Living in the present: Nala’s Homestay experience in Copenhagen

For Nala (she/her), Northwestern University, there was uncertainty in what being abroad with DIS Copenhagen would look like. She shares her reflections on how being in a Homestay grounded her, how her identities informed her time, and the phases of studying abroad.

Nala sits with her host parents and dog. Photo by Student Photographer Ellen Hu.

My identities heavily influenced my study abroad experience. Some of my identities include being Black, queer, spiritual, and low-income. One of the main reasons why I chose to go to Denmark is because I did not know any Black or queer people from my personal life who had gone to study in a Scandinavian country before. There were a couple of blogs and videos I was able to discover but there was not a lot of information on what it is like to have a marginalized identity in Denmark. Due to my ambitious nature, I wanted to take a leap of faith and try something totally new. Additionally, at the beginning of 2022, I made the decision to manifest traveling more. For me, this looked like visualizing myself on long plane rides and reciting affirmations that proclaimed my openness to travel the globe. Even though I was not sure how I was going to actually make it there, I just knew in my soul that I wanted to make it happen.

Welcome to Copenhagen!

And thus, my manifestation came to fruition. I received the email from DIS that stated “Congratulations! You have been accepted for Fall Semester, 2022 at DIS Copenhagen”. I was filled with joy and anticipation. I eventually registered for classes and signed up for my preferred housing placement. I felt so ready to get out of America and head to Scandinavia, eager to be a part of outlining experiences for Black students abroad.

When deciding whether I wanted to stay in a Homestay or communal living space, I had a couple of goals in mind that helped me in making the decision. I wanted to learn an entirely new language as well as grow deeply and multi-dimensionally. I also felt that I would certainly benefit from a structured environment.  With this, I felt that staying in a Homestay would be most beneficial for me.

I was greeted with a big hug by every single family member. It immediately made me feel safe and feel like I was part of the family.

In meeting my host family for the first time, I was greeted with a big hug by every single family member. It immediately made me feel safe and feel like I was part of the family. Upon arriving at my new home for the next four months, we all sat down to have a conversation about what the family dynamic looked like, certain guidelines in the house, and how I felt about being in Denmark for a semester. I referred to a document of questions that DIS had supplied Homestay students with in order to get to know my new family better. There were questions ranging from “Am I expected to be home by a certain time?” to “Is there a time limit on my time in the shower?”. I thought this was a great way to set boundaries and ensure that everyone is on the same page. 

The Family Dynamic

My Homestay family includes my boss lady host mom, Tanja; my hilarious comedian host dad, Lars; and my two talented and beautiful host sisters, My and Lily who are 13 and 12 respectively. We live in a town called Brønshøj (pronounced like brun-shoy) which is part of the Copenhagen municipality. I take the bus for a quiet and comfortable 30-minute journey to get to DIS. One of my favorite memories about living in Brønshøj is getting to see the neighborhood on Halloween night. I do have to admit, Denmark does a much better job celebrating Halloween in the neighborhoods than the States. People really get into character! For example, there was a zombie-themed trunk-or-treat at the end of the neighborhood in which there were people dressed as zombies surrounding a car. They limped around, seeming as lifeless as a real zombie. This particular experience impressed me the most about Denmark.

Nala sits with her host siblings. Photo by Student Photographer Ellen Hu.

Before coming to Denmark, I had never been to Europe before. And so, naturally, there were some things I was nervous about, especially concerning being perceived as a Black woman. I had this recurring nightmare about getting the police called on me by neighbors. While I was not so sure what to expect from Denmark, I now recognize that this is a very Black American experience to dread. After being in Denmark for a few months, I observed that no one in the neighborhood really perceived me like I am perceived in particular areas back home. Instead of odd stares, I got smiles and “God morgen” being said to me. It made me feel acknowledged, which was certainly a pleasant surprise.

I had some expectations about living with a host family but truthfully, I was prepared for them to not be met. I knew I wanted to have a decent relationship with the family I would be living with and I knew I wanted to learn more about Denmark. It never crossed my mind that I would have such an amazing, caring, and considerate family who would treat me as their own. As cheesy as it sounds, my host family is one of the main reasons why I was able to push through and make it through each day.

It never crossed my mind that I would have such an amazing, caring, and considerate family who would treat me as their own.

