Europe Study Abroad

“How was study abroad?!”

Coming back to school has been a bit of a whirlwind.  After my semester abroad, where the only “extracurricular” I did was travel on weekends, it’s been a huge adjustment to go back to work, mock trial, student government, and all my other responsibilities.  It’s been lovely to see my friends in the United States again, although the following conversation has been played out so many times:

Friend: “Hi!  How was study abroad?!”

Me: “It was awesome!  I did a lot of traveling.”

Friend: “That’s so great!  Your photos looked really cool.”

Friend: *moves on to another topic*

It feels so weird to relegate my study abroad experience to small talk, because it’s probably the most life changing experience I’ve ever had.  And so here I am, readjusting to my normal schedule and trying to fit myself back into social life with my friends, but I don’t know if there’s any good way to sum up how much I’ve learned and felt and done with those few months.

I miss European bakeries, and passing historic buildings every day on the way to class, and my commute.  I miss my lifestyle of traveling on the weekends to cool and exotic places, and wandering through the streets of Copenhagen during my free time.  Most of all, I miss the friends I made in Europe.  I wish they could go to school with me in the States too.

At the same time, it’s nice to have a job again with real income.  I love the apartment I have here in Evanston, now that I finally get to live in it.  I missed my friends here, and even though all my friendships don’t feel quite the same, I’ve been enjoying the chance to reconnect and to talk to them without a 7 hour time difference.

Readjusting to life here has been strange, but good.  I’m already plotting ways I can go back to Europe, with a family trip to Spain over the summer and hopefully a research project abroad as well but I have to apply for that.

If you’re still following this blog, I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my future trips to Europe.   Vi ses!

Denmark Europe Study Abroad

Copenhagen: A Love Letter, and A Goodbye

24 hours until I’m in Colorado again.

It’s so strange that my time here is ending.  Unlike when I left for college, or when I go home for summer breaks, there’s a finality about the goodbyes that I’ve said here.  Although I would love to travel in the US and see all of them again, it’s not as easy to do that when we’re settled back into our regular lives.  Sadly, there is no budget airline where I can book $100 roundtrip weekend flight to see the wonderful people I’ve spent time with here (some of whom are pictured above).

It’s funny, because when I went into this experience, making friends was very low on my priority list.  This was always meant to be an experience where the goal was my traveling, my personal growth, my self discovery.  And yet I’ve come out of this with awesome friendships, where I’ll wonder how it’s possible that I’ve only known (most of) these people for four short months.  And, while I can always come back to Copenhagen, part of what made it home for this semester were the people I was experiencing it with.  So many people touched my life this semester, and I’m so grateful that they were a part of my time here.

In the spirit of reflection, things I will miss about Copenhagen in no particular order:

1. Personal space- not talking to strangers on public transportation/on the street/anywhere really is amazing.  The US should seriously adopt this aspect of the culture.

2. Kanelsnegle- the Danish obsession with cinnamon rolls is wonderful and I love it (unlike the Danish obsession with licorice.  Why.)

3. (Mostly) Reliable and Clean Public Transportation- the trains and buses in Europe are a massive step up from what I’m used to.  And as someone who hates driving, I’m a huge fan.

4. Tivoli- my absolute favorite place in Copenhagen.  Between this and Legoland I’ve sort of fallen back in love with amusement parks.

5. Ability to Travel- I’ve gone to so many new places this semester.  In Europe, you can do things like take a day trip to Sweden or go to the Czech Republic for a weekend.  I’ve loved having that freedom and ease to see and experience new things, and go to the places I’ve always dreamed about.

(I could add many more items, but I think that’s enough for now.  Also, expect another list that’s things I’ve missed about the US once I’ve returned and adjusted to the 8 hour time difference)

Study abroad has been everything I dreamed of, and more.  I’ve gone to 11 countries, climbed 3 mountains, and had conversations in my 2nd and 3rd language.  I’ve seen the place Hitler died, and a place where over a million of his victims died.  I’ve seen Viking memorials, Russian churches, medieval fortified churches, many other churches, magnificent palaces, the Berlin Wall, and the Queen of Denmark.  I met my German family for the first time and I saw the church my grandma originally painted in Prague in 1938.  I drank beer in Germany, wine in France, and vodka in Russia.  I traveled alone for the first time in my life, even though that part was unplanned.  And throughout all of this, I took 17 credit hours and wrote well over 60 pages of papers.  It’s been quite the journey for these past four months, and I wouldn’t change any of it.

