excited reflections from a sugar-filled 20 year old

For the sake of full disclosure, right now I am sitting on the couch of my house here in Denmark. I am seriously procrastinating the reading I have and papers I should write (my unsuccessful study habits followed me here). I think study abroad can have this strange facade of life only being a string of pretty Instagram pictures and I just want to be really transparent about the fact that life abroad is not 24/7 adventure and excitement and happiness and donuts!!! I love it here because those things are so easy to grasp and I am so grateful, but if it were all that all the time, it wouldn’t be life!!

Life, on any continent, has a lot of moving parts and at least for me, is never “all good” or “all bad” at once. What I have been reminded of since coming to Copenhagen is that Christ is the constant one, and he is enough. At church today, we talked a little bit about the story in Matthew where Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” When Simon Peter answers, Jesus says, “Now that you know who I am, let me tell you who you are.” He defines us!

While I feel unbelievably blessed to be here in Copenhagen and be able to travel to other places too, it would be enough if I were in Nashville this semester and grew closer to Christ. It would be enough if I were here in Copenhagen and sat in my house and read the Bible and didn’t get to go to the rest of Europe and see pretty things. It would be enough if I were at home for a semester, if I grew closer to Christ. Christ is enough and everything else is negotiable. And he loves you and me!!!!! What good news!!!

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As I sat down to write this, I put on “Brand New” from Ben Rector’s new album and wow is it good and catchy and joyful. What a good storyteller he is– about love and friendship and Christ. It’s funny how specific circumstances remind you of important places and people even when you are so far away: one of Ben Rector’s older albums came out right before we moved into Vanderbilt freshman year. “When I’m With You” and “Follow You” and “Forever Like That” were the looped soundtrack of our freshman girls’ bible study sleepover. My first two years of college were dotted with Ben Rector concerts and house shows and blasting every single one of his songs at one point in someone’s car and sitting in dorm rooms painting to album after album.

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I’m a little bit joking but mostly not when I say that Ben Rector is one of God’s many, many gifts to my friends and I in this sweet time of growing up. Or emerging adulthood (lol), if you’re in Psychology of Adolescence (took me 10 minutes to spell that) class with Adeline and me this semester. The shared memories around this man’s music are priceless. So I think it is sweet and a little bit sad but mostly sweet and important that there is a new Ben album and I am not at school right now. I think time apart is teaching me to not take for granted how much I cherish blasting Ben along 65 on the way to Chick-Fil-A, and also teaching me how I like Danish music too (yall it is COOL!).

Thanks for sticking with me for all the sentimental stuff. Denmark may be changing me a lil bit but it will not change how corny I am!!!!

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This past week of life was FUN but it showed me how study abroad gets harder when you actually have to study!! Life is big here. It is not lost on me that this place is special. Every new neighborhood and street and bakery and Thursday afternoon is important. I take pictures of everything and dance around and laugh a lot and truly enjoy this place. Sometimes it gets hard for me to write these posts without a ton of exclamation points and capital letters and italics because I don’t know how else to express my excitement!!!! This might partially stem from my fear of ending sentences with periods because they look sad. The Internet is kinda hard.

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Wednesdays are no-class-days. Thank you DIS for our extra day to play around in the city!! We aren’t actually supposed to have nothing on Wednesdays, we have scheduled field studies for each of our classes, usually one or two each Wednesday. Next week I get to go visit Danish day cares with my Sociology of the Family class! But, since most of us didn’t have field studies this past Wednesday, we decided to explore some of the essential Copenhagen tourist spots.

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We started at Saint Peder’s Bakery, known for their 15 kr cinnamon roll “snails” — they’re only sold on Wednesdays! The bakery is the oldest one in Copenhagen, and my host parents told me they’ve been selling Wednesday snails for as long as they can remember. Perfect timing. Yum. They were great. Some days we eat so many pastries that I can’t keep track. I think I felt guilty about that for 3 seconds, and then I decided that never again will it be acceptable for me to do that, so obviously inhaling as much sugar as possible is first priority!

