Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jeg kigger tilbage...

Hej igen! Hello again!

First of all, I am so sorry that I stopped writing without warning halfway through my exchange year. It wasn't really intentional, I just ended up being so busy, and I somewhat subconsciously decided that I'd rather enjoy my exchange than spend time writing blog posts. (A blog post takes longer than you might think.) I apologize; I know that I had said I would continue writing throughout the year. In hindsight, it's impossible to truly put an exchange year down in words, even though I tried my hardest for the first half of the year.  I've been thinking about writing an update for a while, so I'll do my best to fill you in now.

The second half of my year was absolutely incredible. I had more amazing experiences than I would've thought possible. I made new friends, experienced more traditions, and travelled to new parts of Denmark. I'm especially proud of the fact that I perfected my Danish, and am now as comfortable using Danish as I am English (though I'm a tad rusty at the moment). I enjoyed living life as a Dane (with added exchange student privileges) as I watched the grey winter transition into a pleasant green spring. The time seemed to go by so quickly! My last month or so of exchange, especially, was a whirlwind of people and places that has just become a euphoric blur in my mind. The Danish summer, as usual, was beautiful, and I spent my days relaxing in great company and trying my best to forget the fact that I would soon be going home. That is, if I could even call it "home" anymore.

I couldn't really comprehend how returning to the U.S. could be called returning home - especially not after I had acquired what I considered to be a home over in Denmark. Though my time in Denmark had definitely flown by, it had also felt, in a way, like an entire lifetime. After leaving my Danish life, things could never be the same again. I would never again live in the same house with the same family, go to school with the same people, and have the luxury of calling up my friends and meeting them an hour later in the center of beautiful Copenhagen. Even if I do someday return to live in Denmark, it is impossible to regain my simple exchange life. Over the course of this simple life, I gained some of my most treasured memories, but these memories now have an untouchable quality. I don't know how exactly to explain it, but that's the best I can do. I think they're untouchable because I can never hope to even come close to recreating them. After building a life in Denmark, I was forced to leave it forever to return to one that could never match the excitement or the stimulation of an exchange life. Coming back to the U.S. was without doubt the hardest thing I've ever done. The AFS camp immediately prior to returning was a solid three days of bittersweetness, during which all of us exchange students were probably feeling extremely bipolar. I believe that I got two hours of sleep over a three-day period, which only amplified the disorder in my mind. Everyone's emotions were haywire, flicking back and forth between the intense happiness we all felt at being surrounded by our closest friends and the gut-wrenching sadness we felt at the thought that we might never see those friends ever again. That might sound dramatic, but it's 100% true. My best friends are now spread across 4 continents, and there is no reunion in sight at the moment. Facebook, Skype, and Whatsapp certainly make things easier, but time differences and the extremely busy lives that all exchange students seem to inherently lead tend to hinder communication.

Anyways, many tear-filled goodbyes, a significant-feeling transitory plane ride, and a lost wallet (and visa) later, I stepped foot once again on American ground. The weekend I returned to the U.S., coincidentally enough, was 4th of July weekend. If that wasn't a bombardment on my senses I don't know what is. I had gotten quite accustomed to the understatedness of Denmark, so returning directly to the patriotism on steroids was a bit of a shock. I spent a couple weeks getting used to the small differences in day-to-day life: for instance, in America, we have larger cars, opposite sink controls, annoying public bathrooms, lower door handles, different light switches and plugs, less independence, louder people, and brighter clothing. There are also larger differences, of course, but those are a few of the things that initially irritated me. Everything seemed to serve only as a reminder that I wasn't in Denmark. Being back felt like I was being thrown right back down the rabbit hole, but not in a good way, this time. At least when I left for Denmark I had felt prepared for what it would throw at me; I was looking forward to leaving behind the familiar. When I arrived back to the U.S., all I wanted to do was curl up on the floor and try to find a way to teleport back to my beloved exchange life.

I have gotten over that initial feeling of despondency, but it took me quite a while. One thing that helped was my new school; I now attend a boarding school with a significant international population, so I am still surrounded by international-minded people. I don't think I could have gone back to a normal high school after Denmark. I also am in the International Baccalaureate program, which is an academic program somewhat similar to AP. The IB often pushes me to use international perspectives in my schoolwork, which is refreshing and helps me utilize what I have learned throughout my exchange. I'm now going into my senior year of high school and looking ahead to my future. After learning Danish, I realized how much I would love to learn more languages. This summer, I attended a Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy in Vermont (another incredible experience), where I learned to speak German. I'm also working on perfecting my Spanish. I've been learning more about other cultures and pursuing all the international opportunities I get. When looking at colleges, I'm always keeping my exchange - as well as the possibility of future exchanges - in the back of my mind. I still don't know exactly what I want to do with my life, but I know that I want to continue using international perspectives and languages. I also have an inescapable urge to travel, which I'm planning on taking advantage of as soon as I possibly can. In that way, exchange has certainly impacted my future.

I chose to post this today because it's been exactly 2 years since I left on my adventure and stepped off the plane in Denmark. That statement makes me feel more melancholic than you could know, but at the same time so indescribably happy. It's incredible how much I still miss Denmark, even though I've been home for over a year. I think about my dear little land every single day, and I'm always dreaming of the day that I'll return. In that way, I'm sad that I'm here in the U.S. and not leaving for Denmark again, boarding the exact flight that I did two years ago. The sweetness of 'bittersweet' comes in when I think about how much I truly got out of my experience. And not just my actual experiences in Denmark, but also my Danish friends, the Danish language and spark to pursue other languages, the independence, the community of exchange students I'll always be a part of, and the new perspectives that I've gained from my experience. The fact that I miss Denmark so much says something about how much I enjoyed my time there. I am so glad that I was able to take the risk of giving up everything I knew for an entire year in order to gain such a great thing that made the goodbye so difficult. I love the Winnie the Pooh quote which describes the situation so perfectly: "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."

So with that look back, there's my post! Probably my last one, though who knows - maybe I'll write a post in another two years saying where I am and what I'm doing! Or maybe I'll turn this blog into the blog of a brand new exchange experience. We'll see where life takes me. I hope you enjoyed reading, and I hope that, despite my inconsistency, some people have enjoyed reading my blog over the course of my experience. I'd be so happy to learn that I inspired some future exchange students. So I'll close this post by encouraging exchange for anyone young enough to be have the opportunity, and encouraging travel and new ways of thinking in anyone too old for that. The value of travel and exchange absolutely cannot be overstated.

Tusind tak og et stort kram,

1 comment:

  1. Hej!
    Although I don't know if your blog is still active, I would like to write something. I am from the Czech republic and I am going to Denmark with AFS this summer!I am really glad that I found your blog. I am looking forward and I hope my experience will be as good as yours, but at the same time, I am quite afraid of it and afraid of what could happen to and with me there.
    I wasn't sure if it's possible to study a language the way you did it in one year, but now I know it is! I didn't expect myself to aim on learning Danish very hard, but you showed me it can be learned so now I plan to study it more. But, how much had you studied Danish before you left U.S.?
    Thanks for giving me at least some articles or posts about Denmark and thanks for the answers.
    From really distant Czech republic,