To travel or not: is it even a question?
Study abroad programs like to make sure you’ve outlined your own expectations. During the first few days after arrival, my program liked to make sure we knew what we wanted from our semester abroad. They also made sure we thought hard about what we’d be missing if we spent every weekend jet-setting around Europe.
It seems that for most people, one of the main appeals of studying abroad in Europe is the opportunity to travel. Flights and hostels are cheap and accessible, and it’s almost too simple to sneak off for a weekend.
What’s more, there’s this sense of otherness that surrounds study abroad. Instead of a semester studying in one country, it can easily feel like an extended vacation.
When I came to Copenhagen, I knew that I wanted to spend time getting to know the city. Even though my program was careful to remind me, I knew even before I left the US that if I spent every weekend traveling and all week studying, I’d probably feel like I missed out on taking root in the spot I chose for study.
But I have to admit—when I see big groups of people congregating outside our school buildings on Friday afternoon, I get a little twinge of jealousy. So much to see! So much to do! At home we call it FOMO-Fear Of Missing Out. It’s a powerful thing, and it gets me every time.
I’m taking a class about Hans Christian Andersen, the great Danish fairytale writer who penned the Little Mermaid. This week we analyzed his tale “The Millenium,” in which he imagines, from his 19th century vantage point, what young people will frivolously say about travel in the future.
“There’s so much to see in Europe,” the young Americans will say. “And we have seen it all in a week, just as the famous guidedbook said we could.”
Sometimes I feel like that’s what study abroad has become—sprinting around the continent trying to pack as much as possible into your time. Between FOMO and RyanAir, it’s hard to justify just sitting at home.
When I was studying and working in London this summer, I lived big. Every day was a different adventure. I was constantly looking up new things to do and new ways to experience Europe, mostly because I was there for a much shorter time.
But I’m taking this trip a little slower. Besides a weekend trip to Germany with my class, I haven’t been out of the country in the six weeks since I got here. My focus has been Copenhagen, and I feel like I’ve learned so much.
But the FOMO remains. Oh, you went to Vienna last weekend? To Stockholm? To Paris? That must have been great. I went to some museums and some clubs and stuff. It was cool.
But it wasn’t La Tour Eiffel, you know?
On the other hand, I recognize that I’m First World Bitching over here. I head off to Berlin for the week tomorrow. In the next two months I’ll be taking on about six different countries, including Iceland, which is definitely a bucket list item.
I think it’s safe to say things are picking up. And while my trips and adventures characterized my past experiences abroad, I think this one will be much more defined by the people I get to know and the way I already feel at home in Denmark.
And yes, there’s still a little FOMO. But although it took me a few extra weeks to get to know the city, I’m certainly not sorry for the time I spent doing it.
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