Discover Your True Self – #Studyabroadbecause

From time to time I’m asked to do interviews about my travel or study abroad experiences.  In the past I’ve been bad about sharing those here on VirtualWayfarer.  These interviews surface a different side of my travel experience and offer me a chance to offer advice through a slightly different lens.  As a result, I’ll aim to be better about linking to the most content rich of these interviews when I do them. The latest of which was an invitation to weigh in on why people should study abroad while simultaneously sharing my own study abroad story. I’ve re-produced the first two questions in the Q&A here. Make sure to click over to Wandering Educators for the full interview.

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

My story is fairly complex. As a kid, my parents homeschooled my brother and I in place of 5th and 7th grade. 5th grade was spent backpacking Europe. 7th grade was spent in a 32-foot 5th-wheel trailer as we took a year and drove across the United States. I did my first study abroad the summer of my Freshman year of College. I was incredibly nervous despite the childhood trips. It was a 6.5 week Honors study abroad program in the British Isles. I debated doing a full semester or year and really wanted to, but could never work up the nerve. The summer program ended up being a great experience. Despite loving it and really flexing my travel muscle, I still never quite worked up the courage over the remaining 3 years of my BA to do a full semester or year abroad.

When I graduated, I turned around and tossed caution to the wind. After 4 years of being worried about doing a solo semester abroad, I closed my eyes and jumped into a 3 month solo trip through Europe. I figured it was now or never. It was amazing. I returned to a full-time job in Mergers and Acquisitions, where I managed two 16-21 day trips a year for the next 3 years. Then, tired of Arizona and eager to return for a Master’s, I applied to a number of schools selected based purely on reputation, the appeal of their location, and if they had a communication program. My methodology? A list of the top 50 Universities in the world and an afternoon of research. I ended up with 8 Universities split between 4 PhD programs (trying to skip the MA) and 4 MA programs. Of these, 3 were in Europe. All of the PhDs rejected me and the MA decision came down to Georgetown in D.C. or the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Georgetown wanted $30k in tuition a year. University of Copenhagen offered me a complete tuition waiver…as well as a 2 year visa to live in and explore Europe. The opportunity to do what I hadn’t had the nerve to do previously was too enticing to resist (and that tuition waiver helped).

Despite having only spent 2 days in Denmark during a trip the year before, I relocated figuring I’d see what happened and give it a go. It was one of the best and most pivotal decisions of my life.

Malaga In January – A Pleasant Surprise

Seville, Granada, Cadiz … these are the cities that spring to mind when you talk about southern Spain in winter. Cities with rich architectural history, stunning old towns, vibrant cultural attractions and a charm guaranteed to steal your heart.  Malaga? Not so much. Unless, that is, you’re on the hunt for ugly cement resorts, overly crowded beaches, shady tourist restaurants, and an old city swallowed long ago by the forward march of industry and excessive tourism.  At least, that’s the Malaga I expected. My lazy Google pre-trip search did little to assuage my concerns. Photos from above showed me a modern city with beaches and a skyline marked by the jarring sight of ugly hotel elbowing its way in front of ugly hotel.  A perusal of a few top 10 things to do in Malaga lists further cemented my plan to use Malaga and more specifically its airport as a cheap way-station to get into and out of as quickly as possible.

Hostel Etiquette – Sleep In Your Own Damn Bed

There is a pandemic raging through hostel culture…and no, it isn’t bed bugs.  In a sleepy dorm room somewhere nearby a tired individual has made the grand trek up four flights of stairs, down a long zig-zag hallway all while fighting the never ending battle that comes with magnetic keycards. You know the battle i’m talking about; the first attempt never works, then you try it again … slower … no luck.  Confused, you then rotate the card and try the other end … but, no, that’s not it … then on the fourth, fifth, sixth, or sixteenth try you get the timing and pressure just right and the door makes that loud grinding noise causing the hairs on your arm stand on end in a mixture of discomfort and relief.

With every bit of Elven deftness you ease into the room and carefully navigate to your bed praying you don’t trip over a backpack or pair of carelessly tossed shoes. You may be returning from a night out on the town or be freshly arrived.  Either way; eager to kick off your shoes, slide into bed, and rest…you notice a lump and mess of disheveled sheets in the bunk you’ve been assigned.  Careful not to bathe the whole room in light, you use your cell phone to check the bunk number and the number on your card. Then the annoyed conundrum strikes. You’ve been the victim of a bed thief. What to do? Do you dump your water bottle on the person? Storm to the door and turn the light on making a scene and waking up the rest of the room? Head back to reception?  Is there another bed available? Is it a bed you want?

Fun Fact: The Day is 37 Minutes Longer in Southern Denmark

The dark depths of winter in the Nordic countries is a topic often discussed and in some ways synonymous with the various nations’ identities. As an Arizonan who has re-located and spent the last few years in Denmark, the pressing darkness of the winter months was definitely a challenge to tackle. Still, with a trove of Vitamin D supplements and a small army of candles I’ve not only survived but thrived during Denmark’s long, dark, winters.  Though, perhaps, I exaggerate a bit unjustly.  After all, while the days are often frustratingly fleeting during winter, we still have the luxury of enjoying bursts of sunlight which can genuinely be called days.  This, unlike our northern brothers and sisters, who at times see little more than the briefest, twilight infused tease from the sun.

