Second year Sociology student, Abigail Joseph, shares her experience of studying abroad as part of the Erasmus programme. She spent five months in Copenhagen, her first trip abroad for a while and the longest she had ever been away from home.
My time in Copenhagen was full of ups and downs, though in the end there were definitely more ups.
There were lots of things that took a great deal of getting used to. When I first arrived at my student accommodation – which I had applied for through the University of Copenhagen a few months before arriving – I was taken aback. The room looked smaller than it had in the pictures online, and it was bare. A trip to the shop and unpacking my things definitely helped, as well as the arrival of my roommate. It made the space feel more warm and homely, but it was very different to what I had at home.
The first few days though were definitely a challenge. I felt so homesick, but chatting to friends and family back home made me feel less alone. Things picked up on the fifth day when I had the opportunity to meet other exchange students. In my second week we went to the cinema to see Black Panther – there ended up being a group of 8 of us, and I was shocked that I had managed to meet that many people in such a short period of time.
The biggest challenge, however, were the attitudes of other people in Copenhagen and the reaction I received as a black person who wraps their hair and often wears all black. I have gotten my fair share of staring, even in London, but never to the extent that it occurred in Copenhagen. The microagressions I experienced made me feel very low and vulnerable, and the curriculum is overwhelmingly white and Eurocentric. For instance, I took a class on Conflict and Peacemaking and the lecture was full of neo-colonial ideology.
The positive to come out of this negative was, however, that it pushed me to look for people who could understand my experience as a black person. I found a group on Facebook called ‘Women of Colour Network – Copenhagen’ and attended their next event, an open mic night. This was an amazing experience and I felt a sense of belonging and kinship for the first time – I felt much closer to ‘finding my people’ in Copenhagen. I also got involved with a project called Text Cinema, which my friend and other Danish students at the University of Copenhagen had been working on. This involved group readings of texts from theorists who are ideally female, of colour, and from the Global South as an effort to decolonise their curriculum. I have been helping the group as their aims are similar to those of the group I help run (Intersectionals) at Goldsmiths.
Studying at the University of Copenhagen is not actually that much different to Goldsmiths, apart from the obviously different lecturers and curricula. The main adjustment was the fact that there were no seminars, only lectures, so sometimes I felt like there was a lack of opportunity for discussion. However, I think this is because of what I am used to at Goldsmiths, because I spoke to other students and they found this normal.
One of the biggest highlights was definitely the time I spent exploring Copenhagen. Before I went to Denmark I compiled a list of places I wanted to visit, and I really enjoyed ticking them off. It was just amazing to explore a whole new city and do so on my own terms. I uncovered Denmark for myself and can go home with the many experiences I’ve had which will last a lifetime. Copenhagen has beautiful natural sites, inspiring architecture, great restaurants, bicycles galore, and I should add that the air is also far fresher than London’s. You just feel lighter than normal out here.
I feel sad to leave, to say goodbye to what has been my home for the past 4 months. I’ll miss the many friends I have made during my time here. Each one has made my term in Denmark that much better and I can only hope that I have done the same for each of them. I’m also really proud of myself. It was my first time away from home and even though it was a big jump to go from that to living by myself in a different country for almost half a year, I adapted. It was a great time to grow and push my limits. I now know that I am capable of more than I thought, that I can be fully independent which is a huge part of growing up.
Copenhagen has everything you could want so it you ever have a chance to come, take it.
This is an excerpt from Abigail’s blog series. These are being published on the Goldsmiths Student Union website.