Jeg kommer til at savne København og mine venner her.  Jeg synes byen er fantastisk og jeg skal at rejse til København igen.  Vi ses, Danmark.

Europe Study Abroad Sweden

Malmö: Wandering in the Rain

As part of my process of saying goodbye to the wonderful people I’ve met here, I spent my second to last day in Europe on a day trip to Sweden with Courtney and Amy!  My other friend from my core course, Joey, couldn’t go with us, but he at least came to meet us for hot chocolate in the morning.

Malmö is similar to Copenhagen, which is unsurprising given its proximity.  It’s only half an hour away by train.  We walked down the main street (Strotoget, as opposed to Copenhagen’s Strøget) and went in some shops and enjoyed the Scandinavian atmosphere.  If you’re in Malmö, I recommend the science fiction bookstore!

I have one full day left here.  I can’t believe it’s almost over!

Europe Germany Study Abroad

Berlin: Five Days of Museums and Christmas Markets

For those of you who read this blog with any regularity, you may have caught that I said Berlin wasn’t going to be “exactly as planned.”  Initially, this trip was supposed to be with my friend from school Andrew, before he caught what appears to be the Italian superflu and was stuck in bed for a week.  So, Berlin ended up being my first real solo trip.

The amount of history that happened in Berlin is crazy.  There are memorials and museums everywhere.  I feel like I went to so many museums, and in reality I barely scratched the surface.  It’s also fascinating to be in a city that is actively rebuilding.  As I went back through my pictures of the cityscape, most of them had a minimum of two cranes in the background.  It’s incredible to think of how recent the fall of the Berlin wall was, and how big of a difference those 25 years can make.

I arrived Sunday, and spent the afternoon walking around near my hostel.  I went to the DDR museum, which is interactive and shows the realities of life in East Germany, with spying, housing lotteries, and keeping up the appearance of the good communist.  I would definitely not have wanted to live there.

Monday I started with the more iconic aspects of the city: the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag (which I sadly did not climb), and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  I also went into the Tiergarten and checked out the memorials for homosexuals and Roma/Sinti murdered during the Holocaust as well.  I appreciated that my trip to Poland happened before this one.  I think seeing Auschwitz and discussing how to best memorialize the victims gave me a deeper understanding of the different perspectives that must be considered.  Looking at how Polish guides present the Holocaust also differs from the way that it is framed by the museums with a Jewish focus, and so on.

Continuing on the theme of touristy Monday, I went to the Topography of Terror next, which is a very cool partially outdoor museum that has both a chunk of the Berlin wall and some ruins from the headquarters of the SS and the Gestapo.  The museum itself is fantastic, with a lot of pictures and detail on the rise and fall of the Nazi regime, their policies, and documents that I couldn’t fully appreciate due to my lack of German skills.  From there, I walked to Checkpoint Charlie and went to a museum near there.  Since the information was in English, French, German, and Russian, there was a massive amount of text, which got a bit overwhelming.  The stories about both successful and failed escapes, however, were totally worth it.  After the museum, I went to my first German Christmas market, which lived up to the hype.  I went to Christmas markets a total of four days, and I love the lights and decorations and ice skating.  Also, if you are related to me, there is an extraordinarily high chance that your gift will come from those markets.

Tuesday, I started the day at the longest piece of the wall, the East Side Gallery.  The paintings are incredible, with amazing quotes and images related to the struggle for a free Berlin.  Although I was freezing by the end of the walk, I highly recommend going to see it if you’re in Berlin!

I went back to the hostel to warm up, and met the newest roommate in my hostel, an Australian who was going to be studying in Hamburg starting in January.  She invited me to come to the Jewish museum with some of her friends, and after that we went to another Christmas market and had spiked hot chocolate and glühwein (which is German mulled wine) and enjoyed the atmosphere.  We ended up stopping for more glühwein on the way back to the hostel, where we met an older German couple and ended up having a lengthy discussion on our three countries.  It felt very hyggeligt! (even though it feels weird to apply that word outside of Denmark)  Plus, I learned a lot about Australia and their slang, so that was cool.

