I’m not a helicopter mom. I didn’t monitor the parent portal when our daughters were in high school. Sending them off to college was bittersweet, but we mostly reveled in their newfound independence. This was different. I had to summon previously untapped courage to let them explore the world without me.
“Copenhagen is one of the safest cities in the world,” said Allie. Coursework would transfer. We agreed to it, she was accepted to the semester-long program and we bought her airfare. But then correspondence from her program brought home the reality that she’d be an ocean away. For four months. Her Minnesota college required travel insurance that included words like “loss of limbs.” A good friend suggested we register with the U.S. Embassy in case dire things happened. Watching her walk through security at MSP tugged at my heart. It wasn’t easier two years later when Maddie left for a semester in Denmark, then, a year later, a month working in Stockholm as a Wallenberg Scholar.
College may be the only window in life when maturity aligns with the opportunity to explore the world for months before retirement. I survived thanks to unlimited data. They thrived, learning about other people and themselves.
Allie wasn’t homesick. “I missed my friends, family and dog, but four months went quickly. Everything was so interesting and exciting. It helped that my friends studied in different countries. We visited each other. I was nervous because I was the only person from my college in my program, but I lived in a “kollegium” – Danish student housing – and it was fun learning to live like a Dane.”
Navigating the public transit system was a challenge. “I lived in the outskirts of Copenhagen and it was intimidating to learn the system at first because bus stop and train station names were tough to read and pronounce, but I caught on quickly because I had to!” Most Danes speak fluent English, but grocery shopping was tricky, too. “I remember taking a big bite of what I thought was yogurt and it was honey mustard dip.”
Allie and Maddie recommend balancing living like a local in the host country with travel. They acted as Copenhagen tour guides for visiting friends and family. Allie took surfing lessons in Portugal, biked through Berlin and vacationed on Mykonos with a college friend; Maddie met a group of high school friends in Barcelona, went Christmas shopping in Prague and hiked from Switzerland to France. They traveled all over Europe, but loved their time in Copenhagen most of all. Even though they lived in Danish student housing, they both loved their generous “visiting family” who traded homemade dinners for conversation to help hone their American English skills. Like the Danes, Maddie commuted by bike and Allie dared “winter bathing” with a frigid dip in the Copenhagen harbor.
Maddie worked in Stockholm during her senior year January term. “The best part was getting to live like I was one of them. Unlike my semester abroad, I lived a more typical Swedish life. I worked all day, stayed in most nights and only played tourist on the weekends. Because I had a real job, I spent more time discovering restaurants and coffee shops in my Airbnb neighborhood than sightseeing.”
“I learned so much about the locals from being immersed in Swedish work culture. Scandinavians have a reputation for short work days and relaxed work environments, so that’s what I expected, but I worked 40-50 hour weeks and expectations for my work were high. I was thrown into situations with limited training, so I learned a lot in a short amount of time.” Maddie thinks her internship helped launch her career. “Everyone asked about it in interviews.”
Allie was astonished to see Danes park their bundled-up babies in strollers outside for fresh air while moms and dads enjoyed the hygge atmosphere inside coffee shops. Maddie was surprised to see well-informed Swedes protesting American political events. Both said the hardest thing about their time overseas was saying goodbye to new friends from across the globe and wondering when they could return to Scandinavia.
When your college kid brings study abroad brochures home, be brave. Let them go! Research tools and skills to help keep them safe before they travel, follow them on social media, visit them if you can, encourage them to blog and have fun witnessing their great adventure!