St. Lawrence University gives students so many opportunities to branch out and enrich their academic experience. One of the most exciting opportunities does not happen on the St. Lawrence campus, but in other cities, states and countries! Over 50 percent of students decide to study abroad for at least one full semester and 60-70% of students have some sort of off-campus experience, whether it is a summer program, a trip over winter break, or a semester abroad. This incredible opportunity allows students to travel to different countries and fully immerse themselves in cultures, while also taking classes through SLU or another University.
Last semester, one of my friends, Julia Mitiguy ’17, was abroad to Copenhagen, Denmark! While I missed her dearly, it has been so exciting to hear all about her amazing adventures all across Europe. I was able to talk with her about her experience in Denmark!
Katie: What initially drew you to study abroad?
Julia: I’ve always loved to travel and I think the experiences and insights you gain from different cultures across the world are irreplaceable. I thought that traveling and studying abroad for a semester at such a pivotal developmental age, as a college student, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I believed it would provide opportunities for me to see the world through a different lens, and outside of my St. Lawrence bubble and, boy, did I realize how big the world really is! I am from a small town in Cumberland, Maine, and have never really lived in a city before, so this was a really big step outside of my comfort zone. I found myself constantly lost and confused at first, but eventually I figured it out. I feel like I’ve grown up so much and am comfortable with being independent. I really had to be mature and responsible.
Katie: What made you choose Denmark?
Julia: Before traveling to Denmark, the only thing I knew about this country was that it was small and that in 2013 it was named the world's happiest nation, but nothing else. Therefore, I think the biggest draw was that it would be such a unique and new experience in Europe. I was also drawn to the programs DIS offers and the amount of time allotted for individual travel.
Katie: How was the preparation process with St. Lawrence during the spring prior to your departure?
Julia: St. Lawrence held a couple of information sessions to prep for my time abroad and it was really helpful to hear from SLU students who had previously traveled abroad to Denmark and get their insights. My program, DIS, is very organized and therefore made the whole process very smooth.
Katie: What were you the most scared of?
Julia: For anybody that knows me, they know that I love being involved and therefore, going abroad left me really scared of missing out on things at home and at SLU. But in the grand scheme of things, this experience is once in a lifetime, and after arriving here with so much activity and excitement, those feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) didn’t last for too long when I was caught up in my own adventure, making memories, and having new experiences every day.
Katie: What has the hardest thing you have dealt with since the beginning of the semester?
Julia: One of the hardest, but also one of the best, things I’ve dealt with is “being comfortable with being uncomfortable”. Since every situation is new in the beginning of the semester, there is always a degree of awkwardness with initial interactions. Navigating the city was new, speaking Danish was new, making new friends can be uncomfortable. It was kind of like freshman year all over again. I already consider myself a very outgoing and independent person, but being abroad only strengthened this. It was also difficult for me being separated and on my own from my family when they aren’t a car ride away. This was especially hard during times of family illness and during Thanksgiving when I was really missing them and wishing I could be home. However, in the end, I knew that the experience I was having was irreplaceable and my family will remain supporting me and I will always be there for them no matter the distance.
Katie: What has been your greatest experience?
Julia: This is a tough question because I truly value a lot of them. I’ve loved being independent, traveling, meeting new people, living like a Dane, eating pastries and amazing food, seeing amazing things. Another really cool thing about DIS is that the courses are taught by professors that also work in the field of what they are teaching. For instance, my “Complexity of Cancer” class is taught by an oncologist and radiologist and they come straight from the hospital to teach our class. DIS also doesn't have classes on Wednesdays. Instead, this is time for field studies where the teachers take us to places relevant to class.
My greatest experience would have to be the lifelong relationships I have formed, especially with my Danish family. I have a mother and an 18-year-old brother and I have had the best experience living with them. Because my host mom travels a lot she has actually already met my mom in Boston when she was in the States for a conference. I know we will have a lasting relationship and will keep in touch.
Katie: What excited you about coming back to SLU?
Julia: I was so excited to come back to SLU and see all of my friends. Friendships and family are something that I value so much, they mean the world to me, and nothing puts a bigger smile on my face than good times with the family and friends and seeing them succeed.
Katie: What parts of you experience will you bring back to the St. Lawrence community?
Julia: My cross cultural insights will be engaging in the classroom as well as on campus. One of the coolest things I found about Danish culture is that they bike everywhere, all the time. It is the main mode of transportation for commuting to work, school, and even going out at night. This is extremely environmentally friendly and also promotes an active, healthy lifestyle. I will definitely advocate and promote DIS, as I think everyone should have the opportunity to study abroad and based on my experience, I would particularly encourage Denmark.
A major part of the abroad experience isn’t just travelling and living in a foreign country, but also bringing your experience back to SLU. With so many people having studied in places around the world, our campus becomes rich with culture as students share the traditions, languages, recipes, music and ideas they've learned about. I am so excited to see what Julia brings back to campus and what I can learn from her about the Danish culture!