Wednesday I did a bike tour, which was…. really cold.  It started sleeting on us in the morning, and then turned to snow.  Nevertheless, I’m glad I got a real guided tour because I did learn a lot.  Biking is a really cool way to see a city.  Something to look for next time I travel in Europe, I think.  The tour took most of the day, so afterwards I went to… yet another Christmas market!

Thursday I decided to hit a couple more museum exhibits that I wanted to see, and I also did last minute Christmas shopping at… you guessed it, another Christmas market.  I went to the museum at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, since it’s closed on Monday and so I hadn’t been.  Then, I went to the German History Museum because they had an exhibit on the RAF!

A bit of background for this: I spontaneously took a German History class freshman year, which turned out to be political extremisms in Germany since WW2, and we spent almost half a quarter on the RAF and the left wing movement.  I found it fascinating.  We watched a film on it, The Baader-Meinhof Complex, and when I went to the exhibit I could see the images of the crimes they committed playing in my head.  I got to see the motorcycle where they shot someone’s bodyguards before kidnapping him, the sketch of them in the courtroom, and even the wanted posters where the police X’d out their pictures when they were captured or killed.  It was so amazing to see history that I’d learned about so in depth come alive.

I apologize that this is turning into the world’s longest blog post.  Basically, Berlin was awesome.  I definitely want to go back, because I feel like there’s still so much to do and see there.  (And Andrew, if you read my blog, I wish you could have come too and I’m glad you’re finally starting to feel better)

I have two more full days in Europe, so it’s going to be a whirlwind of packing and saying goodbyes and seeing anything else I need to see in Copenhagen before I go.  Tomorrow I’m doing a half day trip to Sweden with my lovely friends Courtney and Joey and Amy, who are featured in some of my Russia pictures.  And on that note, I should go to bed so I can be awake and functioning for our foray into a different country.

Vi ses, hej hej!

or as the Germans say, tschüss!

Denmark Europe Study Abroad

Copenhagen: Christmas in Christiania and Tivoli

Page Count: 46

Word Count: 15,105

And with that I’m done with all of my finals.  This was my last week of classes with DIS, and my last full week in Denmark.  It’s hard to believe, but this time next week I’m going to be back in Colorado.  It’s been a whirlwind week, with essay writing, classes, and trying to spend every spare moment with the wonderful people I’ve met in Copenhagen.  After the past four months, it’s sad that I may never see some of my friends here again.  I’ve had amazing adventures with them, and they’ve helped to make my study abroad experience wonderful.

Friday, Paige and I celebrated the end of classes by going to Christmas season at Tivoli!  It was a little cold and rainy, but we still had fun.  Christmas is my favorite holiday, and Tivoli decorates with fake snow and trees and lights everywhere.  They also have an adorable Nordic themed market where I found some decorations to bring home so that I can bring a little bit of Copenhagen back with me.

Christmas continued when Emmy and I went to the Christiania market today.  It’s in a giant room where all of these stalls are set up and people are selling handmade scarves and artwork and jewelry and other fun things.  I also ended up having a conversation with a Danish man, who was telling me how Christiania has its own Christmas celebration for people who are hard on their luck.  He said it’s a really cool experience.

Tomorrow, I’m leaving for Berlin.  It’ll be my last trip during this amazing semester, although unfortunately it isn’t going to be exactly as planned.  For now, though, I’m going to make the most of the short amount of time I have left!

Vi ses!

Europe Netherlands Study Abroad

Amsterdam: Canals, Van Gogh, and Prostitutes in Windows

For Thanksgiving weekend, I headed to Amsterdam to meet up with Kelcy and Anna!  This is now the third time I’ve seen Kelcy in Europe, and Anna had come to visit both of us for her fall break.  It was lovely to spend the weekend with both of them!

