The here and now

Excuse me– who can tell me where the entire month of May went? anyone?

Somehow, it’s already summer in Copenhagen. Cafés have all set up tables and chairs outside where people sit in the sun, shrugging off their big gray scarves and spring coats, chatting and drinking and turning their faces to the sun.

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The entire city smells like cherry blossoms and lilacs. No, I am not making this up. I biked in a sleeveless top and sandals on Friday without feeling cold, taking big gulps of flower-air and letting my hair dry in the wind. There’s a little countdown clock in my head (and another one in an app, on my phone) reminding me that there is now a definitive deadline on my time in Copenhagen: I decided to leave my current master’s programme  in Copenhagen after a good look at my heart and my mind, and you can read about it here.

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BY THE WAY: You (yes you!!) showered me with such unexpected acceptance, such genuine kindness and such true support for my decision. Some of you are constants in my life, some of you are new friends, and some of you are going through something similar and just reached out to share that. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I won’t ever be able to write well enough to express how you made me feel.

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I feel kinda like this

Having said that: I have accepted an offer of admission from the University of Sussex, where I will be starting (and completing!) an M.A. in Conflict, Security and Development. I’ll live in Brighton and as far as I know it’s a really good place to be: liberal, student-friendly, by the sea, just an hour from London. If anyone wants to confirm, or if anyone has lived in or visited Brighton, drop a comment below or write me a message!

I’ll be moving to Brighton this fall, but first I’ll be:

  1. Showing off Copenhagen to Hannah and Rick, the graduates;
  2. Interrailing through Italy with Mary. (Watch out Italy.) Follow her wild trip, of which our frolic through Italy is just a fraction, here;
  3. Working at the tourist office in Raseborg, Finland, and spending days off at our paradise island cabin with my family; and
  4. Taking a one-week extended family trip to the Austrian Alps. Yes, we will take up half of the plane. Yes, we will (probably) reenact Sound of Music. No, we will not be skiing.

Before seven in the morning, I had already been across the city and back, the sun was high in a classic Copenhagen sheer-blue sky where a big crescent moon shadow was fading fast, and someone very important to me was somewhere in that sky, on a flight en route to Munich. Faris and I are both smitten with Copenhagen: with biking, with the smoothest cappuccinos on earth and the flakiest pastries, with the canals and the boardwalks and the relaxed vibe. To spend almost two weeks here together was a cure to the months we’ve spent apart, and an antidote to the months apart that lie ahead.

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When your boyfriend takes you to the FCK-Brondby derby 😉

 

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Meanwhile on the opposite end of the pitch…

We each have our own “version” of Copenhagen, and this time we got to fuse the two and then go exploring in totally new areas of the city. Fueled by ice cream and coffee and risotto balls and mussels, we must have biked close to 20 miles a day. This won’t be our last time in Copenhagen–we like it too much!

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Bike hair don’t care!!!

If you made it this far, thank you! No, really, thank you! I hope you have a really good week ahead of you. If you’re in Copenhagen, I hope we can have an Aperol spritz on a rooftop, or an iced coffee at some cobblestoned corner, or both, like this:

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So, just call me! And if you’re in North Carolina, or in Finland: I really miss you. If you are somewhere else, or if you’re not even sure where you are, I hear you, and I see you, and I am there with you too.

Love,

A

 

 

 

It’s not you, it’s me

Wait–this is a bombshell. Or, it feels that way to me–but maybe you already knew? I think I’m good at keeping a neutral tone, an easy smile and a semblance of inner calm and direction, but maybe I’m an open book (and you know exactly what I’m going to say next), or maybe I’ve called you more than once, frustrated to tears and questioning everything I’ve ever learned and everything I’ve ever decided for myself:

I’ve decided to leave my Master’s programme in Security Risk Management.

“But—!”

Yes, the program of my dreams.

“But Copen—!”

Yes, the coolest city in the world. And the happiest. And bike lanes everywhere and Stan Smiths on all feet and cool, black coats and topknots and huge scarves and beautiful sunsets and rainbow buildings and impossibly delicious caffe lattes in the coziest cafes and the freaking. amazing. pastries. Yes.

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Ah, silky cappuccinos. I could write a book on these silky cappuccinos.

It sure has thrown me for a loop. A year ago this was all I ever wanted. I saw this as the straightest path forward and the best path forward. I chose this!!! Maybe that was why I ignored the creeping feeling in mid-November that I’m not really interested in what I am learning and then also the feeling in mid-January when I was packing my suitcase to go back that I am not excited to go back to school at all.

For a few weeks after I came back to Copenhagen I felt more stuck, and more lonely, than I have ever felt in my life. I can’t remember anything, because I did the same things every day, like a sad robot. It rained and it was cold and dark, and I was tired all the time, even when I slept eight hours a night and two, sometimes three hours after class. Almost every evening, when it got dark, I put on my winter running tights, double-layer socks, a thick fleece and my raincoat and ran the same five mile loop through the city.

Though the haze, I recognized that I felt trapped, and I also recognized that the feeling was definitely connected to my studies. I began looking for a way out. I went back to the drawing board, back to the very first time I typed “master’s degree Europe” into Google and I started over again. First I told myself I would probably just re-arrive here, in Copenhagen, because this was truly the best decision. And then I told myself I was just proving that I had truly made the best decision. And then I told myself I would just see if I could switch to another programme in the same department.

