For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad for 10 weeks in Copenhagen, Denmark with the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS). I lived with both American and Danish students, and took three courses, with subjects that ranged from history, to fashion, to psychology. Not only was I able to explore and get to know the city of Copenhagen, I also had the opportunity to travel to Germany and Poland with my classes to receive a hands on, multicultural experience.
By living in Denmark for 10 weeks, I had the opportunity to get to know the Danes and Danish culture on a deeper level. Through this, I was able to get a sense of the differences in day to day life and cultural values. During my time in Denmark, I learned of the Danish word “hygge.” Hygge does not translate directly into English, but it means a feeling of coziness, comfort, home, and being grateful for what is contributing to those feelings. It is the Danes’ way of stepping back and appreciating their life’s simple pleasures, whether it be a cozy chair with a good book, or a room full of great friends. Before I left for Denmark, I did not see any problem with the fast paced, on-the-go lifestyle I had been keeping. However, after spending 10 weeks amongst Danes, absorbing their culture, I see the importance of taking a step back to appreciate the time and people I have in my life. This is but one example of the immense appreciation for new and different cultures I gained during my travels. I have become more aware of and sensitive to the experiences of others from different cultures.
When given the opportunity to travel with my class during study tours, I was able to develop a deeper relationship with my professors and classmates. During my travels, I got to know other students that I had previously never spoken to, simply because they sat on the other side if the classroom. During the month of July, I took the class European Genocides, led by Professor Torben Jorgensen, or simply Torben, as we referred to him. European Genocides was unlike any class I had ever taken before. It took us through the course of several genocides, including the Bosnian and Armenian Genocides. The main focus of this class was the Holocaust, and we were afforded the opportunity to visit several killing sites of the Holocaust in Poland, which included Chelmno extermination camp, and Auschwitz concentration camp. Torben maintained a light atmosphere in his classroom, despite the dark subject matter. I felt comfortable asking him any question that popped into my head in class, whether it be about history or Danish culture, and he always provided a fascinating story or firsthand account to go with it.
There was no better place to take Cross-Cultural Psychology than in a different culture. Through this class, I had the opportunity to meet with a refugee from Afghanistan, as well as immigrants from Turkey to gain a look into the perspective of a person who is experiencing acculturation. In Berlin, I communicated with Turkish immigrants at a center aimed to helping Turkish immigrants acculturate into German culture. This experience has made me more attuned to and passionate about the experiences of immigrants and refugees.
Getting to travel to Germany and Poland with my classes provided a hands on learning experiences unlike any other. The Cross-Cultural Psychology class I took looked into the dynamic identity of Berlin, Germany, a city with rich history like no other. We particularly took into focus the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. It is easy to read about an event in a textbook, but getting to see the remnants left behind, and hear about it from a person who actually lived through it provides an educational experience beyond compare. In Berlin, we had a tour guide named Olaf who grew up in West Berlin during the existence of the wall. Hearing about the history of Berlin and how it shaped the current climate and identity of the city and its citizens gave me a wider worldview and allowed me to realize how much past events can shape a culture.
The transformation I experienced this summer is valuable for my life, as my newfound skills and open mindedness are important for future work environments. By living in and therefore getting acquainted to a new culture, I was exposed to new and different ways of approaching situations, which will aid me in my professional career. I have become more well-rounded, as I know there is more than one way to approach a situation. After being a foreigner in a new country, I have a better understanding of the experiences of a person who has immigrated to a new culture, and the kinds of thoughts and emotions they may be feeling. This newfound sensitivity is extremely important in a country as diverse as the United States.
Studying abroad afforded me the opportunity to travel independently, which gave rise to a number of new challenges I never dreamed I would experience. From managing last minute changes to travel plans, to grappling with cultural differences between my myself and the person who lived across the hall, my STEP Signature Project has made me a more flexible and open person. It has also made me more independent, as I had no one to rely on but myself. If a flight was canceled, I had to be self-reliant and resolve the problem myself, instead of depending on a teacher or parent. Although they seemed inconvenient at the time, obstacles I faced during my time in Denmark have made me a more resilient, confident in my ability to adapt to any unexpected challenges I may face in the future.