I got in Thursday night, and after finding the hostel, we walked around the city and got some first impressions.  Amsterdam is beautiful.  It’s very cohesive, with most canal streets looking nearly identical.  Which made it fun trying to get back to our hostel that evening.  I had heard that it’s similar to Copenhagen, which is true (although often overstated).  There are a lot of bikes, the facades of the houses are structured the same way, and it has a similar laid back vibe.  I saw primarily men on the streets, which was a bit surprising but can probably just be explained by the red light district.  Obviously the random areas that smelled of marijuana isn’t a totally new experience because I live in Colorado.  However, seeing prostitutes in windows was strange.  It’s one thing to know that prostitution exists, and it’s another to see women selling their bodies in the open that way.

The next morning, our day began bright and early.  We started at the Anne Frank House, and it was pretty cool to see the place I had read about in her diary.  Moreover, after some of the other places I’ve been this semester (i.e. Auschwitz) it was nice to see a place where people risked their lives to help save others.  About two thirds of the way through, the power went out and so we ended up completing the museum tour in the dark.  After that, we did a canal tour.  The audio guides were a bit cheesy, but looking at the city from the water was pretty great.  My favorite story was about the clock tower, where apparently each side is set for a different time which means the bells go off completely randomly.  It must be pretty frustrating if you actually want to know the time!  We also went to the Van Gogh museum and saw some pretty famous artwork.  After my impressionism class, I can actually see where his work developed out of that style.  For someone who came into this semester knowing pretty much nothing about art, I felt very accomplished!  Our night concluded with a visit to the prostitution museum, which was an interesting experience.  There were some rooms set up to look like brothels, sex toys, a room where you looked out onto the street as the sex workers would do, and even a section where visitors put “confessions.”

The next morning, Anna had to leave in the morning to catch her flight back to the US, so Kelcy and I had a relaxing day of walking around, taking in Amsterdam, and looking at shops.  We learned that if you want any type of phallic shaped item, you can probably purchase it in Amsterdam.  It’s a teenage boy’s dream.

For those people who asked me if Copenhagen was in the Netherlands or if I would be learning to speak Dutch, I now understand the confusion.  The cities are similar.  Dutch sounds like a cross between German and Danish, with the crispness of German in some words and the soft letters in some cases.

I had a wonderful time in Amsterdam.  Two weeks from now I’ll be back in the United States, but in the meantime I have two more essays to complete and one more European trip to prepare for.  Which means it’s time for me to go back to being a productive person.

Vi ses!

Czech Republic Europe Study Abroad

Prague: Train Mishaps, John Lennon, & Grandma’s Church


I may or may not have prioritized a weekend trip for the primary purpose of seeing the place where my grandma lived/painted the picture of that church in the top image.

The weekend started out with a layover in Frankfurt for five hours, in which we figured we could go see the city.  Except that sometimes trains in Germany list the stop you’re at instead of the stop you’re going to and then you end up half an hour away in Mannheim, Germany and have to plead with the ticket conductor so that you don’t have to pay the 32.50 euro ticket to get back to the place you thought you were going anyway.  It was an adventure.  That said, we did end up back in Frankfurt and had a lovely dinner, and we still caught our plane to Prague so everything worked out as it should.

On Saturday we did sightseeing all day in the most unofficial manner possible.  We would walk until we saw a cool building and then go to it, which meant I saw a lot of churches and towers.  The only thing I really wanted to see was a church that my grandma had painted, and I managed to both find it and stand from the perspective she saw as she painted it!  It was awesome to walk around where I knew she had been.  We also went to a toy store and a gingerbread store, which were both pretty great.  Prague is beautiful, especially with the views we saw when we climbed a tower in what I think was the main square.

Sunday we decide to head to the John Lennon wall.  I knew it had been painted white shortly before this trip (which I’ll admit I was not thrilled about), and it ended up being really cool to see the response to that as people repainted it.  My favorite was “challenge accepted.”  Thanks to a French woman studying in Prague, we borrowed some paint and set out to add our own pieces to the wall!  Unfortunately, this meant we spent more time there than we’d planned and resulted in an intense speedwalk to get back to our hotel on time for checkout.

In a lot of ways, Prague reminded me of Krakow.  The architecture and atmosphere was fairly similar, although I think Prague is prettier.  It was nice for me to see another piece of my family’s history, and it was also great to travel with Jenessa and Kelsey (even though we only planned it about two weeks in advance!).

