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Return ticket makes leaving Copenhagen easier

US student to leave Copenhagen with a good portion of denial and a ticket to come back in six months

Karen Hewell from Arizona, USA, is, like so many other international exchange students, facing the prospect of packing up and leaving Copenhagen behind.

She has been through reverse culture shock before, and knows what to expect. In spite of this, she still had to book a ticket back to Copenhagen before she could come to terms with the idea of leaving.

»I have mostly been in denial about leaving,« she says. »I didn’t have my plane ticket booked until about a week ago. I went home for Christmas, and all I could think about was getting back here. When it came to the time when other people started booking tickets home, I didn’t want to think about it or plan leaving,« she continues.

»The only way I could make myself book a ticket was to book a round trip, coming back at New Year, so I knew I only had six months before I could come back. It was the only way I could keep my sanity.«

See article Coming home is the real culture shock here.

Strong ties to Danes

Karen has been in Copenhagen since August last year. She has put down more roots than she expected to, and aims to return here permanently.

»I’ve done the going abroad and coming back again thing before in my junior year in High School, but this is a different experience. I fell in love with Denmark way more than I anticipated. All exchange students come into this thinking ‘I am going to go abroad for a year or a semester, and then I will go home and that will be my adventure’, but then they don’t want to leave,« she says. »I almost have to force myself to wrap things up.«

Karen feels that she has particularly strong ties with Copenhagen as she has, unlike many other exchange students, managed to make Danish friends:

»A lot of exchange students are friends with other international students. It is easier to leave that way, because the entire group moves on with you. You can really wrap the story up because the whole thing is ending,« she explains. »I was lucky, and unlucky, enough to make really good friends that are Danish, through my rowing club. Knowing that they are staying here when I leave is what makes it so difficult for me.«

Like splitting up

According to Karen, a lot of the difficulty in going home comes from the changes in identity and maturity that many exchange students experience while abroad.

»Many students on exchange want to become a new person, because nobody knows them here. You have reinvented yourself in a way by having this life altering experience, and when you get home, you don’t know where to go from there.

To cope with this alienation, Karen finds it necessary to distance herself from the exchange experience:

»There are lot of things you stop talking and thinking about. You almost have to put behind you all the things you have experienced, just to stay sane. You have to disconnect yourself from the experience, as depressing as that is. It is like ending a relationship.«

Others unprepared

The University of Copenhagen does not provide any preparation for going home, other than goodbye parties, says Karen. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Students find ways to cope with the idea of leaving. Having been through the process once before, Karen shares her experiences with other exchange students.

»I have done a lot of explaining to others, as people really don’t know what to expect.«

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