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After the bakery we wandered over to Tivoli, the amusement park located in the center of Copenhagen. Tivoli also hosts weekly concerts and (so I’m told!) huge Halloween and Christmas extravaganzas. Will get back to you on those! The jury is out on whether I will ever grow up because I love love amusement parks and roller coasters and all the other fun decorations and rides that come with being in a place like Tivoli. I think it can easily feel like a childish thing to love, but thankfully I was there with Laura, Mary Marshall, and Liz– and they loved it too! Parts of the park are set up like little streets and alleyways, and it was just a blast to explore! 

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After Tivoli, we decided to go see the Church of our Saviour. This is the place that a lot of people Instagram from!!! I understand why because it is such an incredible view!! We walked around the whole tower, all the way up to the top (definitely stressful because it is outside), and got to see Copenhagen from above in allllllll its 360 degree glory. Wow I LOVED it!

While we were standing in line to go up, Mary Marshall said something along the lines of, “Is it weird that we are all exploring together today? No!!” She is great. Infectious enthusiasm and laughter and personality. I really liked what she said, though, because it reminded me of what someone told me at summer staff last year:

The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.

It’s a Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote, from his book Life Together. And man, is it true. She was referring that from our little group of 6 (Mary Marshall, Liz, Laura, Adeline, Nina, and me) that has formed of girls from Vanderbilt, not all six of us would be together on a typical Tuesday night Jeni’s run or Saturday football game at school. We all have different spots within Vanderbilt: different groups of friends and dorms where we live and places where we’re involved and all that. However, God blessed us with an incredible opportunity to know each other better this semester; we get to “do” abroad together and that is so so so incredible.

The six of us went to Tivoli together again Friday night, and I kept thinking about how when you love the people right in front of you, you have a community. It’s not about who you may or may not get along with, it’s not “well she has so-and-so friends at school that I don’t get along with so I shouldn’t be her friend,” it’s not about a fear of a new community because it’s not your usual community. You have a community and it is a God-orchestrated group of people to support you in life for that season. Being here has taught me something really simple: trust in God’s provision. He is sovereign!!

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This is a wonderful, wonderful place. I love and miss yall dearly and thanks for reading these even when I talk forever and ever!!! Yall are just the best.

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min ære jubler

Hi again, it’s me!!!

In the last verse of Psalm 16, David declares, “You make known to me the path of life,” which I taped on the back door of our apartment this summer as a reminder to trust in the Lord’s provision for all the laughing and crying and eating and dancing and mourning and living to be had in this little life I’ve been given. This Psalm, along with a few others, is given the title “miktam”, meaning “to cover.” The Lord covers David. Even while being persecuted by Saul, he declares that he knows how good his God is, and how faithful he is to his children who love him. He shows that he knows the Lord’s power can protect him.

Even in a time of persecution, he also declares the eternal joy that comes from this relationship with a savior: the 9th verse exclaiming, “No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice!” Or, if you’re Danish, “Derfor glædes mit Hjerte, min Ære jubler!” (Please don’t ask me to pronounce all those words just yet!) The title of this post comes from that verse–it means “I rejoice!”

Psalm 16 just feels relevant because gosh, have I felt like rejoicing these past few days. NAFSA, the association started to assist students coming to study in America after World War II, now publishes statistics on the demographics of study abroad students. Only about 1 percent of all students enrolled in higher education institutions in America study abroad in some capacity. Wow. To me, this statistic reads as, what an enormous blessing I have been given.

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Laura and I got to spend some time wandering this afternoon on our way to the train station, which prompted a bunch of photo ops. Down every corner are sweet storefronts in a Crayola-box-sized selection of colors. I feel like I’m in a movie every time I step out of class. And even while we’re in class, we keep the windows open! Buildings aren’t ever skyscraper-height here, but they are pretty crammed together around tiny cobblestone roads and alleys, so it’s a great distraction in class to listen to the chatter of conversation and idle meandering of shoes down a few floors on the streets below.

