Ever thought you’d be able to recite the rules of netball in Danish? Neither did Isobel Turner. However, after 5 months living in Copenhagen, she has more than a few stories to tell…
I’ve got Copenhagen all over me and I can’t wash it off. It seems as if returning to St Andrews has just made me love it even more; everyday is a constant reminder of what has been. We made the pact a month ago, before we left, where my Copenhagen family and I (we formed a tight friendship group, consisting of an American, two Australians and myself) decided that, despite promises of constant letters and eventual visits, there was the possibility that reality may get in the way. We sat together for a while, and decided that whatever happened in the future, the last 5 months had changed us. As cheesy and ridiculous as it sounds, we knew that we could never erase each other and our experience from our lives. Comforted yet also saddened by our reflections, I can honestly say that there is not one person I met in Copenhagen who hasn’t changed my life. My experience was inexplicable, in the best way possible.
I am referring to my experience as an Anthropology exchange student in Copenhagen, where I studied last semester. This vibrant city is the epitome of modern life, but also scattered with tradition. I felt a little overwhelmed on arriving in Denmark’s capital city; however, I soon learned that I had been lucky in my destination. Compared to St Andrews, there was a dramatic increase in size. Copenhagen is a wealthy, scenic and very alternative city – small in comparison to most European capitals, but perfect for me. Its daily life runs smoothly – transport systems are clean and fast, although the majority of the population cycle everywhere. With such an emphasis upon bikes, this really is what Copenhagen is known for across the world – being a leading city in environmentally friendly living. The entire welfare system of the country is amazing, and one I have learned to respect – especially having experienced the fantastic education system firsthand.
In terms of university life, international students rule the roost; most classes are taught in English. Although fantastic from an educational point of view, the small class sizes I experienced did mean an increase in work pressure. Instead of lectures, I simply had three-hour long classes, three times a week, with anywhere between 6 to 20 people, in which we were all supposed to be participate – especially difficult after a night out on the town!!
Although I’d been to Copenhagen previously, a tourist trip with mum and dad does not open one’s eyes to the city’s nightlife. Copenhagen doesn’t have “mainstream” clubs as such; there is definitely no Oceana equivalent! Every night is a mixture of underground parties and small techno bars, littered with hipsters to drag queens, and ended with a trip to the kebab shop – I never imagined anything like it!
As my departure from Denmark drew closer on the horizon, my parents arrived for the last few days to collect me; we wandered out into the city almost immediately, so I could give them a whiplash tour. The first stop was Nyhavn, a place I hadn’t spent any sufficient amount of time in since I had arrived in August; it was bitterly cold and I had reached the stage where snow had become my enemy and chief annoyance in life. But it didn’t feel like my Copenhagen at all, this was tourist territory and I just couldn’t express the things I normally did. One of the things I have come to cherish most from my exchange was my transition from a tourist to a local – from feeling disconnected to everyone and everything, to finally being able to glide around the supermarket, converse and pay the cashier, without her even realising my nationality.
We did what is expected of any tourist in Copenhagen – perused the Christmas markets which lined the streets, snapped pictures of the lakes and wandered in and out of Christiania. I liked seeing it all again, knowing that I wouldn’t have been back without having someone to show it to, but I hadn’t thought it would be as disenchanting as it was. I was repeating what I had done at the beginning of the year – seeing the city at arms’ length. To do it again, now that I knew it and had it engraved itself on me, was a real eye-opener as to how I have changed throughout the last months.
Now I am home, I feel a lost. A victim of the “reverse culture” shock I have heard so much about, but continuously denied I would ever succumb to. Things will never be the same again in either town – Copenhagen and St Andrews. I wasn’t prepared to feel in mourning for two things instead of one; I am continuously trying to assure myself that I should be celebrating the ‘new me’. The Izzy who sat in horrendously hard 3 hour lectures with only 6 people in every week and who cycles everywhere without a second thought. The girl who can (in the loosest sense of the word) recite the rules of Netball in Danish, who went to some of the best nightclubs in the world and can use her English charm to explain away vomiting up traditional Danish herring immediately after consumption.
I know my experience will stay with me forever. It is more of a feeling in me than something I can express. Naturally, I have anecdotes and photographs, but nothing can capture the true events that happened whilst I was away – the people I met, the things I have seen. The exchange was not easy – I have had some of the worst moments of my life, but there are no shortcuts to any place worth going to and the outcome of this path has been well worth it. I hope I can encourage anyone who has the opportunity of studying abroad to jump on it, even if at first, it seems like the scariest thing on earth.