I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark for the academic year in 2014-2015. At the time, I was one of very few students there for the full academic year. It had become much more popular – and a lot easier – to study abroad for a semester or summer term, rather than studying abroad for a year.
I had the benefit of knowing that my mother had studied abroad for a full year in Basel, Switzerland when she was in college. She felt strongly that a year abroad had made a meaningful impact on her life. As she reflects on the time that she went abroad, she doesn’t recall that going for only a semester was even an option.
As students today become stretched in more and more directions, pursue minors and double majors, and feel the need (or are even required) to complete some key coursework on their home campuses, studying abroad for an academic year becomes further and further out of reach.
Semester, summer, and short-term programs are great for a lot of reasons. As students find it harder to get abroad, having options accessible to them that are flexible can help make that possible. I’m all for that. However, I’m here to share with students who can consider studying abroad for a year. I want to share why I feel my time abroad was made all the more life-changing because it spanned from August to May.
#1: Have Time There After You Figure it Out
When my mom was convincing me that I should consider a year abroad, one thing she said stuck with me ever since. She said that at the end of her first semester, she had finally figured out how to “do” life in Switzerland. And that was great! But in her second semester of studying abroad for a year, she was then able to live life already understanding the basics and pursuing more. When I finally got abroad, my friends who went just for a semester largely echoed this sentiment – they had finally gotten the hang of things and then it was time to go home.
I had a great fall semester in Copenhagen full of new experiences and adventures. But I have to agree with my mom here. My second semester allowed me to understand Copenhagen better. I’d already gotten the hang of the day-to-day.
In my second semester, I joined a yoga studio, co-directed and produced a student performance, and traveled solo for the first time abroad. I think these experiences were made possible by the fact that I had a solid foundation I built for myself in Copenhagen after a semester there.
#2: Understand Yourself
Anyone who’s heard me talk about my time in Denmark has heard me say that it was the year I figured out who I wanted to be and when I became that person. There’s something about being completely out of your element that helps you see yourself more clearly.
The year I spent in Copenhagen helped me become more independent, capable, self-sufficient, and worldly. It was the first year in my life that I really spent quality time with myself, alone. I learned that I didn’t need to be afraid of being on my own. My own company was great – and sometimes even the best thing I could give myself. These discoveries and qualities were ones I was able to bring back with me when I returned to the US. Studying abroad for a year was truly one of the best things I could have done for my self-growth.
#3: Engage with New Things
Before I left to study abroad, I took as many anthropology classes (my major) as I could. I did this, obviously, so that I could make meaningful progress towards my degree. However, I also did it because I wanted to enable myself to study whatever I wanted while I was abroad, and that’s exactly what I did.
While I was studying abroad in Denmark, I studied prostitution and the sex trade, conspiracy theories, the history of travel, education, classical music, and Icelandic sagas, just to name a few. Broadening my academic horizons helped me engage my mind in new ways. I learned things about the world that I never would have otherwise.
#4: Travel Without Sacrificing Time in Your New Home
The year I studied abroad, I traveled to eight other countries. And I was able to do it without sacrificing time spent in the place I’d chosen to study abroad. When you go abroad for the year, you have the time and the flexibility to explore outside your new home. You can do all this without giving up every weekend there to do so. I’m really grateful I was able to see so many new places and also spend so many weekends in Copenhagen. I liked exploring the city and spending time with my host family and new friends.
#5: Learn That You Can Take on a Challenge
Going abroad is such an exciting experience, but it’s tough in a lot of ways too. A new environment, new cultural norms, new ways of doing things – it can be a lot to take in all at once, and there will be speed bumps along the way. But the beauty in that is that you learn how capable you are of facing a challenge and overcoming it. Fortunately, chances are if you can do it abroad, you can definitely do it back home.
It’s becoming more difficult to think about studying abroad for a year. I understand that it might not be possible for many students. However, if my thoughts on the matter have piqued your interest, I think it’s worthwhile to try. Whatever you decide, studying abroad has the capacity to change your life in so many ways. Studying abroad in Denmark certainly changed mine. For however long you go abroad, there is such incredible value in learning in a different culture. I hope you all have that chance.