During the middle of my stay in Denmark, I went through an extreme bout of homesickness and depression. I felt so lonely, misunderstood, and just sad overall. I had a talk with my host parents individually about what I had been going through. It was difficult but freeing to have a talk with my parents about my mental health struggles. There were not any excuses or victim-blaming during the conversation — just active listening and concern. In the conversation with my host mom, I remember her saying that there are oftentimes many stages of being abroad. “In the beginning, it can feel really exciting but as time goes on you can begin to feel isolated. In the end, you may feel sad.” I loved that she was able to help me define my experience. It made me think about how no one really talks about the stages of studying abroad and how your emotions can change so quickly.

The Four Phases of Studying Abroad

There were so many ups and downs during my journey in Denmark. Therefore, I have taken a lot of time to reflect on what has happened these past four months. One reflection is thinking about the emotions that come with studying abroad. So, with my host mom’s wise words in mind, here are four phases of studying abroad that may help characterize your study experience.

  • The first stage is Enthusiasm. It can feel so exciting to be in a new place. You may feel spontaneous and feel the need to make as many connections as possible. You feel like to need to do everything right then and there or you’ll explode from all the eagerness in your body!
  • The second stage is Homesickness. You have been in the new place for a while and now you may feel lonely, especially if none of your friends from back home are with you. You may miss certain dishes or that one thing you do with loved ones from back home.
  • The third stage is Acceptance. You may feel calm and adjusted in this new place. You feel ready to tackle any challenges that stand in your way because you understand that you are meant to be here.
  • The last stage is Reflection. You may feel sad to go back home and perhaps grateful for your time abroad. You may think of all the incredible things you’ve experienced and all the unforgettable trips you have traveled to.

It is important to understand that these stages do not have to occur linearly. You can bounce from stage three to one to two to four. What matters most is that what you are feeling during any of these stages is completely normal.

Reflections and Advice

Another big takeaway for me is to listen to your body. For some people, this means listening to your intuition while for others this can be defined as listening to your gut feeling. Being in a new place can feel so exciting and you may feel like you want to do everything all at once. But making sure to prioritize your health and wellbeing is key to having a good time. Before deciding to travel to another country or even simply go out at night, it’s totally valid to take a deep breath and think: Do I honestly have the energy to do this at this moment? Whatever your body responds with is what you should do!

I have always loved the idea of being more present in my daily life but found it tough to execute daily. But while being in Denmark, I dived right into being present the moment I sat down at the family table.

Something my host family taught me was the concept of being in the present moment. I have always loved the idea of being more present in my daily life but found it tough to execute daily. But while being in Denmark, I dived right into being present the moment I sat down at the family table. They have a sort of unspoken rule that they do not use electronic devices when they eat meals together. I found this quite beautiful as it allows us to connect deeply with each other and see how we are truly doing. We can talk about school, work, reflections on the Netflix show Wednesday, and so much more. Even if you are not in a Homestay, I highly recommend eating dinner with your roommates or friends in this way.

Finally, make a list of things you would like to do as you spend your time abroad! As someone who is an avid planner, I decided to try something a little bit different this time around – I had no plans. I thought that having an extensive bucket list would stress me out and do more harm than good. However, I think that having a small list of places that you dream of visiting is helpful to have as it could make you look forward to each day you spend abroad. If you are not able to visit a few places on your list, it is also essential that you give yourself grace and appreciate the places or things that you have been able to experience.

Resources around DIS and Copenhagen

In terms of resources, I found that the Students of Color affinity group created by DIS was quite nice. Other than meeting some great people in this group, it felt very validating to learn about other students of color and their experiences in Copenhagen. It was also nice to bond over yummy food and dialogues. I highly suggest joining an affinity group whether it is part of DIS or part of the broader Copenhagen community.

It felt very validating to learn about other students of color and their experiences in Copenhagen.

I love the DIS Navigate app as they give more detailed resources about events happening around Copenhagen, places to study in Copenhagen, and even numbers to call if you need help of any kind. This will be your top-used app (other than the DSB travel app) while you are studying abroad with DIS.

All the best to you with your study abroad travels! If you have any questions, comments, or simply want to talk, feel free to reach out to me at

Learn more about Homestays and being a Black student in Copenhagen:

>> what’s it like being a Black student in COPENHAGEN…studying abroad in Denmark
>> Danika Found a New Home in Espergærde
>> Homestays at DIS Copenhagen

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