By Jade Johnston
I would wake up early in the morning to try to get some of the hot water for my shower, before the rest of the student dorm residents woke and used it all up first. On my way to the University, I knew it would rain. It rains 1 out of every 3 days in Denmark – although to me, it felt like it was raining every day. I was not enjoying myself at Aarhus Universitet.
Studying abroad in Denmark
I was 20 years old and I had moved to Denmark to study abroad for a year. I chose Denmark simply because it was the only school that offered exchanges for students in my faculty (math). I arrived in Denmark and was suddenly confronted with a land of polar opposites. A buzzing and exciting social scene with the other exchange students, to the unfriendly dorm (where no other exchange students lived) that I was allotted. A fun and engaging Danish language and culture course, and a series of strange statistics courses where I was (in my third year) put into PHD classes because they were the only ones taught in English.
I found myself spending as much time as I could away from Denmark. Almost every weekend I would jet off ala Ryan Air to somewhere, anywhere else in Europe with other exchange students. My bag was always half packed.
To say the least, I did not really enjoy my time in Denmark. Why was I here?
Despite going from a straight A student, to failing every course but one (a sociology course) – my time in Denmark taught me more than any other time in my life.
I learned that I do not enjoy studying Statistics. In fact, the only class that I regularly attended was my Sociology course. All the rest I either avoided, dropped out off, or simply failed. (Sorry U of M)
I learned that I needed to take a break from academia. After taking a much needed year a half off from University, I went back, changed my major to Sociology, and threw myself into my studies with a passion I had never before experienced. I graduated four months later on the honour roll and on a first name basis with many of the professors who encouraged me to continue my studies further.
I learned that budget travel was fun and exciting. My first ever hostel experience was in Copenhagen on a field trip with the language course. It was my first experience as a “backpacker”, and also my first awkward experience with communal showers. (Which I later learned is not actually that common in hostels…). I spent my first night on the cold, hard floor of Stansted airport with two exchange student friends on our way to Norway, and quickly learned the value of a sleeping bag. I discovered culture and language barriers and spontaneity. (Let’s go to Spain for a week…. ! Why not? It’s not like I go to class anyways… )
I did not enjoy my time in Denmark, as much as I enjoyed my time outside of it – exploring Europe with other exchange students.
But without my bad experiences with academia in Denmark, I would never had found my passion for Sociology.
I would have never realized that I needed to take a break from school in order to give myself enough time to really figure out what I wanted to learn.
I would have never discovered my passion for travel.
Sometimes, as a traveller or exchange student, we find that a place just does not live up to our expectations. But it’s important to remember that that’s OK. You learn just as much, if not more, when your expectation are challenged, than you would if you were loving every moment.
Denmark taught me how to “let go.”
I had to let go of Statistics.
And in doing so I learned something way more valuable than probability theory - I learned that it is OK when things don’t go the way we think they are supposed to. There is always a silver lining. For me, it was learning to love travel, and even more importantly, finding the subject that I had the passion to study.
Even though my time studying abroad in Denmark may look like a failure on paper (I only transferred 1 course back to Canada), for me it was a huge success.
Sure, I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I would have liked to, but the things I learned about myself greatly outweigh that.
I wonder what my life would be like if I had never gone to Denmark. Would I have ever travelled to Europe? Would I have finished trudging through my statistics degree? Would I now be sitting in Australia writing this travel blog….. probably not.