Semester Abroad: the panic, the change and the experience

I just got on the plane, held back every negative emotion I carried inside my chest, and went to a country I did not know, to face an unknown experience.

28 February 2017 | 08:36

Source: Annahar

  • Lynn Cheikh Moussa
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 28 February 2017 | 08:36

The author with new student friends in Copenhagen. (L-R) Nina May Fokkens from the Netherlands, Lynn Moussa, Lebanon, Sarag Hossebian, Lebanon, and Lena Bogunovic, Germany.

COPENHAGEN: A semester abroad in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark carries a multitude of meanings, the most prominent of which is the excitement a life in Europe entails, and all the experiences that come along with it. However, when faced with the actual process of moving from one country to another, even if only temporarily, panic begins to take over. What will it be like? Will it be enjoyable? How will I be able to adapt to another way of life? How will I be able to leave home? It's terrifying to sit and ponder these questions, so here's the truth about doing a semester abroad.

Back in April, a mass email with a link for a semester abroad application was sent. Seeing it at first filled me with an indescribable feeling of excitement to be away for a while, somewhere new, somewhere great. I didn't give it a second thought as a I entered my preferred universities and sent the application in. I didn't even give it a second thought the moment I got my acceptance. Excitement had overwhelmed me to make decisions without any consideration other than the fact that there would be something different for me to experience. Different country, people and lifestyle.

The days leading up to the final, yet temporary, goodbyes however were full of shakiness and uncertainty. The weight of the move fell on my shoulders and terror of the idea of moving overtook me, that everything became a sign for me to stay.

Could not even figure out how to work a washing machine at home? Might as well stay. Did I forget my wallet at the house? Might as well give up the idea of responsibility abroad, stay,and swim in my irresponsibility at home.

Yet I finally reached the point of no return. I could choose to either accept it and make the best out of it, or sulk for the entire duration of my semester abroad. At this point, I did not know which choice to make, so I didn't. I just got on the plane, held back every negative emotion I carried inside my chest, and went to a country I did not know, to face an unknown experience.

Admittedly, the city was no home the first day there. The ride from the airport to the hotel was filled with questions of "How would it be possible to do any of this?" The gloomy weather and unfamiliar language were a nightmare coming to life.Seeing the names of the metro stations pass by were the first slap in the face: I did not know the language, speak it or understand it. How would getting around be like? How would shopping in the supermarket feel like? How would the people feel if I spoke English?

I cursed Europe and the day I carelessly sent in my application, and longed for the crowded streets of Beirut. The little things instantly came to mind the moment the image of Beirut hit my mind; the food, the traffic, the sunsets, and the people. I began to feel out of place and uncomfortable, because truth be told, I did not belong there just yet. My judgment was too quick on a city yet to be discovered, because I had only just gotten to my hotel from the airport. So I told myself, let's give Copenhagen a chance. Let's see what it carries.

Change began to take hold quickly. It took me only around four days to realize the chances and memories this city holds for me. Aside from the beauty of its exterior, I soon began to realize why it's known as the happiest city in the world. There was so much for me to see, and there still is, around every corner. Within my first week, I had fallen in love with just the little that I had seen, a felt myself becoming independent. Within my second week, I had already made a few friends who come from all over the world. Moreover, within my third week, I had begun to realize that Northern Europe is not that far from home.

Admittedly, a few off times caused an air of discomfort. Buying the wrong milk because the language was (and still is) incredibly difficult, would make be briefly consider how comforting it would be not to be in Copenhagen. Again, there would be no return, and by then, I would be glad that there wouldn't be.

That was only just the beginning, before the semester had even begun. Now, let's add to that the fact that I would be studying one of my greatest passions. I would be studying production at its rawest. Seeing how differently they do things here than in AUB enhanced my skills unexplainably, and school had only just started a few weeks ago. The practicality and effort that go into these courses is a breath of fresh air; devotion, and hard-work cease to be merely ideals, and become reality.

One day into the program, and we were already given a free assignment: Shoot a movie in 90 seconds or below. Considering the way that I'm used to working, that was a fairly odd assignment. What could possibly be done in 90 seconds or under? That's just it, anything could be done. An ad, a short film, an illustrative video, or whatever we please. Creativity and liberty were the key values held in this assignment; do anything you please at any pace you please, and let us help you work your way through it. It was different from the theory I was taught back in AUB, as useful as that might be. I came here for something different from AUB, from Beirut even, and it was happening right there and then.

Although the whole purpose of the trip was to experience something different, it seemed nearly impossible not to relate it back to home and familiarity. The similarities between both Copenhagen and Beirut may be limited to the fact that they are both cities, and they are both quite small relatively, but Copenhagen carries the same ambience that Beirut does.

The kindness of strangers here reminded me of the familiarity of close ones back home. The Danes are truly a singular group, with all their acceptance and welcoming attitudes. No judgment could be made on their behalf. With so much positivity in the air, one could not help but feel safe and content after so much fear and anxiety. I would never be too far from home in such a blissful place, not to mention the fact that I coincidentally ended up living in an Arab area. Shawarma and kebab will never be missed here indeed.

In simpler and condensed terms, the move felt natural. It didn't feel like I moved at all, and in fact, it still doesn't feel like I have. Maybe the homesickness has yet to hit me, but the fact that my adjustment went so smoothly just goes to say how much a new experience like this could be a wonderful thing yet to happen. Thinking back to how terrified I was draws a smile on my face right now, because little did I know that I was on the way to something incredible.


Lynn Cheikh Moussa is a second-year student at the American University of Beirut where she is studying Media and Communications. She writes for Annahar on health, education, and culture.

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