Reflection on the Anxieties of Study Abroad

Hey everyone! My name is Kat, a rising senior from Ohio who has been writing about my time with DIS Copenhagen for the past month or so. Well…. I am officially two sessions down and have made the move this past weekend to Stockholm for my third session! I have been lucky enough to do the mix & match program and chose to spend 10 weeks traveling within Scandinavia and beyond. I thought since this is the transition period for me before I really get to know Stockholm, I would like to share an honest reflection post about my time abroad so far.

Stockholm, where I just started my third session of class

A large part of studying abroad is the social aspect. Scandinavia isn’t exactly the place to experience much culture shock which makes it easy to adapt to and a relatively familiar experience for most visitors because of the ability to speak English. With that kind of barrier dissolved, studying in Scandinavia is a kind of freeing experience for most students who want to go abroad in a place parallel to their homes but with the upgraded, European sophistication that Americans glamorize. I had ideas about spontaneity and this kind of freedom but I mostly came into DIS with just enough hopeful optimism that I would meet people I liked and could hopefully spend time with them outside of class.

But I also came to DIS knowing that there is a lot of sacrifice and trials that I have endured to get here which makes it difficult for me to feel like I can let myself lift my burdens to be a more spontaneous person abroad. I have mentioned this before but I am a Gilman scholar, which means that a part of my tuition here was paid for by the US government to help send low-income students like me abroad. My school, Denison University, also pulled some strings and paid a portion of my tuition as well which was absolutely wonderful and I am grateful for them. But I paid everything else out of my pocket and the classes here are going towards my International Studies major for my senior research project. That means that I’m not only trying to take these classes now but I am taking extensive steps to try to think about how the conclusions in these classes will intertwine into my research for the coming fall semester.

It’s a lot and I’ve never exactly been one to shy away from shouldering a lot of responsibility. But I think it’s been really difficult to articulate how much this has been burdening me and I hadn’t really thought much about it before the prompt for this week’s blog post. “Wild Card”. Last Wild Card prompt, I wrote about my work at the radio station back at school and I compiled a list of Danish songs I really liked. It was a fluffy piece but I make playlists a lot in my free time and love sharing music so it made total sense to write about. For this week, I just kept thinking about what else I have been doing in my free time here and it was kind of… inconclusive. I listen to music on my commute to school everyday, easy money to talk about. But I come home and I cook and I sleep and I do go out some nights but mostly I just exist. I remembered that I pitched something when I applied to the blog about movies and I realized I haven’t really seen much since I’ve been here, even though that was a HUGE hope of mine. So in a way I will be talking about film but this post is about expectations and how study abroad has made me contemplate how I have had to wrestle with some of the pressure I have put on myself in these summer months.

Near the entrance of the mall in Købyen, Copenhagen’s meatpacking district

I was wildly shocked at the price of movie tickets in Copenhagen. I am working on a video service project for my Gilman scholarship about my time abroad and part of it will be about Scandinavia film culture- I am an International Studies and Cinema double major- so I wanted to incorporate cinemas in CPH into my video. I was looking at ticket prices at the beginning of my first session, trying to scope out the best days and spots where I could find the cheapest tickets. Back home in Ohio, I exclusively go to $5 Tuesdays at the mall theater across town when my mom can drop me off since I can’t drive. In CPH, I figured I’ve got the transportation here- I just need to find a cheap place to go.

I can tell you right here and now that cinemas in Scandinavia do not work like that. I think Copenhagen just in general does not know what a discount is. Denmark has its own film pricing system- I cross-checked multiple Reddit and TripAdvisors threads- that made me laugh out loud in incredulity and I promised myself internally that I would pay strict attention to my budget. Financial stress is absolutely my biggest insecurity and I spend a lot of time policing myself on what I can and cannot do with what I have, so it wasn’t that difficult to avoid the movies. Even in the States, I don’t watch much. Despite being a cinema major, I try not to watch a lot of films at school because of my multiple jobs and the course load of multiple majors. I mostly reserve films and tv for my free time back home on winter or summer breaks when I watch to decompress. I tried to stick to that principle here to help me focus on academics and to be able spend my free time getting to know the people around me instead of being passive and alone. Avoiding the theater was even easier not just because it’s expensive compared to home, but it is also out of the way unless you really commit to going, which takes time that you don’t always have when you spend most of your day in class. That was my thinking anyway.