As Kelsey unfortunately reminded me today, I only have 19 more days in Europe.  It’s going to be busy, with all of my final papers due and two more trips planned!  I’m headed to Amsterdam on Thursday.

Vi ses!

Europe France Study Abroad

Paris: Everything I Dreamed It Would Be And More

Five days was not enough.  I fell completely in love with the city.  It was vibrant and gorgeous, and for the first time since coming to Europe I could actually communicate properly with people in their native language.  I never thought I would be excited at being able to read advertisements and other signs on the street…

Strangely enough, though, there was a little culture shock.  When I first got on the train it struck me as so inconvenient that I would have to put my ticket in the machine, since in Denmark they just assume you’ve paid.  I realized I’ve lost my ability to jaywalk.  And, as I walked by a shop, someone who worked there said “Bonjour!” and it took me an absurd amount of time to respond since Danish people would probably rather vote for a Republican than talk to a stranger on the street just to say Hi. (yes I’m totally exaggerating no Dane would ever vote for a Republican)

My first day I went to the Louvre and wandered around until I reached my daily art limit.  Then I walked through the city along the Seine and soaked up the beauty of the city.  That night, Kelcy took me to the Eiffel Tower to see the lights as they sparkled and L’Arc de Triomphe, and I could barely contain my excitement at seeing the two most iconic monuments in Paris.

The next morning, Kelcy had to go to class and so I met up with Chen He, my friend from Northwestern.  We went to some of the less touristy spots, like a taxidermy shop/museum (“Do you like dead animals?”) and France’s oldest library!  It was great to get to see some places I wouldn’t have necessarily explored on my own, and after that I met up with my Impressionism class.  We went to the Opera Garnier and got a tour of that, which was beautiful.  I wish I would have been able to see a show there!

After that, we had free time, and I had my most successful encounter in French to date.  I went to one of the really nice department stores, and went to the bookstore part because I decided I wanted another book in French.  In the mystery section, I found Agatha Christie, and figured I could get And Then There Were None.  Except it wasn’t called that, so I had to ask a sales assistant, which meant I had to give a few details of the plot so that he could tell me what the French name was.  Dix Petits Nègres, if you’re interested.  Political correctness is not Europe’s strong suit.

The next day we got a sightseeing tour and then headed to Versailles!  It was beautiful, but honestly after seeing the palaces in Russia I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be.  The Hall of Mirrors was cool, and I think the gardens would be amazing if they had flowers (that’s the struggle of visiting during November….) but overall, most of the rooms seemed fairly normal.  Later that night, I went back to the Louvre and finally saw the Mona Lisa.

The art didn’t stop there, because our next morning started with Musée de l’Orangerie, which had Monet’s water lilies, followed by Musée d’Orsay with most well known impressionist works.  It was pretty awesome to see art where I knew the pieces and their context, and impressionism is my favorite movement (based on my very limited knowledge of art).  This was followed by more free time, in which I went with a friend to the catacombs.  I’ve now seen more bones than I ever expected to, although the basement part of Hamlet’s castle was actually far creepier.  It was definitely worth the visit though!

The final highlight of the trip was our Seine dinner cruise.  Everyone got dressed up and we had three hours of floating down the Seine, with a three course meal and quite a bit of free wine.  The views were lovely, as was the company and the alcohol.  Afterwards, Alanna and I went to find a bar to experience Parisian nightlife and we ended up finding a wine bar!  The atmosphere was relaxed and the bartender recommended a very good light red wine.  We felt very classy and French, and he even gave us a 3 euro discount at the end of the night so that was exciting.  (But also confusing.)

My last morning, I went to part of the mass at Notre Dame.  The music and stained glass windows were very beautiful.  After I left, I went to L’Arc de Triomphe again to climb it, which had amazing views of the city.  I took a lot of selfies.  When I got down again, Kelcy took me to Shakespeare and Company and then I spent the rest of my time wandering around the Latin Quarter before meeting up with my class once more to head to the airport.