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I don’t think I have ever taken so many pictures in my life! Today my host mom and I were talking about how being abroad requires you to live life with an intensity not often required in a childhood home or home university: you are so used to those places but abroad, you’ve probably been lovingly brainwashed that this will be a wonderful experience, preemptively wanting to make the most of it. So that’s one part of the “intensity”, but truthfully, it doesn’t have to be forced–there is just so much to see! We’ve been here for just about a week and a half, and it feels like at least a month.

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The librarian-genes in me (hi Mom!) were almost magnetically attracted to the closest bookstore to my house, a cute little place called Books and Company. The store is tiny, but absolutely packed with books, and they’re in English!

Growing up, my mom had a worn-out t-shirt that she wore all the time that bore the quote, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” I guess you really do become your parents, because, well, I think that same thing! And although this is a bookstore, where I’d assumed you generally buy the books without spending a lot of time lingering, I was so excited to see a couple girls comfortably settled in armchairs when I first walked in, shoes off and everything, leafing through page after page. I already love spending time here–thinking this will be a tradition, just like my trips to The Donut Shop!

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When I first got here, it was easy for me to recognize the differences between Denmark and America that I considered “too different to handle,” but this attitude does not flow from the joy in Christ that David professes so eagerly. Once I could see this place as a blessing, I began to fall in love with this ridiculously photogenic city that I knew nothing about only a year ago.

There really is a time for everything–a time to be at school with a community that knows and supports you, and a time where that story gets a little bit rewritten, in favor of quiet times at the kitchen table of a new house and hours spent exploring new coffee shops and tourist sites. I am over and over again in awe of the fact that this–this place, these people, this new setting to experience Christ–gets to be my life right now. Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!

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It’s amazing to me that there are dozens of cities, all over the world, all with God’s precious creations living in them, walking their streets and sitting in their cafes and laughing until it hurts in the homes of their friends. The world is a beautiful, if daunting, place to explore. It is the best feeling to realize how small you are and how much God has left to show you.

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The famous Donutella donuts. Man. I love them. In the past week and a half, I think I have generally subsisted on meat, potatoes, danishes, croissants, and donuts. And tomorrow, there are 15 kr ($2) cinnamon rolls before we go to Tivoli. What a life. I’ll eat vegetables back in America.

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This is me, maybe a little too excited about the automatic light (and automatic everything else!) in the bathroom of the central Copenhagen library. Thank you thank you thank you to y’all for coming along to this incredible place with me! I have found writing about this place and my life here, even in just the first few days, to be a ridiculously helpful way to remember little details about these days. And these days are sometimes hard but mostly sweet, awe-inspiring, glorious, so I want to remember! I love y’all!

I am glad, and I rejoice!

the trick is beyonce

Today, after a day of trains and busses and classes and pizza and chocolate croissants and sitting on top of buildings and in cute courtyards, when I walked in the door of my host family’s home to Bootylicious (!!!! lol sorry that’s the best) playing, I realized something:

I could really love this place.

If we’re being honest, the entire first week I thought otherwise. I clutched to traces of America — the Jodi Picoult book I brought from home, the Lifesavers mints in my backpack, the standard American girl way I dress (Piko shirt, olive pants, white converse — like most girls at DIS) compared to the distinctly European style I see at every turn. I found myself missing strip malls and highways and blasting country music and sitting on my couch and sitting on my porch and just seeing my parents’ faces. I didn’t want to explore or engage or any action verb that would imply interacting with my new country. When you are in a beautiful foreign country, with incredible food, missing America is just a little bit of a bummer.

I googled “homesickness while abroad” and “I left my abroad program early” and honestly several variations of both of those phrases to make sure that I wasn’t a total dud and that other people liked America more than foreign countries too. I got a bunch of articles saying “I wish I hadn’t left study abroad early” and was stumped because how could you ever regret going back to the land of comfort and Chick Fil A and your friends and Chick Fil A? I didn’t understand.