But there was one day when I was just having a terrible, horrible time. Everything was too expensive, I was frustrated with responsibilities for school, and feeling like it was a huge burden to be abroad. And the homesickness finally hit me and I missed my mom which is just too much when you already feel like you’ve doomed yourself by choosing to go away. I was wallowing alone while my roommate was traveling and it was too early to call anyone back home so I was just stuck, stuck, stuck in my apartment. I put on a podcast to be able to hear someone else’s voice- a now laughably miserable low point. But I had it on in the background when I remembered an earlier episode hearing one of the hosts explain that his favorite movie experiences were when he was studying abroad in London and got to see films after he went to class because he could do that for the first time.

And I realized- I can do that! I can allow myself room to do what I would like to do. I am allowed to unburden myself for an evening! My silly adherence to some ritual I have back at school is not healthy or sustainable for me when I am trying my best to function outside of the schedule I set up for myself back in the States. And it is summer! I can walk or take the metro to a movie theater and I can spend a day for myself and I don’t even have to tell anyone. I can just do it.

So I did. I got really dressed up in my nice cheetah skirt (typically reserved for class presentations or birthday dinners) and really cute earrings. And I did a meticulous makeup routine from a tutorial I saved from TikTok that took an hour. And I just left. Went across the city to Købyen and saw Top Gun: Maverick in a huge theater.

And I cried!! I cried through the whole thing! 6 or 7 bouts of tears. There’s photo documentation of me hiding out in the theater bathroom afterwards (not included in this article so I don’t embarrass myself) where I had cried everything off- not even mascara tracks because the rounds of tears washed every trace of makeup away. Hiding because who sobs after watching the sequel to Top Gun? But I think that was one of the most extremely cathartic moments of my time abroad. Because it is such a privilege to be here and no one likes to complain! No one likes to say anything beyond mild inconveniences because the weather is nice and the people are friendly and the city has so many opportunities. But I was so angry at feeling miserable for myself and just let it all out. And I had been restricting myself from actually enjoying myself in whatever way I wanted to spend it instead of trying to be on top of my budget and on top of whatever work and trying to make excuses to avoid letting myself breathe for a few hours. I realized I had to go out there. I had to spend a ridiculous $16 on a movie ticket and then buy a Coke and popcorn and cry through Miles Teller dancing on the beach. Because I had to take that time alone in a theater so I could feel more like a person instead of a little mechanical NPC that I had felt like for the few weeks I had been in Copenhagen.

The view from my room now in Stockholm, which has been lovely to sit in front of and read

I have never been good at spontaneity despite the type of person I have tried to be abroad. There is more of a compulsion to take advantage of the moments you have here, to reach out to new people, to take the opportunities to go places when you’re invited out, and to explore the city with classmates or dates or friends. But no one really tells you to be alone when you need to be. And I am so pro-alone. I like spending time with myself more than I do anyone else. But it has been so strange trying to pull yourself into a space where the expectations are that you have been given this ridiculous, crazy opportunity and you should be grateful for it.

And I am grateful 95% of the time. I would like to make that officially clear. But I feel bad for being here and taking up space when I am not on top of everything, when I don’t stick to the rules I have set out for myself. And I guess that’s why I am writing this blog post. Everything else I have written has been very positive about study abroad but there are a lot of pressures with it that I wish I had really gotten to look into and contemplate before coming. It wouldn’t have changed my decision to study abroad. I’m looking at grad school abroad because I love this, I love being somewhere new and getting to know who I am in a new environment. But there are factors that will go into making this hard for anyone: family, money, academics, etc, and the worst part is that they will change and evolve once you get here because you cannot plan out your anxieties. And all I can really say is that I think my biggest help in adjusting here has been forgiving myself for feeling like I cannot do absolutely everything. I need to spend more time alone. I need to splurge and buy a ridiculously priced ticket to go see Top Gun or Elvis or whatever when I’m feeling the pressure because it’s a balancing act. Studying abroad is not gonna be glamorous all the time so take yourself out, read more books, watch more movies, go window shopping. Do whatever you need to do to feel like yourself when you are somewhere new. This experience is supposed to be about you and your personal happiness and growth so please: take the time for yourself.

Study Abroad This Summer with DIS:

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