Finding Belonging: A Letter to Students of Color in Scandinavia

Breanna, Wellesley College, spent a semester abroad with DIS Copenhagen. In this blog piece, she explores what studying abroad in Denmark is like for a student of color. Breanna shares her own observations, as well as advice for future incoming students.

Read below to learn more about Breanna’s time in Copenhagen and what her main takeaways are from her experience of studying abroad.

I leave my apartment building in Central Copenhagen and greet another nippy, bustling morning in a country thousands of miles from my home in coastal Virginia. The sight of the cobblestone paths, townhouses, and biking commuters fills me with a strange mixture of affection and longing for this city. On one hand, I can almost picture the alternate reality where I was born and raised here, a reality where my longing is replaced with nostalgia and the deep-rooted familiarity that can only be invoked by one’s childhood hometown. But on the other hand, I’m distinctly aware of the racial boundary preventing me from blending in as a local during my morning commute to my classes.

There’s likely a contingent of prospective DIS students who are concerned about the unique tribulations that being a student of color in Scandinavia might bring.

I’m sure that many other DIS students of color have felt this invisible boundary as well, and there’s likely a contingent of prospective DIS students who are concerned about the unique tribulations that being a student of color in Scandinavia might bring; that’s why I’ve chosen to share advice and practicalities for anyone who needs guidance upon embarking on their Scandinavian journey.

In anticipation of the fish-out-of-water situation that I knew I would be encountering by uprooting myself temporarily to live in Scandinavia, I covered practicalities first, like packing hair products that I knew wouldn’t be readily available in Copenhagen. Before take-off, I highly suggest that all DIS students pack specialty hair and skincare products with limited availability abroad. Be sure to stock up on travel-size liquid containers—it will make traveling with your products much easier during those fun weekend trips across Europe! Unfortunately for those who have a favorite hair dryer or flat iron at home, these products usually don’t meet the voltage standards required by Scandinavian outlets, and will likely need to be purchased when you arrive. By the time I had finished packing, I was already well-researched when it came to what to expect as an American arriving in Copenhagen. I read the DIS blog posts, lifestyle guides, and student testimonials to get an idea of what DIS would be like, and I felt ready to take on my new Scandinavian home.

I highly suggest that all DIS students pack specialty hair and skin care products with limited availability abroad.

Once abroad and settling into the rhythm of my new life, I found an encouraging collection of resources that improved my entire experience at DIS. The most important resource was simply the many opportunities I was provided to meet other students with the same experiences and challenges as me; this came in the form of DIS meet-ups and the myriad of community spaces that DIS offers, such as the DIS Hub. Meeting and connecting with the friends I made in these spaces has been perhaps my greatest asset in terms of staying grounded and hopeful in my new home. Outside of DIS events, a popular spot is African House on Abel Cathrines Gade, a veritable treasure trove for products, foodstuffs, and anything else you might want (and the staff there also happen to be passionate about sharing their culture and helping out their customers!). There is also a wealth of cafes, bars, and specialty events happening around Copenhagen. I encourage DIS students to find their own personal favorite spots, and exploring the area around the DIS campus is a great start!

With this being said, it’s a sad reality that the study abroad experience is not always picture perfect, and for many students of color studying abroad, this is due to the differential treatment they receive as a result of their race. This is where those resources I mentioned come in; no one can control the actions of the small (yet still present) percentage of Scandinavians who are intolerant, but you (you, reading this right now) have the power to surround yourself with emotionally supportive friends and/or DIS Care Team members. Remember, it’s your study abroad experience and no one can take away the life-changing memories and connections you make here. You belong here as much as any other student in Copenhagen. Hold that truth within yourself.

You belong here as much as any other student in Copenhagen. Hold that truth within yourself.

On the radiant December day on which I write this, I hope I’ve made a positive impact on prospective, current, and past DIS students. My study abroad experience helped me to grow, learn, and change, and I will cherish every moment I spent here in Copenhagen. Though some aspects of travel can be quite taxing, especially for travelers of color, that doesn’t negate the valuable, unforgettable experience that travel can bring. The memories of studying abroad will always be with me, and the sense of adventure will last a lifetime.

More about DIS Copenhagen

>> Diversity Resources: Copenhagen

>> Diversity Resources: Stockholm

>> DIS Copenhagen

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

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