I was going to film this on my final day in Denmark but I never got around to doing it. This year I returned from a 6 month student exchange in Copenhagen/Denmark at the Danmarks Medie Og Journalisthøjskole (DMJX). Never being outside of a country, I hadn’t been so excited/nervous in my life to jump into a new surrounding. I’m back in Australia now for the past 8 months, but still it doesn’t feel the same as it used to. Here’s a brief summary of some of the experiences I had and what I learnt.
1. Gain a Lot of Self-Awareness
Being overseas and away from people and things that are familiar means you have full control over your life. For this, I became extremely aware of what I liked and what I didn’t. An example was I don’t really enjoy the traditional museums like the “Lourve” in Paris. My favourite exhibition was the “Dessins Du Studio Ghilbi” an exhibition about the animation company “Studio Ghibili. I also became street-smart with all the travelling I was able to do, I eventually knew how to pack perfectly, a rough estimate on how much money to spend, and things to do in the different countries I was in.
I learnt to enjoy beer. I hated beer before exchange and in Denmark, all they drink is beer really, so I saw the toerance go up and eventually enjoyed beer. I push my body to the limits through alcohol and through the gym. I was close to getting pick-pocketed in Paris and Rome but because I’m always quite cautious in those areas, it didn’t happen. Navigating your way through a foreign transport system is pretty satisfying and definitely learning what activities you enjoy and what ones you’ll skip is a plus (especially when money is on the line).
Pro tip: Explore the city without looking at your map and test out your navigation skills.
2. Respect Laws and Other’s Traditions
Something I learnt very early on was you can’t make the country you’re in, adapt to your traditions and beliefs, you have to adapt to theirs. I remember being really pissed off that you had to pay money to go to the public toilets in certain European countries but eventually I got used to it. I also got used to tipping in the U.S and some European countries as well. I was definitely a bobble-head crossing the road (because in Australia, the cars go on the left side) and I’m pretty sure I nearly died about 5 times in my first week accidentally not looking on the other side.
Generally you know the basic laws that each country has, but it’s strange to go back to Australia and not really be able to drink alcohol in public. I found it really strange how some places like Russia, Turkey, and the U.S needed additional paid visas to enter the country.
Pro tip: Research the shit out of “things you need to know” about the country you’re about to visit. VISAS will screw you over.
3. Become a Maths Wiz
I kid you not, I knew (and still know) so many different currency conversion rates for all the places I’ve been to. They range from Danish Krone, to Euro, U.S dollars, Icelandic Krone, and British Pounds. I didn’t at first, and one time I mistakenly got Australian dollar mixed up with Euro (did pay a bit too much) but it’s part of the experience and being able to find bargains as well.
I luckily got a travel money card from my local Australian bank so I could load international currencies onto my card and use that whenever I could because it had no international transfer fee when I purchased things with it. This also helps you with budgeting and knowing what’s your limit for the day. I transferred over 8K into my Danish bank account and everything I bought in Denmark came from that account. All the other countries, the money came from the travel money card.
Pro-tip: If you have to, withdraw one time from an atm whilst in another country. Almost every currency conversion store will rip you off.
4. Food Around the World is Amazing
There are so many incredible types of local delicacies from the around the world, it’s mind blowing. Try any Danish pastry and you’ll be in heaven. Literally any pizza, pasta, or spaghetti in Italy will just taste superb (gelato as well). And the almighty French nation has the best bread you’ll ever crunch your teeth into, the texture is indescribable, you just have to go there yourself.
My usual method is google search the top 5 foods I must try in said country and try to have them. I normally buy street food or something I can hold and eat while walking around the country so it’s less time spent sitting down.
Pro tip: Food in Northern Europe is a lot more expensive than food in Southern Europe.
5. Winter Depression is Real
I actually never thought it existed mainly because our winters in Australia are just not that cold. During the dark times of November I saw the weather drop from 15 degrees to about 7 degrees. 7 being the coldest it really ever gets in Melbourne (maximum degrees a day, I’m referring to). The worst part was the sunlight was gone by 4:00pm. It hit me really hard in November and my heater wasn’t that great in my apartment so when I was in my room I would need to curl up in my bed. And for 90% of the days in November, I took afternoon naps. Naps isn’t the right word, these “naps” would go for 3-5 hours of sleep. Thus causing me to sleep really irregularly throughout the nights and making me grumpy in the mornings. So overall I will forever avoid northern Europe in November.
Pro tip: There are none. This shit gets serious in Europe.
