My STEP Signature Project entailed an education abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark for the whole summer. I took three classes, traveled to eight countries, and made some lifelong friendships along the way. Over the summer, my confidence soared and I spent those 11 weeks getting to know the most important person, myself.
While completing my project, my view of myself changed entirely. It sounds so cliché, but I left America as a girl and came back a woman. I watched myself take risks and yet at the same time, I learned my limits. I took on the role of leader, supporter, navigator, and problem solver. My view of the world also went under construction while I was abroad. I learned that the smallest things make the biggest difference, especially when it comes to the environment. I realized how important it is to be eco-friendly and take care of the earth as well as each other. I also learned what it’s like to live as a Dane, Spaniard, Catalan, and Finn through my classes abroad. In Belgium, I learned the importance of safety, especially as a woman. I experienced what it’s like to be a target in a foreign country and how to escape a dangerous situation, which really opened my eyes to reality.
When I first stepped into what would be my house for the next 10 weeks, the light turned on, literally. Every room in my apartment had motion-censored lighting that turned on/off in order to save energy. Air conditioning? Not really a thing in Europe. It’s seen as a huge energy waster and simply opening a window produces air-circulation. The Danes also love to drink alcohol and it’s not uncommon to see people walking around the city sipping a cold one. This produces a lot of cans and glass bottles, which are often collected by the homeless. They then take their collected items to a nearby grocery store where they receive cashback. In addition, a third of all Danish people bike to work everyday, which reduces air pollution and decreases obesity rates. This made me realize all the things we could be doing in the U.S. I realize our population is much larger, but if each and every person made small changes, the earth would truly be a better place.
To celebrate the first week of classes being over, some girl friends and I traveled to Brussels, Belgium. Although I overall loved the trip and the country, we experienced more than the catcalls and whistling. We were hunted down in a metro car and chased after in broad daylight by several men. I felt like prey in a sea of predators. I often felt unsafe and disgusted by the way men looked at us. It was disheartening that as a woman, I was in constant fear of being harassed and it affected me in the long-term more than I thought it would. However, this made me realize the seriousness of sexual harassment and how scary it can truly be. I gained confidence in my ability to trust my gut and learned how to spot a predator. Finally, it showed me that this study abroad was going to have both ups and downs. Most importantly, I realized that I am a grown 21-year old woman, capable of overcoming any obstacles.
My internal transformations stemmed from the total independence that I had. Copenhagen is the biking capital of the world and I immersed myself in that culture. I biked everywhere and anywhere at anytime of the day or night. This gave me a lot of freedom and confidence in myself. I formed incredible relationships with my flatmates in the 10 weeks we spent together. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so close to people in such a short amount of time in my life. We planned spontaneous trips to Belgium, France, and Norway. We ate our weight in pasta, had dance parties in our airbnbs, and got to know each other on a deeper level. We frequented Tivoli, Copenhagen’s amusement park, weekly, biked to the coast, and drove electric cars to Denmark’s cliffs. We were a flock of free birds, exploring a new city as well as ourselves.
Of course though, this was an education abroad, and boy did I become educated. I was enrolled in the psychology of human sexuality, food & identity, and child development: theory and practice. I could talk for days about how much I learned, but in short, I learned how food reflects culture, that sexuality is on a spectrum, and that children shouldn’t be treated lesser than adults. From sailing the Mediterranean while eating traditional Catalonian food to using nonverbal communication to interact with Finnish kindergarteners, I gained an appreciation of cultural diversity. The classroom settings were always so open and warm, making me feel comfortable to participate more than I usually do in class. This gave me confidence to voice my opinion in a safe place among friends.
Change is like time, it cannot be stopped. When I started college, I made decisions and went down paths that molded, as well as surprised me. Likewise, when I went on this study abroad, I never imagined to have transformed as much as I have. I’m more confident, assertive, and independent that I’ve ever been before. This kind of change is so significant to me because I now feel like I can really take on my last year of undergrad. I feel confident in myself academically in terms of taking the GRE and applying to grad school. I feel confident in myself personally in that I no longer fear embarrassment or failure. I know who I am and where I see myself going, but at the same time, I welcome change with open arms. I’m not scared anymore because I know things always work out for the best. It’s true what people say about studying abroad, it can change your life and I’m proof of that.