Field Study: The Polar Plunge

Welcome to the Zoo!

What exactly is a field study? Where do you go? What do you do? Why am I asking so many questions? Well, I can at least answer the first 3 questions for you through my recent field study this past Wednesday to the zoo! First of all, a field study is a trip that you take for one of your classes. This is both for your core and elective classes. The amount of field studies you take is usually about 2 per course, and you can have more than 1 a day with each one taking about 4 hours. The places you go are located around Copenhagen and always relevant to your class. A lot of times they are integrated in some form or another academically. This includes going to a university lab to look at zygotes for my Epigenetics and The Environment class or even going to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for my EU-US Relations class.

While telling you this is all fun and games, why not actually walk you through my recent field study for my Biology of Marine Mammals Lab! During this last week, everyone from my class went to the Copenhagen Zoo. We were there to conduct behavior studies on three different animals: Harbor Seals, Polar Bears, and California Sea Lions. I was in the group looking at Harbor Seals. We all met at the zoo early in the morning and got free entry before all the visitors did, which by the way, super cool! We visited all the exhibits that we were going to be at and then proceeded to take our data. My group decided to look at a variety of things, including taking notes on dive time vs. surface time and sleep time of the Harbor Seals. Unfortunately, sometimes when you want the animals to swim, they sleep and vice versa but that’s part of the fun! We ended up collecting a decent amount of data at the end of the day on what we called “stripped sausages.” We even got to see them be fed and talked to the zoo keeper responsible for the seals. Afterwards, my group got breakfast because you can get really hungry staring intensely at animals for long periods of time.

We ended up taking more data afterwards and everyone from all 3 groups met at the entrance roughly around noon. We went over what we learned, and then had the rest of the day to do whatever we wanted! I stuck around at the zoo to take more pictures and see the animals which was amazing. It really is a remarkable zoo.

And that was my field study! It was a lot of fun to integrate what we learned in terms of data collection and use it in the field. These trips show how our classes can truly be applicable in real life. This is something unique to DIS and makes such a huge difference to me.

I guess you could say it “seal”-ed the deal.

A Journey To Share

Copenhagen has been a wild journey. I have experienced so much in just a few days. I’ve learned about how restaurant culture here is different and asking for the check is not distasteful. Or how carrying a water bottle around with you everywhere is very American. It’s these little things that have been fascinating to figure out every single day.

Classes have been great so far. I’ve learned a lot more about drug development and honestly how hard it is to do. 14 years to make a drug? That’s about 2/3 of my lifetime! I’ve also learned a lot about seals in my biology of marine mammals class and about the history of the European Union in my EU-US relations class.

I would have one word of advice for any DIS student coming or wanting to come to Copenhagen: Breathe. I was honestly worried when I came here, but everything has been fantastic. The DIS team, professors, and other students have created an environment where anyone is welcomed. It’s like my happy family away from home.

Overall, I want this blog post to be about my story. About the adjustments I’ve made to a new culture. Except I don’t want people to just read about it. I want people to feel like they can be in my shoes by getting to see what I do. I’m here to inspire others and show what else is out there. Hopefully I can capture that.

“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.”

-Robert Frank

Arrival: Testing the Waters in Copenhagen

Coming to a new country, you can expect to be challenged in ways you never thought imaginable.

It’s something I’ve never really experienced before. I wasn’t originally worried about going somewhere new. I felt like it was just going to be a slight adjustment. Oh man was I wrong. As I walked off the plane and got through passport security, I walked down to baggage claim and found that my bags were safe and sound. At this point nothing seemed too different, but I proceeded to take off my headphones for the first time after getting off the plane. At that point, I knew I was in for a ride. People spoke Danish, German, Swedish, and languages I didn’t even recognize. Signs were in Danish and while some were translated to English, many weren’t. There were lots of other DIS students who arrived too, looking shocked and confused. This is probably what I also looked like. We were told to go to the hotel when we arrived, and DIS made it quite easy to find the way there with friendly people who guided us throughout. At the hotel, I was greeted by the many smiling faces that were the staff for DIS. They had everything set up for arriving students including a selection of candy bars called Corney (which I promptly took 1 of each) and I ventured towards where the homestay students all went. When I walked up the stairs, I knew this was the right place to study this fall.

I was walking up the stairs where one DIS staff turns to another to say, “I’ve heard that Carleton University students are the worst.”

 I found this quite hilarious and started laughing, because I was wearing my Carleton baseball sweatshirt. But Carleton University wasn’t my actual school. I corrected him by saying:

“You mean Carleton College?”

 “Aren’t they the same?!”, he replied.

“Nope! I go to school in Minnesota, not Canada.”

Afterwards we laughed, and this was not the first time this has happened to me. Going to a school of roughly 2,000 students, you get used to people not knowing your school or mistaking it for the Canadian one. But getting used to studying abroad? We could all relate to that.

After orientation and getting my Dot card(how I was going to get around Copenhagen on the S train and metro), I was told I was going to be taking a taxi to my homestay. This was due to the fact Justin, a friend from Carleton College who I’m staying with, arrived earlier and was already at our homestay. I was shipped off in a taxi arranged by DIS and it wasn’t bad at all! The rolling hills of Denmark were beautiful, scattered with lakes and small towns in between. It was like Minnesota but with no corn. Oh, and Danish people. As I was watched these rolling hills, the cab driver found his way to my home for the next 4 months in a small town named Ølstykke which literally translates to “piece of beer”. I found the house, and I knocked on the door. I was greeted by none other than my friend Justin and my host: Henrik.