6. The World is Beautiful
I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful Iceland was. If you watch “Game of Thrones” everything looks like north of the wall. The 3 days I was in Iceland felt like I was living in a dream. I saw the “Northern lights” on the first try, and splashed around in the legendary “Blue Lagoon.” I went to 11 different countries and Iceland was completely the most incredibly looking country and different to anything I could’ve imagined. And that’s essentially what you realise when you travel the world. Different places have different “themes.”
New York was the sky scraping globalised capital. Rome was the eternal ancient stone city. Copenhagen was the bike city. Berlin was the edgy underground party city. These places make you want to go everywhere and experience the amazing landscapes and culture within.
Pro tip: Take pictures of everything! It’s an incredible memory bank to look back at.
7. It’s Okay to Do Shit in School if it Means You Can Travel More
I am in no ways, reflecting the great DMJX school, but the semester they decided to put the TVM exchange students in was possibly the worst. We were barely at school and the standard that was required wasn’t that high. On the big plus side, because I wasn’t at school all the time I was able to travel a lot. Because I also needed only a pass on my subjects I essentially tried less in school so I could enjoy my free time on exchange. There were others who were smashed with constant homework who didn’t get the time to see all the places I got to see.
Pro tip: When on exchange, don’t be pushing for high grades unless you absolutely need it.
8. Appreciate What You Have at Home
I never thought Melbourne life would be so good until I went around Europe. There is such a balance here that many countries can’t compete with. I know I was brought up in Australia so my preferences in lifestyle is catered to the Aussie way, but the simple things like having a shower cubicle instead of having to shower in your toilet (I’m not joking). I really missed sports a lot when I first landed in Denmark, there’s not much variety there. Then I slowly just got used to it, only until the Australian Open Tennis was going on which I’ve never missed until this time, it made me remember how much I missed sports and home.
You most likely won’t miss your friends or family for a few months because everything is all new to you. But it definitely sinks in after. For me, it was Christmas and New Years where my family and friends are always there to celebrate with me (I did have a spectacular Christmas and New Years in Denmark though). It’s a lot easier to buy things in Melbourne now just because Copenhagen and places like Iceland and London were so expensive that I’m completely happy to pay $10 for a burger.
Pro tip: Bring a shit load of food from your home country and slowly eat it. SLOWLY!
9. Become Fully Independent
Maybe the most important lesson of all. Being in another country, away from all the security I’m used to and formalities, I finally understand what it was like to be on my own. Most people would think this was a bad thing, but it really was something I needed in my life so I can move on when I got back to Melbourne. The greatest lesson I ever learnt was to travel alone. I seriously recommend at least doing once in your life. I came into Denmark being quite the introvert because the months leading into the exchange, I had been saving money and not going out like I should be. It was such a hard transition to be social again, I enjoyed it, but there were times I needed to be by myself.
The best payoff is I’ve got a string of great international friends whom some are lifelong buddies. I can visit them in there home countries as they can visit mine. Some are even people I met in hostels who I might have only talked to for one night but we have this general understanding that people who travel unlock this inner happiness. Something I can’t really explain unless you’ve done overseas exchange or traveled the world by yourself, it’s this everlasting fulfilling moment. It’s independency.
Pro tip: Travel alone on at least one holiday. Trust me, it’s life changing.
10. The World is Not as Evil as You Think
As much of a pessimist you might be (or your parents), people are generally nice anywhere you go. I had a lot of fears about going to places I’d never been to but my favourite quote during my time overseas was “fuck it, I’m on exchange” and a lot of the times I went out when I normally wouldn’t, it’d be the most memorable part of the exchange.
Highlights include being completely lost on the second night I was in Denmark and trying to find my way back home without internet on my phone (it was 3am) but Copenhagen (until the recent shootings) was the safest place I’ve ever been to. In Rome, I purposely got lost within the city at night and randomly chose a restaurant where I had the most incredible pizza of my life. And let’s not forget the first night I was in Amsterdam, high as fuck, and completely having no idea where I was. Took me 2 hours to get back to the hostel when it normally should’ve been 30 minutes.
All these experiences and more sum up the lessons I’ve learnt whilst on exchange. I’ve changed a lot as a person and my outlook on life has been altered. I’m even more humbled now (if that’s even possible) and generally go to sleep and wake up happier than I’ve ever been. So for anyone who’s currently on exchange or wants to go, I dare you to apply, and have the most profound experience of your life.
To everyone I’ve met in those six glorious months, thank you, it was an absolute pleasure.
Thanks for reading, onliners. #BangBang
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