The Last Four

(…as remembered after they happened, because I got too caught up in them to finish this)

I volunteer at the classical studies conference first, in the days after New Year’s. I slip into a hotel conference center, hiding from the frigidity of Washington D.C., to listen to scholars speak on a range of topics that dizzies me: mystic papyri and Latin poetry and digital publishing and Plato (to name a few). I leave somehow even more excited for my philosophy classes at DIS than before.

The hotel (still with Christmas tree!) from 15 floors above.

Then I take the bus home, and remember, fully, that my days here are numbered: four, to be exact.

I spend most of them on mundanities (see doodles above), the thirty small things I have to do to leave the United States that seem grand and looming. I also waste a lot of time, watch a lot of Jeopardy!, flip through the journals I kept in high school and wonder: was I really that stupid? (Yes.)

In between everything, I get a first bite-sized taste of Danish culture by reading The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. Each section focuses on a dimension of hygge, a hard-to-translate Danish concept of coziness. I’m drawn in by Wiking’s point that the richest hygge experiences often occur against a backdrop of danger–that comfort with others is powerful against the unknown.

Inspired by the author’s stories of feeling this sensation after outdoor adventures, I sift through my own memories for a similar feeling of hygge. The first moment that comes to mind: sitting around the campfire with new friends from my freshman orientation trip, worn out from paddling canoes, stargazing together, unafraid for the moment of the darkness on the island we’ll be sleeping on.

No pictures of my possible hygge (which would probably defeat the idea anyway), but here are our canoes, somewhere on the Susquehanna River.

Somehow it never feels certain that I am about to leave to study in Denmark for five months. Not when my mom loans me her compressing bags to stuff with sweaters and flannels, and I punch them and sit cross-legged on them to flatten them out. Not when my sister shares her last in-person inside jokes with me for a while, or when I take one more drive down central Virginia back roads, the same six Led Zeppelin songs playing on the local classic rock station. Not when my whole family laughs at dinner about internet search results for my upcoming folkehøjskole housing in Roskilde–it’s so new that concept art with unrealistically Photoshopped humans still appears.

Are these my new housing mates?! (source)

It doesn’t happen until after I hug my mom, and my dad and I spend the car ride to the airport talking about websites for learning Danish phrases, and the wary Icelandair rep asks me to extract several denim pieces’ worth of weight from my too-heavy suitcase. When the plane lurches upward and the nausea hits me, so does the realization that I’m leaving, again.

In the moment, I’m not overwhelmed with anxiety or enthusiasm or wistfulness about this fact. I’m just ready to be in Denmark.

(Or anywhere, honestly, that isn’t my seat.)

Beginning: Lost in Transition

“I’d pack my suitcase with myself / but I’m already gone…” –Kurt Vile

I’ve been living out of my own suitcase–or, more accurately, a string of backpacks–for the last few weeks now. I just came back from a spectacular-transformative-every-positive-adjective semester abroad in Athens, and then spent Christmas week at home in Virginia, sleeping off jetlag and waking up to my string lights at 3am. Right now I’m ringing in the new year surrounded by family at my grandparents’ house in New Jersey. Tomorrow, I depart for Washington, DC to volunteer at a classical studies conference. And then I have just a few short days to get right with my credit card company and stock up on multivitamins before flying out again–to Denmark…

…sorry, reader(s?!), I should introduce myself. I’m Claire–classics/education student, semi-frequent journal-keeper, gummy Coke bottle addict. And right now I’m a little frazzled. I’m lucky to be spending my spring semester with the DIS study abroad program in Copenhagen, where I’m hoping to take in everything I can about philosophy, learning, and sustainability in this global city. (Here’s the fine print about the classes I’ll be taking and where I’m living.) I’m not sure if, between loading and unloading my backpacks, I’m fully aware yet of what I’m getting into. Do I have enough knowledge? How many Danish phrases on Duolingo should I be memorizing before I take off? My family has spent the break quizzing me:

“So, Claire, are fish a big thing in Denmark?”

“What do people there do for fun on cold winter days? How much do you know about any of this? Hey, Alexa–” –poking a head into my grandparents’ kitchen towards their smart speaker– “–what’s the national game of Denmark?”

(Answer: football–or soccer, in my American understanding. Among many others.)

I also feel as though I’m at a tangled personal crossroads, the sort that comes prepackaged with junior year. Going into this semester, I’ve been mulling over why I’m studying the things I am, and what I want to do with them, and the sort of person they’re shaping me to be.

I don’t think study abroad itself can instantly generate conclusions to any of these–that’s something I’m going to need to come to in my own time. But I think the cultural experiences I take part in can help. So for now, I’m focusing on everything I’ve been dreaming about doing for the next five-ish months in Copenhagen: picking up some Danish; volunteering in my host city; getting into Norse myth and the Viking past; finally reading Kierkegaard; embracing my love of cycling in one of the most bike-able cities on the planet; learning about art and history and educational traditions in Denmark; and visiting every museum humanly possible. Plus: documenting all these in words and drawings and photos to share here.

Tonight, I’ll transition once more, from 2019 into 2020. May I look back on this post in May and laugh–or cringe because I’ve grown a little more. Hopefully you’ll stick around and read for part of the ride!