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But today something clicked and I realized I could really, really love this place. I could love the ingenious churro-and-ice-cream combination that some Danish person came up with, I could love people watching on my commute home, I could love going to church and doing quiet times here, I could love quiet nights at this home that will become my second, reading book after book. I could love this family that has welcomed me so sacrificially. IMG_3488

But I don’t think loving this place could be as sweet if I hadn’t experienced the homesickness and general indifference about Copenhagen that I have. Somehow, I didn’t have to force myself into thinking that this was home — it just became more familiar and sometimes the funny thing I think about love is that it comes with familiarity and comfort. So, very sorry that I lied. The trick is not Beyonce. At least for me, the trick is that there is no trick. It won’t feel like home until it feels like home.

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It feels a little bit more like home when I get lost on the tiny cobblestoned streets with friends from Vanderbilt, because we are making new memories together.

It feels a little bit more like home when both my host family and I let our guards down a little bit more, absolutely cracking up around the dinner table. Side note: at one dinner, I thought my host dad called our salad “garbage,” so I asked him if he didn’t like salad. He didn’t understand, so I said, “Didn’t you call it garbage?” He looked horrified and said, “No!!! Cabbage!! I called it cabbage!! I would get thrown out of the house if I called it garbage!!” It was the funniest thing. I laughed so hard.

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It feels a little bit more like home when I get to powwow with other home stay kids in my classes, laughing about the culture shock moments we’ve experienced each night at our houses in the Copenhagen suburbs.

It feels a little bit more like home when I buy my second Donutella donut from The Donut Shop in two days, because I can see a beautiful tradition (of donuts and pre-class sugar highs) forming. The Donutella donut has Nutella frosting and Heath bar crumbs. Honestly I think there will be Donutellas in heaven.

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It feels a little bit more like home as I sit here, at 8:24 on a Friday night, watching a Danish reality show with my host siblings after dinner. I have no idea what it is about, but they practice their English as they try to explain it to me. Honestly, I still have no idea what it’s about, but with as much reality TV as I watch at home, doing this with them is good. (But also, one of the contestants just visibly adjusted his junk on stage and these sweet 14-year-olds did not even flinch, so yes, Europe is pretty different than America.)

So while my tears this week were from missing my home so very badly, I really really really hope my tears at the end of this whole shebang will be because I will miss this place so dearly. At the beginning of the week, no one could have convinced me I would fall in love with Copenhagen. But, it doesn’t feel like home until it feels like home — and thank goodness it is beginning to!

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Again, a huge thank you to all of y’all for your continued texts, emails, Snapchats, the like. I am so blessed and please know I will continue to miss the after class breakfasts or lunches, time spent in the Mayfield or Commons or Rand or anyplace else on campus, spontaneous trips to Krispy Kreme or Chick Fil A or Fido, and dance parties with you all. Please continue to update me on what is going on in your worlds —  I want to overlap, even if it’s through technology and across oceans. I love you all so very much!!

hej københavn!

Hi from Copenhagen!!! I have been here since Saturday afternoon (or Saturday morning American time), so a little more than two days! Arriving in Copenhagen, settling in with my host family, and starting orientation has met me with some serious homesickness that I proudly did not expect. Seeing friends from Vanderbilt, navigating public transportation by myself, and coming home to my host family at the end of the day has made this foreign place feel a little more familiar.

We landed in Copenhagen at about 2pm Saturday, and after getting our baggage, we were directed to our individual housing. I am living in a homestay with a sweet family of four in Hellerup, a northern suburb of Copenhagen. My family is wonderful- the parents so welcoming and their 14-year-old twin daughter and son are so excited to teach me about Denmark and hear about America. I’ve never had siblings, let alone be the “older” sibling, so this will be an adventure! The last couple days have been full of culture shock moments, so I figured I would share a few of the things I have observed!

Before dinner on Sunday, I ventured into “downtown” Hellerup because I had forgotten a hairbrush in all my packing! Oops. Hellerup is similar to what we would call a suburb in America, but closer to and more integrated with city life, at least than I’m used to!