It is also often bordering on the impossible to talk about Denmark at any great length without being reminded by both Danes and foreigners alike that it is, after all, a tiny little country with only 5.6 million residents. I would even go so far as to say that among Danes it is a badge of honor. Given all they accomplish and their impact on the world at large? … perhaps rightly so.

I share all of this because I think it sets the tone for why so many of us often forget just how large the world we live in actually is and the quirky dynamics that result when a nation’s borders and the mental identity we associate with  those borders collides with the realities of the earth’s rotation and orbital tilt.  If you, like me, often find yourself thinking about Denmark as one semi-homogeneous country in almost all things the following may shock you.  Had you settled in for a Carlsberg on a beach outside the Danish town of Hirtshals near the northern tip of Jutland yesterday (December 28th) and called a friend in Sønderborg, a lovely town situated at the base of the Jutland peninsula and just next to Denmark’s border with Germany, you would have learned that your friend’s day was a full 37 minutes longer than your own. Jealous? I know I am.

Despite only being a three and a half hour drive to the south (and as a result at the opposite end of Denmark) the difference between sunrise and sunset between these two cities is significant.  That’s a distance just longer than the space between London and Leeds in the UK, Berlin in Germany and Prague in the Czech Republic, Santa Barbara and San Diego in the USA, and between Washington D.C. and New York City. Not bad ehh?

Want to have some fun? Calculate the difference in the length of your day against other locations within your own country. There are a few services on the web that will tell you how long the day in various cities will be, or you can calculate it on your own using Google to pull the sunrise and sunset for various locations. Also, thanks to Maja, a friend and local Danish expert, who tipped me off to this simple but surprising mental exercise.

Oh, and I suppose I’d be remiss in my responsibilities if I didn’t answer that age old question – just how large IS Denmark?  The country is roughly 368km [229 miles] from north to south and about 450km [280 miles] from east to west (excluding Bornholm). Who is ready for a roadtrip?

Fishing Boats Dragged Ashore – Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

Generations ago fishing ships were dragged ashore through brute force, a bit of creative mechanics, and a stalwart work ethic. This avoided the need for the construction of grand breakwaters and deep harbors.  However, as technology has progressed and the ease of construction has increased, more and more safe harbors have been created up and down Denmark’s wind-tossed shores.  With beach erosion a perpetual issue these developments have been for the best, as the process of dragging the ships to and from the water is often far from easy on the local ecosystem.

This means that the opportunity to see a fleet of reasonably large fishing ships muscled ashore in the traditional fashion is highly unusual and this in turn makes Thorup Strand “Thorupstrand” one of the largest coastal landing sites in Europe. The site, which has been active since the 1700s, serves as home to as many as 25 fishing vessels at any given time.  Utilizing the deep sand and specially designed ship keels the modern vessels take advantage of a winch system and series of tractors which are used to drag the ships into the water in the morning and to pull them ashore above the tidal line every evening. Sounds daunting doesn’t it? 

The Little Mermaid – Copenhagen’s Tribute To Disappointment

When it comes to tourism, talk of Denmark far too often revolves around what is, perhaps, one of its most unimpressive and disappointing landmarks – the Little Mermaid. This sorrowful lass reclining by the sea is not ugly. And yet, she is not beautiful. In truth, the Little Mermaid is bland. She is a small statue crafted in a style that neither captures the entirety of the female form in vivid detail nor the essence of it through less specific but still compelling lines and curves.

She stands as an example of what happens when you take something mediocre and attempt to force it to greatness. With people, they sometimes excel – rising to the moment and to become something truly spectacular. With statues…well…they just become a disappointment. Something to take a photograph with, for the sake of taking a photograph, before moving on to the discovery of things that are more compelling and engaging.

Autumn In Jutland – Weekly Travel Photo

There is a special window each year. A window of time ever so fleeting and hard to track. It is never the same day, week, or month. Ever in flux it varies from valley to glen, coast to fjord. In places like Arizona it is nearly non-existent except in the high country and yet in Denmark the amber hues of fall and rich colds of autumn gradually spread across the landscape like a freshly fallen layer of snow.

See My Photo in National Geographic Nordics This Month

As an aspiring photographer and lifelong traveler there is one organization that, above all others, has fueled my imagination since I was a young boy. The images of majestic animals, exotic peoples, and grand cultural undertakings are part of the foundation which crafted the traveler I am today. Even in the modern digital age where most magazines are relegated to the end table at the dentist’s office or car dealership waiting room, National Geographic stands apart. Their more recent forays into digital have led to the sourcing and democratization of a process which brings to light captivating and inspiring photos on a regular basis – a process I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to partake in.