In ten days, I’ll board a plane headed for Copenhagen. I’ll leave my family, my dearest friends, the campus I’ve fallen in love with over the last three years.
When I was little, I dreamed of leaving my small town and traveling the world. My summer internship in London only reaffirmed my desire to spend a semester abroad.
And while some friends complain they cannot imagine leaving this campus for another, I am reminded of the answer I gave to a friend who asked me to stay: I would not respect myself if I didn’t go.
For me, this trip is not about a semester off or the chance to party in exotic locales. It’s about living every single second outside my comfort zone.
I don’t speak Danish. I don’t know anyone in Denmark, or even anyone in my program. I have no idea what I’m getting myself into. I’m doing something for myself that I will never regret.
So I expect to be surprised. I expect to be uncomfortable, to be bombarded by the din of a language I don’t understand, to make a fool of myself ordering coffee in the morning.
I expect that, at some point, I’ll be stranded in Copenhagen at an ungodly hour with no ability to find my way home. I expect that I’ll wreck my bike in the middle of a snowstorm. Expecting these pitfalls will make them easier to manage when, inevitably, I find myself looking like a fool in the middle of the street.
At the same time, I expect to love my new home. I fall fast — for both people and places — and I don’t imagine that Copenhagen’s cobbled streets and sarcastic natives will do anything to turn me off.
I expect that my host family will become a huge and influential part of my life and to eventually feel at home, to learn from them and to laugh and love and find joy as they do. And with that to look forward to, I expect the pitfalls won’t seem so monumental.
When I’m uncomfortable, I will learn to speak up. When I hear the sound of unfamiliar voices using those vowels I can’t pronounce, I’ll appreciate the few words I do know. When I can’t even order coffee and I can’t maneuver my bike, I’ll remember that humiliation keeps us humble.
And when I’m stranded in the city early in the morning, I’ll watch the sunrise (or admire the country’s 17 hours of darkness) and remember that I’m young, and free and in love with the life I’ve been blessed to live.
So when I touch down again in the U.S. in May, I expect I’ll be happy to see those I love and will have left behind. But when I get off that plane, hopefully they won’t find me the same. I expect to be changed, for the better and for good.