On Learning to Love the Place You’re In

“I guess it goes to show that you just never know where life will take you. You search for answers. You wonder what it all means. You stumble, and you soar. And, if you’re lucky, you make it to Paris for a while.”  ~ Amy Thomas 
    I will be honest in saying that I’m not going to miss Copenhagen all too much. I have this feeling of slowly falling out of love with Copenhagen; a feeling that has grown over the course of the semester, returning ever stronger each time I return from a new place. Is it loss of adrenaline created when exploring a new city? Is it the idea of returning that I don’t like or is it the place itself? While I appreciate having my own room, I still don’t like returning to my lonely single (will I ever get used to this?). I like knowing where I am going, how to get back to my place. I enjoy the familiarity of my absolute favourite café in the world, the table where I always sit, the corner by the back with the view of the street in front of me. Still, there’s an inexplicable sadness that seeps into the lining of my duffel bag, as I sit emptying its contents onto the floor.
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    The Danes, to me, are a bit unapproachable and impersonal. Closed off.  Quiet, with impassive expressions that gave nothing, least of all a sense of happiness or joy, away.  I’ll return to silence on the metro, the train, even walking the streets. I’ll have to bite the bullet and pay silly amounts of money for meals, will go to the conservatory and practice, feeling a part of music itself, but not a part of the conservatory. So different from Blair at Vanderbilt, where we are always in each other’s practice rooms (sometimes too often), where my friend Ethan will come bursting in, scaring me half to death: Will you listen to my Bach? Have you practiced the excerpt for orchestra? Can I borrow your metronome? Where we all know each other (sometimes too well), where I can ask about someone’s day, and they’ll really tell me, no pretense.  I feel so a part of it there, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it till I left.
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   Perhaps this feeling of falling out of love with Copenhagen can be attributed to loss of adrenaline from traveling to other places. A silly thing to even consider, I know. I’m in a new place, for goodness sake. It’s not like I’ve even been in Copenhagen for that long. Four months is not long enough to really understand a place. And I am so lucky, so very, very fortunate to be able to explore all these new cities in Europe – traveling with friends, seeing and experiencing all that I possibly could. I know this feeling was very prevalent at the beginning of the semester, when everything about being abroad was new and rife with possibility. But coming back from Budapest, falling quickly in love with the city and never wanting to leave, I realize that the feeling of newness and excitement has worn off for Copenhagen, and in its place, instead of attaining a level of ease with the place, there’s the feeling that I don’t really belong here.
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     Try as I might, I cannot shake the neutral feeling I have for Copenhagen. I liked it. I’ve enjoyed my time here. There are many things to be thankful for in Denmark. I always felt safe. The study abroad program here took such good care of us, more so than from what I heard from other students in study abroad programs elsewhere. But more than anything, I’m going to miss being abroad. I’m going to miss the whole idea of it. The freedom and the joy of discovery and the bliss of being in a new unexplored place, meeting new people, exploring a street I’ve never walked before, a church around the corner that I almost missed. I have to remember that I can do this in any place that I am. It shouldn’t matter. There’s always something to be explored, to think about, to observe. The environment around us is dynamic, constantly in motion. And new and old friends will come and go, and hopefully, the ones that matter the most to you will stay.
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“Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.”
― Socrates
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   Places are like this too, I think. One can have a relationship with a place in the same way that people have relationships with one another. And like every relationship, there are ups and downs, times of uncertainty and questioning, and sometimes one end is more invested than the other. Sometimes, neither is very invested at all, and then you know it’s time to leave. Maybe that has been my problem with Copenhagen. I became less invested, which is completely my own fault. I didn’t explore enough, didn’t put myself outside of my comfort zone often enough. Didn’t learn to love living on my own. Now, with little over a week left, I think rushing a relationship won’t work. The city and I were perhaps always a little uncomfortable with one another, a little unsure. Maybe now I’m just making excuses.
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 “Travel is like flirting with life.  It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go.'” ~ Lisa St. Aubin de Teran 
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    Because there have been some beautiful moments here in Copenhagen. And I do like certain aspects of the city and of Danish culture. There are many things to appreciate about this place. It is like a relationship, where you knew that you’re not quite right for each other, but you’ve had some good times together and some great memories. And over time, those memories will be remembered through rose-coloured glasses. Time will take the forgotten parts and fill the holes with beautiful stained glass, so that when it comes time to disassemble the memory, you pick up the coloured glass pieces and think, “Huh, I don’t remember this part, but maybe it was that good. Maybe I did love it that much.”  And the danger of rose-colored glasses is that they have no peripheral vision, but only hindsight bias, which tends to colour the bad parts good and the good parts even better, and you start to wonder if you maybe miss it. When at the time, you were falling out of love with the place.
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   But just today, on the train, there were so many people waiting to get on because it’s raining out and miserable and quite cold, and the bikers were trying to fit all of their bikes through the bike entrance to the train (yes, that is a thing here in Copenhagen. There are special bike doors, in the metro too). And it was a bit chaotic. I was by the bike entrance to the train, behind this older woman in a bright green jacket who was struggling to get her wet bike onto the train. Beside me was a young guy in denim and khakis and converse, typical Danish, wavy blond hair and bright blue eyes, and without saying anything, he just picked up the end of the older woman’s bike, helping get it on the train. And she had no idea, she didn’t know at all who was behind her and didn’t seem aware that he had helped her with the bike, and it was so quietly kind and matter-of-fact. And that’s not necessarily a Danish thing. I think it’s humanity in general – just people caught in moments of pure joy or love or loss or empathy.
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“There is no penalty from failing except to get better or understand better, and maybe become more beautiful humans.” ~ Letter from home, Jan. 17, 2015 
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   So I won’t miss Denmark all too much, I don’t think. But I know I’ll miss the friends that I’ve made here. So many wonderful memories we have made together. I’ll miss this chapter in my life. The one where I was able to spend days just exploring and taking my time, wandering in museums and climbing to the top of towers and seeing everything for the first time. Eating gelato three times a day and drinking cappuccinos on trains and postcard shopping. How I’ll miss postcard shopping. Going for long runs with no worries about time constraints and pace and mileage. Meeting new people in all sorts of places – in class, in hostels, at a street food market, the bus, on a walking tour. The friends I made here whom I’m going to miss so very much. What a wonderful chapter it has been – I wish I could read it all over again. Turn back to the first page and relive every experience. (Except for that first day in Brussels. Nope. Maybe just to get up enough courage to talk to the Canadian man on the train.) Oh, endings are the saddest part. But it sure was a happy middle, and a very happy start.
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 “Don’t give me a happy ending. 
Endings are the saddest part. 
Just give me a happy middle,
And a very happy start.” 
~ Dr. Suess 
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