in Boston. I’ve had the most wonderful time biking here so far.
I biked back to Nimbus Kollegium, got lost, accidentally saw the Copenhagen lakes, got lost again, accidentally biked through a beautiful path paved with greenery…
And of course the weather was glorious.
On Tuesday, I biked to class and stopped for a pastry and a coffee at Lagkagehuset, one of the many bakeries on my list. We took a small field trip to see the headquarters of Maersk, the shipping company where my professor used to work. Luckily for us, it’s right by Nyhavn—that iconic central canal of Copenhagen lined with colorful buildings.
I must say it’s even better than the photos.
I probably spent ten minutes just gaping at it and I’m still not over it. I feel like my computer desktop came to life and ate me. I feel like I’m in a fairy tale.
It was gorgeous, idyllic and peaceful on a Tuesday morning. We strolled along and it was a dream.
Wednesday’s class found us on a field trip to Jaegersborggade, a trendy street filled with local artisan shops. In the afternoon I visited the gardens of the Royal Library, then continued on with a friend to Christianshavn. We climbed up the twisty, spiral tower of the Church of Our Saviour—it looks, to me, like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. The 360 views of the city from the top were indescribably gorgeous.
Afterwards, we found one of the Forgotten Giants!
And let’s not forget this random toilet in Christiania that I thought was pretty. The town—a collectively controlled commune—is very eclectic and has an interesting and at times tenuous history. It felt so different from the rest of Copenhagen that I think I’d like to return after doing more research or sign up for an official walking tour. (You can read more here.)
We passed the evening in the King’s Gardens, right in the shadow of Rosenborg Castle, surrounded by groups of Danes laughing and enjoying the sunshine.
What I’ve learned:
Everything is in Danish. People will have you believe that everything is in English here. It’s true that almost everyone speaks fantastic English and you won’t have a problem getting around. But the primary language spoken is Danish; the street signs are in Danish, your groceries are in Danish, if you walk into a store and say “hi”—pronounced the same as the Danish hej—the shopkeeper will greet you back in Danish. I do wish I’d taken a lesson or two before arriving.
Everyone really does dress nicely here. In the city, people dress up even for casual outings. There are a lot of longline blazers and knee-length jackets, straight-cut trousers, stylish boots, and baggy summer dresses. It’s been three days and I’m already prepared to toss out the graphic tees I brought.
A bigger carry-on? I convinced myself I wouldn’t buy much. I also forgot that DIS takes us on week-long study tours in Sessions 2 and 3! Spoiler: you’ll buy stuff. If nothing else, chocolate to take home. 🙂 Do yourself a favor and bring a half-empty carry-on with you—the largest allowed by your airline.
It never gets dark. Well, it does—at 10:30pm. This will mess you up. Your jet lag will last a millennium. Make peace with it. The long days absolutely have more perks than drawbacks!
When people talk about cafés on every corner, it’s not an exaggeration. There really is café on every corner. You can’t walk ten steps without stumbling across an adorable pastry shop or café. Copenhagen is full to bursting with pastry shops, and it’s divine. I have no complaints. (I plan to try every single one.)
And speaking of:
Simmi’s Food & Coffee Recs:
Juno the Bakery: this hidden gem in Østerbro boasts the best kardemommesnurrer, or cardamom “spins”—like twisty buns—in Copenhagen. I actually received three separate recommendations from an Estonian, an American, and a local! Guys, it’s true—I’ve had a warm kardemommesnurre and now I can die happy. I think it was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. It’s out of the way, but 100% worth it. Bike there in the morning—you won’t regret it.
Coffee Collective: the best coffee I’ve had in Copenhagen so far! A wonderfully smooth espresso with no bitterness at all, and even a hint of sweetness and aromatics. It’s ethical and sustainable, which is a plus. 🙂
Little Yellow Café, or Den Lille Gule Kaffebar — a charming spot just down the street from DIS, with great coffee and an excellent Danish pancake plate. I loved studying here over brunch.
Broens Gadekøkken — a global melting pot of upscale street food right next to Nyhavn. Check out the famous Gasoline Grill for a perfect burger, grab a crepe or a crescia, or dig into a bowl of dan dan noodles. You can’t go wrong.
Sankt Peder’s Bageri — high key recommendation, definitely popular with DIS students! Everything is only 20 dkk (about $3) and on Wednesdays they have giant kanelsnegl, or cinnamon rolls. (Well, cinnamon snails, but it doesn’t sound so cute in English.) It’s right down the street from DIS and I will certainly be going back. Maybe even every day.
Hija de Sanchez — I kept hearing that the best taquería in the world is not in Mexico, but is apparently in Copenhagen. Tough sell for someone from San Diego so I had to check it out myself. I went to the stand in Torvehallerne, or the glass market, and you honestly can’t go wrong with any stall there. However, I can confirm that the taco from Hija de Sanchez was one of the best I’ve ever had. I definitely plan on visiting the other locations for a full experience, including craft paletas.
Summerbird — also in Torvehallerne. I am constantly in search of good chocolate. I got a little strawberry-rhubarb bonbon here for ~11 dkk, and it was absolutely luscious. Lucky for me they have another location less than five minutes from my Kollegium. 🙂
Christiania Falafel — this unassuming falafel stand right in the main square of Freetown Christiania was seriously some of the best I’ve ever had. The man fried the falafel and grilled the halloumi cheese right in front of my eyes, then topped it off with the most delicious pomegranate sauce. $10 and delicious – just make sure to bring cash!
Isobar — organic, creamy, divine ice cream right off Nyhavn. Grab a scoop of blood orange or elderflower with guf, the classic meringue-like Danish ice cream topping, then sit along the canal on a sunny day and enjoy.
Lagkagehuset — a popular chain. It means layer-cake house and it lives up to the name. The pastries are all delicious; I got a kløbenbolle, a fruit bread topped with almonds.
Brødflov — bread is in the title, so you know it’s good. A danish specialty I tried here are tebirkes, poppy seed croissants. Enjoy with your feet dangling over a canal for full effect.