Happiest place on earth

February 3, 2017

When Anna Stern ’18 was deciding where to go for her study abroad trip, she wanted to travel somewhere where she had no connection to the language, culture or people in order to fully immerse herself in an entirely new, unexpected experience. Essentially, Anna wanted someplace entirely “random,” and she decided upon Copenhagen, Denmark, the capital of the happiest country in the world.

“What intrigued me to go to Copenhagen is how random it was,” said Stern. “I had barely even heard of it until I found out about friends from Brandeis who went abroad there.” Copenhagen is a particularly popular study abroad destination at Brandeis, and the program offers two courses of an intensive summer program that combines money, banking and economics while immersing the students in the exciting daily lifestyle of the Danes.

Stern went into the program with the vague impression she would come back from the trip feeling changed in some way, but she didn’t realize that it would teach her how to be a functioning person in the world outside of the Brandeis campus.

“Going abroad was like ‘How to Be a Person 101.’ They literally throw you into the city and say ‘go.’ I’m from Los Angeles, so I don’t know how to use public transportation, and that’s all I did in Copenhagen,” said Stern. “I thought that my experience would just be about the places that I traveled to but I didn’t know that I would learn how to grow up and mature into an adult.”

Going abroad teaches students valuable life skills, such as how to live on your own for the first time in an unfamiliar environment and surroundings. Anna learned how to spend time alone and how to be okay with going out and exploring the city, even if she wasn’t accompanied by friends. She even traveled to Paris alone without knowing French!

“I learned that I can spend time alone. I lived in a single surrounded by Danes on my hall. What they don’t tell you before going on study abroad is that not all of the moments are going to be filled with friends, it’s okay to not do what everyone else is doing. I made the city my own,” said Stern.

Before heading to Copenhagen, Stern addressed the fact that the trip was not only about schooling in a different environment, but an entirely new daily lifestyle, completely different than one she had lived in before. “On a typical day, I would take the bus to school in the center of the city and learn about all sorts of cool things from human trafficking to global migration and, of course, Danish,” says Stern. The program is designed to focus on economic theory and foreign policy, especially in Scandinavia.

The hours between classes are filled with cultural exploration and the freedom to explore every part of the city. “After class, I would go to all the various delicious cafes in the area and sample all the delicious food. At night, I would go to the market and pick up ingredients to make dinner. On the weekends, I would travel to different countries and even bike around Copenhagen to explore my own city,” said Stern.

Studying abroad can be intimidating, especially if college itself is an extremely overwhelming lifestyle change. For many students, including Anna, it can be an incredible experience filled with the exciting opportunity to see another part of the world while learning to adapt to living in the real world on your own.

“I highly recommend study abroad because I now realize how much support you have in college. Not that I didn’t have any support system abroad, but I realize now how much I value Brandeis and the community,” said Stern.

The cultural dissimilarities between Boston and Copenhagen were astounding to Anna as she explored the city and its history more every day. “The best part of being abroad, besides the food, was the fact that I was living inside a history book. Although Boston was around during the Revolutionary War, there are parts of Europe that still look the same as they did hundreds of years ago. Every day I would pass old churches with gigantic steeples and walk through narrow cobblestone streets. I now consider a part of Scandinavia to be my home, and I think that is something that I will always keep in my heart,” said Stern.

For Anna, one of the most important lessons she learned from the program, besides the vast supply of new knowledge on the economy and foreign policy, was a lesson in life. Confronting the fear, the overwhelming newness of an unfamiliar environment and learning how to be comfortable on her own, she figured these all out along the way.

She highly recommends studying abroad as an added bonus to maturing during college. “By studying abroad, I opened up myself to a brand new culture and interacted with people that I definitely wouldn’t have met if I was at Brandeis. I also think that studying abroad just makes you a wiser, deeper person. I thoroughly enjoyed my classes as they were rivaled to any Brandeis class!” says Stern.

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