I learned that I was living with Henrik about a week and a half before I left. He reached out to me beforehand and seemed like an amazing person. He served as a police officer, went on 3 international missions, and loves to sea kayak. But even with him reaching out, nothing prepared me to meet a 6’4” large man next to my friend Justin who is 6’2”. I quickly came to the realization at 6’0” that I was in fact the shortest person in the house. That first night I learned so much about Henrik. He went to Afghanistan and Kosovo, is an avid motorcycle rider and instructor, worked homicide cases, and the most surprising of all is that he is a licensed masseur. He’s been everywhere from the Congo to the United States where he did a cross country trip with his son and even visited my college! And his son is 6’6” in case you wanted to know how I felt about that.

After I settled in and learned what the house rules were, Henrik decided to take us for a little trip around the area to get ourselves acquainted with where we going to be living. There was a beautiful town just 5 minutes away from Ølstykke where there was a cool harbor and an ancient viking ship! It took forever for us to find parking, and we decided to get some ice cream. Justin then asked Henrik the question of how cold the water was in the harbor. There was a boat ramp right near where we were, and he suggested we should find out. As Justin goes down the ramp holding onto the concrete for stability, he slipped a little but saved himself from the water. Being jet lagged, I saw what happened and thought to myself that I wouldn’t make the same mistake. I positioned myself in a manner where I was balanced and wouldn’t slip. But I didn’t hold onto anything else and stood on the middle of the ramp. Bad idea. Let’s just say as I slipped slowly down the ramp into the water, I’m glad I brought an extra pair of shoes.

The next day after falling asleep at 7pm, Justin and I decided to set off to Copenhagen by ourselves in the morning to see if we could find DIS and where we were going to be studying. Henrik gave us directions, but nothing prepares you for walking through city streets in a different country. I will say that it was quite easy to find, and along the way we reached out to friends and realized they both were going to visit DIS at the time we did! We met up with our friends Justin Y. (I know, another Justin) and Aubrey decided to go off and see the famous canal called Nyhavn. You’ve probably seen many pictures of it and honestly, it is really, really pretty. They also were running an ironman at the canal so we also got to see all the runners and bikers! After walking around and getting gelato from a local place, we walked around a bit more and decided to head back home for dinner. Our ride back on the train was quiet and nice. We even ran into a host family with their student and talked until arrived at their stop! We had dinner, and I decided to start writing the blog about my arrival. Sitting here writing now, I know tomorrow awaits our first official day of DIS with the student arrival workshop. I’m super excited to meet the other people who I decided to take this journey with and can’t wait for more stories to tell!

Assorted Pictures including the streets of Copenhagen and DIS, a selfie with my friends, and my room for the fall!

I went from shell-shocked to comfortable shell-shock in the past 2 days. I realized that I’m not the only person experiencing this right now. We are surrounded by people who care about us and a culture unlike no other. Sometimes there’s a comfort in that uncertainty.

As my mother and grandmother said before I left:

“Life’s a banquet, kid! And more poor suckers are starving to death. You gotta live, live, live!”

Pre-Departure: Home Run to Home Away

Sitting in an unfamiliar apartment late at night in the heart of Atlanta, I pop open my computer and put on some “Jazz Vibes” to write to. Missing home and my family back in Bloomington, Illinois, I think to myself:

Man, it’s already the end of July. I just got out of school last month and in three weeks I’m going to be flying to Copenhagen? Time is really passing by. It feels like I just started research and now I have to get ready to go abroad for 4 months!

This summer, I have been fortunate enough to do Biochemistry research at Georgia Tech on heme trafficking and availability (really cool stuff!). I’ve been away from home since September of last year, only to find myself getting ready for my next big adventure. But this one feels different. Sure, I’ve never lived in a big city until Atlanta or truly lived on my own. But Denmark? It feels like a beast of its own. Unexplored terrain. A new journey of my life.

Just me enjoying a sip of Coca-Cola with the founder John Stith Pemberton at the World of Coke in Atlanta, Georgia!

It may seem like I’m talking about my expedition to Copenhagen this August as daunting, but I think a different word describes my feeling towards the situation: wanderlust. I’ve never felt this emotion before. The more I think about studying, exploring, and living in a different country than my own, the more this sentiment intensifies. It feels like it’s going to be my home away from Illinois, and I just can’t really explain why.

Overall, I haven’t been reading much on what to do in Copenhagen or where exactly to go. I feel like it would ruin or diminish this feeling of wanderlust. Instead of having a book to tell me where to visit (which I’m sure there are FANTASTIC books out there), I want to traverse the landscape naturally. If I do get the opportunity of living with my preferred choice of a home stay this fall, I want to ask them personally where they think I should spend my time. I wish to experience Danish culture in the best way possible. Interact, talk to, and learn from the people who actually live here. Embed myself in a different style of living.

While I’m frantically preforming experiments and getting a summer research poster readied up, I don’t have that much to pack for Copenhagen. I had to decide this stuff in July because I wasn’t going to be home before I take a 9-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean. I kept it pretty simple: Clothes, electronics, and myself. I mean, if you forget yourself, I think you might be doing it wrong.

My mentoring graduate student and I in front of a gigantic NMR machine! We don’t use this machine for my research but the lab next to us do and they gave me the opportunity to visit the room one day!

As I reflect and think of the great opportunity the Danish Institute for Study Abroad(or DIS as I will refer to it) has given me with this program and the amazing people who have helped me get here, it really will be a story of its own. A story I hope to share with everyone and to cherish for a lifetime. I won’t be packing up to go back to Minnesota where people say baeg instead of bag. And I won’t be going back to get ready for my next baseball season just yet. Though I will be bringing my baseball glove because you never know when you’ll need to pitch the next big game. I’ll be in a different country, surrounded by people I don’t know.

But that’s ok. Life’s an adventure and we’re all along for the ride.