When I first arrived for my study abroad semester in Copenhagen, I did not imagine that this beautiful but alien city would ever feel familiar. It was a place I'd never been to with a culture dramatically different from my own. To my surprise, during the course of the semester, it became as comfortable to me as my neighborhood in New York. It became “hygge.”
“Hygge” has no direct English translation. It’s a wonderful and uniquely Danish concept, so fundamental to the Danes’ way of life that it permeates every aspect of their culture. And yet, when asked, the Danes each seem to have a different take on (or at least a different way of explaining) what it means. It’s one of those “when you experience it, you’ll understand it” concepts. Hygge has been variously described to me as the practice of finding happiness from the enjoyment and sharing of life’s simple pleasures; as the warm‐hearted feeling evoked by a cozy atmosphere, good times and the sharing of stories and ideas; and as that general sense of well-being and contentment that accompanies gracious living, an appreciative attitude and shared respect. It was an estranged term that I couldn’t quite understand at first, but by the end of my semester in Copenhagen, I knew from my own experiences that hygge embodied all of the above. It is more than just a single feeling or attitude; hygee is a way of life…a way of life that I have now chosen to embrace and emulate myself.
When I first started thinking about studying abroad, I was overwhelmed with all the possibilities. I had no idea where to start. I had always wanted to travel the world, but I hadn’t focused on any one place. While researching my options, I found myself falling in love with one European country after another. In the end, after much anxiety and self‐doubt, I chose Copenhagen because the Danish people seemed so unique (one writer deemed them the happiest people in the world), but also because only a small number of Michigan students had studied there before. I was set on creating my own study abroad experience, uninfluenced by prior study abroad students’ opinions about the country or the culture in which I had chosen to immerse myself or about the people I would be living among. I was determined to push myself out of my comfort zone, completely and entirely, and I did just that.
As someone who aspires to be a lifestyle writer/editor, I have long understood the importance of objectivity, but it wasn’t until my semester abroad that I actually learned how to be objective; to see things from another perspective, and not just just one other perspective, from ... from multiple perspectives. My exposure to new people, cultures, and ideas (in my apartment, my school, and my adopted city) fueled my already zealous curiosity and taught me that there are rarely only one or two ways of looking at something. In fact, most of the time, there are many possible viewpoints, all of which need to be considered and examined – certainly before any kind of unbiased opinion can be formed—but also in order to understand the differing rationales that may be motivating our choices and beliefs. As a result of this newfound understanding, and in keeping with my hygge lifestyle, my semester abroad also strengthened my respect for and appreciation of diverse beliefs and taught me to remain open to embracing alternate viewpoints through the sharing of ideas. This, in turn, has made me a more tolerant and accepting person.
When I first arrived abroad, I had an overriding sense that individualism and a strong competitive drive where were principal to a person’s success (after all, I am an American). During my time in Copenhagen, however, I began to understand, appreciate, and value the Dane’s preferred belief in collectivism, and by semester’s end, I had completely embraced it. With a collectivist mindset, I have returned to the States happier and better equipped to contribute to the welfare and well‐being of others. I’m also much more focused now on actually doing my best rather than being “the best” and fueling the competitive environment that often tears us apart.
Dissimilar to most of my classes at the University of Michigan, most of my classes at DIS, the Danish Institute of Study Abroad, were 100% discussion-based, with no long lectures and many group projects. At first, I was intimidated by the discussion format of the classes, and, because of its unfamiliarity, I was apprehensive about participating or contributing my thoughts or ideas. Things changed though, and by the end of the semester, I felt completely comfortable sharing any of my thoughts and ideas with the class, – even those I was unsure of. I learned that even though, in its initial stage, my budding idea might not be complete, sharing it enabled other students to build upon and improve it, potentially turning my fledgling thoughts into a great idea through this collaboration. On the same note, I used to dread group projects, but after visiting many companies through our field studies and focusing on the benefits of their collaborative work environments, which are prominent in Denmark, I grew to not only enjoy group projects but to thrive in them. Moving forward, I plan on continuing to embrace this collaborative type of work ethic whenever possible and to seek employment in this kind of working within collaborative environments because I have seen first-hand that collaboration can bring people together and optimize their work outcome.
My teachers at DIS were all current professionals in their fields. They not only taught with incredible passion, but they also taught us with their shared personal experiences and advice. In particular, I was incredibly inspired by my communications teacher who welcomed each of us into her life with a caring heart and a soft smile. She took time out of each class for what she called her “Teach me something in seven minutes” session. This was a way that eventually every student would to have a chance to teach the class about something he or she was interested in, regardless of which discipline it was from, because she wanted us to feel comfortable speaking in the classroom environment. With each new field study we went on, I was more and more amazed by the number of people she knew at so many different companies that were willing to let her bring us to their offices. She taught me that it is simple to build a network of connections when you welcome every new person into your life with a positive attitude and a gracious smile (clearly, she was very hygge), and she encouraged me to always go for what I want, no matter how far out of reach it might seem. I know this all sounds very cliché and I’ll admit it… it is cliché; but maybe there’s a reason it’s all been said so many times before.
Studying abroad was a fast‐paced, thought-provoking experience that opened the door for me to new adventures, new people and new thoughts, all of which left strong impressions on me. Every $40 flight I made to a different European country, whether it was Ireland, Sweden, France, Spain, the Czech Republic, Austria or Italy, gave me a chance to explore a new culture, enjoy a new native or traditional cuisine, and meet another unique and interesting groups of people. I found that traveling, especially traveling as a students (staying in hostels, riding subways and trains and eating in off-the-beaten-path pubs and cafes), was like putting a microscope to the world; it allowed me to see a clearer and more accurate version of the peoples and lands comprising our world than the images of them I had formed from reading about them or seeing them on a screen. So, of course, when I look back on my study abroad experience, I will not only remember my extensive traveling and all the amazing countries I visited, sights I saw, and cultures I learned from, but also I will remember so many other things as well. I will recall with pleasure the courses that gave me a new perspective on learning and working, I will think fondly of the teachers whose hands‐on teaching methods led me to engage with the curriculum in a new and exciting way, and I will, most of all, remember with joy and great longing both my hygge life as an honorary Dane and Copenhagen, the city that has my heart.