Everyone says Parisians are rude, that they’re the New Yorkers of Europe.  Having never been to New York, I can’t really make that comparison, but the Parisians I interacted with were not rude.  I usually spoke to them in French, and they apparently deemed it acceptable.  In fact, the one person I talked to who switched to English asked me in French first if we should switch to English (which was great since I was getting directions).

Overall, it was a fantastic five days.  Paris is my favorite place I’ve ever been to, and I know I’ll be back.

À bientôt, Paris.  Je t’adore.

Europe Poland Study Abroad

Krakow: A Visit To Auschwitz

I’m in Copenhagen for about 12 hours in between my two trips.

My past four days were spent in Krakow, with my class on Auschwitz.  Krakow was beautiful.  The first day we did a walking tour covering the main square, the castle, and several important churches.  The city is charming, since it retains many of its original buildings with very little modern architecture.  On our second day, we toured the Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, as well as Schindler’s Factory, which has been turned into a museum about life in Krakow during WW2.  Certain aspects that they spoke about in the museum resonated with stories I remember hearing from my grandma about her experiences during that time period, like the women who married soldiers in their absence and the food rationing. I also got to see the full Schindler’s list, which was pretty cool since I’ve read the book and seen the movie.  We also went to the area that became the Jewish ghetto during WW2 and saw a part of the original wall, which was built to imitate Jewish gravestones.  Our last day in Krakow was also Polish Independence Day, so there were flags and parades happening all over the city.

On Monday, we spent the entire day at Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was an incredibly moving experience.  After having read memoirs of survivors of those camps, I appreciated being able to put them into context.  A few of the more emotional places in the camp:

1. One of the exhibitions includes the objects confiscated by Nazis, such as eyeglasses, shoes, and suitcases.  Along with that, there are two tons of human hair, which came from approximately 40,000 people.  Those rooms really impressed upon me the scale of lives that were taken in these camps.

2. We went in the crematorium in Auschwitz 1, which was not destroyed as those at Birkenau were.  Here, there were visible scratches on the walls where people struggled to escape that gas chambers.

3. Images of children being led to the crematoriums.  Approximately a quarter of the victims in the camp were children.

4. In the sauna, where prisoners were initially showered and shaved before entering camp, there is an exhibition with the family photos from the victims that had been confiscated upon their arrival.  It’s easy to hear the massive numbers of deaths and lose some of the human aspect of the Holocaust.  In this area, you can see the life before WW2, with weddings and children and happiness, and it puts a series of faces on the victims.

5. The image of a field is actually the site of the largest mass grave in Europe.  There are an estimated 200,000 people buried there.  The ground we stood on was uneven, and in some areas there were ashes on the surface.  Now, it seems peaceful and beautiful; it’s difficult to believe that such horrific acts of violence were committed there.

In general, Auschwitz and Birkenau were in beautiful locations.  In some areas, they seemed too picturesque, knowing the genocide that was committed there.  It seems like the location should match the level of evil that existed there; I expected it to be more gloomy, not sunny with fall foliage.

Auschwitz and Birkenau are such important places in our world history.  This trip was intense during some parts, but I’m so glad I was able to visit and have this experience.

Denmark Europe Study Abroad

Kronborg Castle: Dramatic Reenactments of Hamlet

Today’s adventure was to Helsingør to see Hamlet’s castle!

Ok, technically it’s called Kronborg.  But you can get a tour with a man in tights who’s pretending to be Horatio and loosely reenacts the whole play, so…. Paige and I signed up for that one based on a recommendation from our friend Emmy.  Which was pretty great.  The phrases “to be or not to be” and “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” were both uttered, and at one point he pulled a skull out of the vent and waved it around.  If you ever go, definitely do this tour.

We also went into the creepy basement section where we saw a statue of Holger the Dane, who is supposedly the great defender of Denmark.  At times, we used our iPhone flashlights because they didn’t really have a whole lot of lights down there… and when we came back up one of the employees looked at us and said, “You survived!”  …..thanks.  Really comforting.

I’ve crossed off another Denmark bucket list trip!  I can’t believe I have less than 40 days left in this wonderful country.  Next week is another travel break, so I’m headed to Kraków, Poland and Paris, France.  Details to come.

Hej hej!