I had never been to Europe before, and I had never even traveled on my own before (let alone to a foreign, Danish-speaking country). I thought that my month in Copenhagen, as well as a lovely five-day stay in Iceland, would be the best month of my life. It taught me how to travel on my own, how to survive without constant phone access, how to put everything aside and just ENJOY the moment I was in, and how to order coffee in Danish (yell “KAFFE!”).
For 28 days, I danced around the streets of CPH and enjoyed that crazy little city to the fullest. I took nothing for granted, I said “YES!” to everything, and I was unconditionally and absolutely happy. I will never forget my time in Denmark, nor the lessons I learned there.
What lessons you ask? Before I tell you, I want to let you know that these lessons were great to find at the time, but better to put into practice this past year. The purpose and goal of studying abroad, in my opinion, is to widen your view and be able to apply your “abroad mentality” to your everyday life back in the states.
Ok. Here are my lessons:
1) There is adventure to be found in every twist in turn (both literal and hypothetical), so don’t get too worried when you get a little lost.
2) There are truly good people waiting to be found everywhere you go. We can get lost inside of college culture and forget that in post-graduate life we will still be able to meet great new people no matter where we end up.
3) Putting away your phone and enjoying the moment is very, very important. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life with your nose in an electronic world that doesn’t really exist. Savor every moment you’re given, with the people that are there with you in real time. Kardashian Instagrams can wait.
4) Embrace, enjoy, remember. Rinse. Repeat.
5) Adventure can be found in your own back yard. There are new parts of a city you may think you know so well that are waiting to be discovered!
All of these lessons could have been learned here in Milwaukee or at home in Grafton. They could be learned on any college campus, in any major or minor city, in any suburb and on any rural farm in northern Wisconsin. Going abroad (even for a very short time) was an absolute blast, but the real benefits came after.
This past year, I have taken the world by storm. I’ve been a stronger woman and a better friend, I’ve made sure to pay attention to the people that I’m physically around, and above all, I’ve learned to appreciate when I am particularly happy.
I don’t have to be particularly happy about anything major– it could be enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning at my dining room table, reading a book with my cousin Elsie, or listening to my mom talk about her day on the phone. I think that Kurt Vonnegut best described it in his graduation speech “Don’t Forget Where You Came From”:
My Uncle Alex Vonnegut, an insurance salesman who lived at 5033 North Pennsylvania, taught me something very important. He said that when things are going really well we should be sure to notice it. He was talking about very simple occasions, not great victories. Maybe drinking lemonade under a shade tree, or smelling the aroma of a bakery, or fishing, or listening to music coming from a concert hall while standing in the dark outside, or, dare I say, after a kiss. He told me that it was important at such times to say out loud, “If this isn’t nice what is?”
My nice moments do not need to be abroad. Even though I will be spending my summer in Cream City, I will find nice moments to speak about out loud. Since coming back, I’ve traveled to Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. I’ve also made it to 5 Wisconsin State Parks and plan to check at least 5 more off my list this summer. I plan on traveling more places and doing more things, even if they will be in my own backyard.
There are adventures to be found everywhere, and lessons don’t need to come from extravagant events.
Here I am, in a coffee (kaffe) shop, looking at the babies sitting next to me and listening to quiet conversation. If this isn’t nice, what is?