Some ask me why I constantly hit the reset button on life and commit myself to living (for extended periods of time) in cultures and places I know nothing about. This is my response to those people.
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I never knew what it meant to have a life changing experience until I returned home from my 4 year experience in Europe. I spent most of that time living, working and studying in Copenhagen, Denmark. Prior to attending graduate school, I had only spent time traveling around the world or studying abroad in France and Spain.
During my 40 months in Copenhagen, I was fortunate enough to learn about Danish culture, which led to, what I like to think was, my initiation into Danish society. To join this exclusive club, I had to learn to properly say rød grød med fløde, use candles learn to create a hyggeligt environment, learn how to ride a bike during rush hour while wearing high heels and, what I think completed my initiation, be diagnosed with vitamin-D deficiency (which many Danes have due to the lack of sunlight!). My transformation from foreigner to cultural insider was challenging and confusing and certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the many friends I met along the way.
Suddenly, without realizing it, I had experienced the true value of slow travel: transitioning from the outside, in.
The strangers who were once instrumental in decoding the Danish ways had become my lifelong friends. Over the months and years, they unknowingly (to them and me) helped me transition from being an outsider, to being an insider.
Having visited over 20 countries by the end of my time in Copenhagen, I realized that I really didn’t know any other cultures other than the ones I was raised with. It was only after reflecting back on ‘my Danishness’ that I realized the profound impact my time in Copenhagen had on my identity and my outlook on life.
By knowing, interacting with, and understanding the local people and their culture, I grew into a better version of myself. A more open-minded, intentional, empathetic human being.
To this day, I see how my ‘slow travel experiences’ in many countries continue to impact my day-to-day decisions. From how to dress to what I eat to how I spend my money. The things I’ve learned from cultures around the world have stuck with me and are now a part of who I am. While I am American, I am also a citizen of the world.