The most common question I got before, during, and after studying abroad was: “Why Denmark?” At first, I couldn’t quite pinpoint my “why” – after all, Denmark is a tiny Scandinavian country that many people have only heard of briefly. I had never been to Europe before, let alone been away from my family in Pennsylvania for more than a month. As I packed my two oversized suitcases and said a tearful goodbye to my mom, dad, and sister, it was hard to wrap my head around the fact that I was about to embark on a life-changing experience.
Meeting my new host family
I was greeted at the airport by my Danish host family: Pernille, Lennart, Oliver, and Ida. I had looked at their Facebook pages before leaving the U.S., and I was over-the-moon excited to learn that my new host siblings were hip-hop dancers! At Gettysburg, I am on a hip-hop dance team called B.O.M.B. Squad and I have been dancing my whole life. I had been messaging with Ida and Ollie until the very moment they arrived to pick me up. Suddenly, I was in a car with four complete strangers who were about to take me to their house for the next four months. We arrived at their farmhouse where I met their sweet German shepherd, Freya, and was greeted by celebratory Danish flags and balloons scattered throughout the home. The Danish flag is a huge source of pride for my host family and is used during any happy celebration or special occasion. It also happened to be Ida’s 16th birthday! The next morning, we were treated to an outdoor breakfast feast of fresh-baked bread rolls with chocolate.
The international language of dance
One of the best ways to acclimate that I could think of was to do something I know and love – dance. I told my host mom about my dance experience, and she excitedly suggested I take some classes in Copenhagen. Taking dance classes in a hip city studio had always been a dream of mine! The choreographers were all from very unique backgrounds: most were Danish, but many taught classes in L.A., New York, and across Europe. Initially, I was nervous about the classes being completely in Danish, but luckily dance is a language in itself and is easy to follow. Each week, I’d meet so many talented, stylish people; I even met two young brothers who had competed on Denmark’s Got Talent. They were masters of popping and locking (a.k.a. “the robot”). After each class, my host parents would pick us up and Ollie and I would excitedly perform the dance we learned. It was one of my favorite experiences abroad and really helped to break the ice with my host family.
Dance came to play a large role in my time abroad. One time, my entire host family and I made a choreographed routine to the song “Cheerleader” for a surprise performance at my host cousin’s Confirmation party. I also attended my host brother’s Christmas dance showcase at the end of the semester and watched him compete in freestyle competitions. It was so fun to cheer him on with my host parents and host sister; he even wore the shirt I brought him as a gift from the U.S.! In the middle of the semester, I was lucky enough to visit Bornholm with my host family and we danced on hikes, in the streets, on the beach, and in the kitchen after dinner.
The value of studying abroad
Living with a host family offers such a unique, immersive experience. I practiced my Danish speaking skills with them, and we laughed at my awkward pronunciations of Danish foods such as “flødeboller” (chocolate covered marshmallow puffs) and “flæskesteg” (pork roast). They taught me the importance of living in the moment and appreciating family. That is one thing that I really admire about Danish culture–they truly value balance, deep social connections, and keeping a close-knit circle. My host family was integral in defining my “why” Denmark question. I wish I could snap my fingers and be back in that dance studio with Ollie and Ida! Incredibly, right after I left to come home, Ollie won the national dance championship of Denmark.
By Abby Roy ’23, biology major and neuroscience minor
Photos by Anh Nguyen '22 and Abby Roy ’23