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Returning Home After My Semester Abroad in Denmark

I’m back.

After spending a my semester abroad in college studying communications, advertising, and some other subjects that struck a chord in Copenhagen, Denmark, I’ve returned to my small Northwestern University campus to find that I know nobody and the professors here expect a lot more from me. Occasional reading assignments and long weekends to London have transformed into welcome-back essay assignments and late-night study sessions.

So how does it feel to be a junior? My first instinct is to say that it’s terrifying. This is the year of decision-making: the internships you get, the classes you take, and the networks you immerse yourself in this year will prepare you for the shocking thrust into the real world in a few short months. This is the last year we have to be moderately careless, if that, while still considering how our decisions shape our future. And sometimes I just need my mommy.

My College Semester Abroad

As I watch the freshmen head to their 200-person introductory lectures, I can’t help but feel jealous. Time has completely escaped me, and I’m taking classes that make me wonder if I ever did spend time in a high-school level history class.

College really makes you start from scratch. Your grade-driven years of high school have left you with very little to prepare you for a class on National Security or Ancient Athens. You just have to look at the syllabus, take a deep breath, and know that you’ll get it done.

The battle of the week has been the transition back to campus. There are over 2,000 faces that I pass having never seen before. I have to re-learn my route to every class. The wind certainly doesn’t help. But even though I feel a little new and a little off my orbit, I know that spending my study abroad was the best choice for me. If you have the resources and the academic freedom, you should go abroad.

I think every college student should spend a college semester abroad. It was the most life-changing four months, as cliché as that sounds. But I stand by it.

You think you gain some independence going to college on your own. But you don’t really know independence until you’re on a train to Budapest and the ticket-checker starts shouting at you in broken English that you need to get off the train in Slovakia because your ticket doesn’t cover this country. At that moment, when you can’t quickly text your mom or even communicate with this terrifying woman, you learn what it means to be on your own. And it makes the navigation of an otherwise terrifying year of college seem a little bit easier.

Samantha Zabell just graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism.

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