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I learned that Danes bike everywhere. Bike lanes are on pretty much every major street that I’ve seen so far, which is different than America. I’ve only been to a couple cities in America that have bike lanes, but here they are huge and even have their own stop lights and turning arrows and everything! Sometimes, the sidewalk is on the outside of the bike lane, closer to the road. I didn’t know that one part of the pavement was the bike lane instead of the sidewalk, so I got yelled at by a biker behind me when I was in his way!

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I stopped in a supermarket, and found that Danes use their flag for decoration so much! I really like the design of it, and maybe that’s just because I’ve already seen it everywhere! I took a picture of these strawberries in the supermarket for proof, but I’ve also seen it in shop windows and on the packaging of so much else–like cucumbers and plants! They also have real flags too. Our neighbors have a super long and skinny flag flying in their backyard– think maybe 6 inches wide by 3 feet long, like this!

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Danes use their own money, Kroner, instead of the Euro, that is widely used over the rest of Europe! One US dollar is about equal to 6 or 7 Kroner (or DKK), so everything looks more expensive here! The comb I bought was 25 DKK, so about $3.75 in US money! I picked it up and kept wandering around the supermarket, but definitely went back to check the price of it so I could hand the cashier the right bill! Then she gave me 2 coins for change– I asked Caroline to explain how much each is worth.

On Monday, we started orientation. I found Adeline at the second (!!) train station I transferred to, and then we took the metro, a different train, to get to our final destination–the Royal Academy of Music! We found Keel right outside and gosh, is it wonderful to see familiar faces when you are in a foreign country. The three of us are all living in homestays, but we are coming from different neighborhoods and have been transplanted into different types of families, so we were able to catch each other up on how each of our weekends had been. Something I have already learned about being here in a foreign country is that this experience will teach me how small I really am.

Vanderbilt, the campus that seemed so large to me during move-in day freshman year, quickly became my–or our, the students’ collectively– “turf”. I didn’t realize how often I took for granted in the past two years where I lived, who I spent time with, or what places on campus we hung out or studied or anything else. I think this was compounded even more by giving tours of Vanderbilt this entire summer. By the end of it, I felt like I loved my school even more than I thought possible, but I also knew so much about Vanderbilt. The other tour guides and I were who you came to with questions. Students picked my brain about greek life and campus activities while parents picked my brain about ACT scores and financial aid. Being the one people come to for answers can feed an ego in ways I didn’t even realize possible.

So why am I talking about Vanderbilt when I am over 4,000 miles (or 6,400 km, to be European!) away in Denmark? I didn’t realize how much I don’t like being the student, being the one who has to learn, until I got here. My host siblings are 6 years younger than I am, but are almost bilingual and know the area incredibly well as they have grown up here. And while I would barely ever let my parents tell me the best place to go in Wilmette for a certain item or ask how late public transportation runs, I can’t use the “I know my way around my hometown” excuse here, so I have to ask my host parents about everything. Seriously everything. I had to ask where to buy a comb. This is an entirely different place than anything I am used to–and that takes a great big heaping of humble pie in order to get myself acquainted.

Since I got here I keep being reminded of a Frederick Buechner quote I heard this past school year:

What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.

The hope in these words feels to me like it is bursting at the seams, waiting impatiently to seep through all our lives. Yes, I temporarily lose a lot of good things by not being at school (that I will be so excited to get back to!): understanding “my turf,” Nashville food, having my parents come for move-in and family weekend, living with incredible girls, Chick Fil A, seeing my friends all the time, you get the picture. But what’s found? Knowing new friends, both from Vanderbilt and other schools, learning my way around Copenhagen and seeing so many other cities too, learning (!!!!! yay that is exciting), finding a church, wandering down European streets that feel like they come from a movie… Buechner was right!

I love y’all so much! Thank you for reading this and for the texts and snapchats–you have to know that I do tear up talking to y’all already. I have been blessed with such a wonderful community at Vanderbilt and wow. Thank you for coming along for this ride with me!!