Well, I ended up applying to six other graduate programmes. Only one of them is here in Copenhagen. I’m waiting to hear back from two more, and then I should be able to plan my next move.

Lest there be any misconceptions: the SRM Programme at KU is new, and it is still “under construction”, but it is of a very, very high caliber. The professors are visionaries. The courses are complex and there is a common thread: the “Copenhagen School” of security studies and risk management. It’s undoubtedly exciting and it’s definitely “the future”. I have learned about things I’ve never even heard of before. Learning is humbling, and it is never time wasted. This has become my motto.

Quite simply: Dear SRM, it’s not you, it’s me.

To my colleagues and my new friends: you are undoubtedly the most motivated, the most intelligent, the most dynamic people I have ever met. I remember being absolutely floored (and intimidated) on the first day of orientation, by every single one of you. You are so interesting! You have worked in the coolest places! You are so driven! And you are also kind, and hilarious, and smart! I can’t wait to work with you, to read about you, to tell people that know you!!

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Probably some of the smartest people in the world. And nicest.

Here I am, admitting to myself, as much as to you, that this was not the programme for me. I don’t intend to justify my decision here. I feel like I’ve unraveled some impossible tangle of threads in my mind just to arrive at this point. I sound like an idiot when I try to explain why. If you ask me privately, I will try again.

On the phone a few weeks ago, my mom said something along the lines of: “You can be a teacher! Or a painter! you can be anything you want.” Yes, moms say these things, but bear with me: I know people who are brilliant educators, or on their way there. I know people who make the most beautiful, simple, complicated, powerful art on canvas or on a stage or with instruments. I know people who are going to be singers, doctors, programmers, engineers, dentists, human rights lawyers.

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Listen to your mom. She’s probably right about everything.

I don’t know what I’m going to be, but to hear my mom say that on the phone snapped me out of whatever rut I was in. She wasn’t saying that I can literally “be anything I want”. She was saying: “Nothing is set in stone.” “You’re allowed to change your mind.” “You’re allowed to switch to plan B.” “You’re allowed to miscalculate along the way.”

What’s more freeing than that?

With love,

A

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Not the only path in the world, but probably one of the prettiest.

 

Rocky beginnings

Around this time last year, I submitted my graduate school applications and hoped for the best. In May, I was accepted to the M.Sc. in Security Risk Management in Copenhagen and the M.Sc. in European Governance in Luxembourg. I chose Copenhagen for reasons I knew in my gut, but which I couldn’t disentangle from my mind.

Many of you know how I squandered roughly $300 on the Copenhagen housing market before finding a place to live (and if you didn’t know, there, I’m not proud of it). Student housing is reserved for a select few, and the private housing market is flooded. It is the closest thing I can imagine to the Hunger Games. When it became obvious that I wouldn’t find a place to live before the beginning of the semester, I reached out to one of my childhood friends who lives in Malmö. Malmö is really charming (and so is Sandra, and her cute studio apartment) and I am endlessly grateful to Sandra for putting a roof over my head, but it was in the wrong country…

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Sandra’s living room, and my couch-bed. Classic scandinavian decorating, refined, minimalist and airy. BY THE WAY, she *made* that lamp. Out of coffee filters. Someone top that.

My commute was over an hour long and involved passports. I was also late to the first day of orientation. I don’t think I have ever been that stressed, before or after. The train was late- that was not how I pictured my first day!

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Matriculation ceremony with new friends.

 

After 20 days, I found a home in the villa of a couple with grown children, empty-nesters with eclectic taste in art and warm hearts. Robert is Danish and Pia is Finnish-Danish. This was a “friend of a friend” connection only possible because the social circles of the Finnish-swedes are tight knit. I live in the lower level of the house, and I have my own entrance next to the garage. (There are no cars in the garage, just bikes.)

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Sunset over “Flintholm” metro station, a short walk away from where I live.

Despite the initial crisis, I settled in. I made the requisite trip to Ikea, taking my Italian friend Denise along (on this trip, she called bubble bath “sprinkle soap” and I decided I needed her in my life). I bought a bike and began joining the silent, athletic commute into the city in the chilly, misty mornings that got a little darker every day.

September was a blur of adjustment. I visited Finland in October, and my dear friend Simone, who lives and works in Brussels, visited me in November.

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Going in for the kiss 😉

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The Royal Palace, with “Marmorkirken” (Frederik’s Church) in the left background.

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The iconic Copenhagen skyline, captured from the Round Tower.

The first semester, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just “studying abroad” again, even though I had effectively moved here. I know exactly how dreamy it sounds to live in Copenhagen, and it is- but as a graduate student, the city is just a beautiful backdrop to the reading and the research and weekday routines.

Mid-December found me on a plane, on my way to Summerfield/Greensboro. Amid Christmas festivities, kitchen renovations, snowstorms and trail runs in Bur-Mil park, I didn’t miss Copenhagen once. I don’t know if I should be ashamed of it- it’s not a matter of comparison, really, it’s a matter of roots. I’m still working on this feeling.

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It’s been over a month since I returned for the second semester. I’m looking forward to the days getting longer again, to biking across The Lakes without feeling like the wind is going to sweep me into the water, and to Friday afternoons spent at museums and new nooks of the city. I’m expecting some visitors this spring too, and I couldn’t be happier for the company.

I hope you enjoy your weekend!

—Amanda