Travel Week Tips

If you had told me 2 years ago that I would be hopping around Europe, I would have called you mad. But here I am having enjoyed one of the best weeks of my short adult life. For the travel week,  a group of friends from my Game Development course and I traveled to Madrid, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal.  Here are some travel tips that I hope will help you with your travel week.

Make sure you have all your class work done before traveling

We had an assignment that was due on Sunday. However, we were traveling on Saturday afternoon. We weren’t able to finish it on time so we carried our work with us and spent Saturday night and Sunday morning in Madrid finishing up on our work. Talk about anticlimactic! The week before travel week is usually Midterm week. Try have all your work submitted before traveling and note the deadlines of all your upcoming work so that you stay abreast with your academics.

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Picture taken from a viewpoint near our Airbnb

 

Pack light

I need to take classes in packing because I literally cannot take my own advice lol.  I traveled with a medium sized duffel bag that was annoying to lug around. In hindsight, I would have taken my rolling carry on bag or even better my backpack. Make sure to triple check the baggage policy of the airlines you will be using. You don’t want to pay an extra $50 because you carried too many bags. In case you are planning to go to Lisbon, I would recommend you take an Uber from the airport to your Airbnb or hostel because Lisbon is insanely hilly. In general, unless you are confident you will be able to navigate the train or metro system from the airport to your residence, I would recommend just taking an Uber so you can settle down faster.

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I can’t smile and keep my eyes open at the same time. This is near the Royal Palace in Madrid

 

 

Notify your bank you are traveling

I usually do this as a precaution so that my bank doesn’t freeze my transactions because they think it’s a case of fraud. If you have a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees then you are solid. I have a debit card that has a 3% transaction fee so I opted to withdraw money in chunks to cut down costs. Using cash also made me less inclined to spend frivolously because I could literally see myself becoming broke. If you choose to withdraw cash don’t withdraw a ton of money,  just withdraw an adequate amount. If you would rather use your card then that also works. Also, remember the Euro is usually slightly higher than the dollar when factoring in your costs.

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Highly recommend this if you are in Madrid

 

 

Take your time

You will not be able to go all the trip advisor recommended places during your week. I would rather linger in a few good places than rush through a ton of places. I would recommend scheduling 2-3 activities during the day and an activity at night. My friends and I usually skipped breakfast and had had brunch before heading out for sightseeing. We would then rest for about an hour in the evening before going out for dinner and that night’s activity. Be kind to your body. Don’t just go! go! go! Remember to rest. I would also recommend flying in a day or two before classed resume. This gives you the chance to rest and set your mind for classes next week. Plus do laundry 🙂

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Another beautiful view of Lisbon

Have Fun!

Soak all of it in. Yes, Flex for the gram. but also just take time to enjoy your friends’ company and the newness of your destination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Go Forth and Meet Danes!

I realized that while studying abroad, it can be really easy to just hang out with DIS students and not really interact with Danish people. I am lucky to be living in a homestay so I literally have a home-cooked Danish meal almost every night. But apart from that, I wanted to meet some locals and make some type of connection. Thankfully, I am taking a photojournalism class where I am required to take photos of strangers and tell a story with those photos. This has been a daunting task because it requires some vulnerability to walk up to a stranger and ask for a photograph or take photos of them without them knowing. My photojournalism class has made me slow down and really take my time to enjoy Copenhagen. I will be doing a project where I’ll follow a Dane around for the next 2 months and take photos of them living their daily life. This is definitely way out of my comfort zone but I’m excited about the challenge, and I will get to have a chance to really make a meaningful connection with a local.

I noticed my blog posts tend to be kinda long so I’ll just end here with some photos of the stretch between Norreport and the Royal Library.

Moving Fast and Slow

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Photo of Norreport Station. Taken by me.

I can’t believe I have been in Denmark for a whole month! I feel like the time is moving so fast! I had planned on doing so much traveling outside of Denmark by now but I haven’t yet left the country. Which is good for my bank account tbh. It can be overwhelming when you hear people are traveling to different cities in Europe almost every weekend. It’s easy to feel pressured to do the same. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with traveling to different countries while abroad but there is also nothing wrong with staying in Denmark during the weekends and finding something fun to do.

Ideally, I would have liked to travel to 5 or more other countries during my study abroad semester. But realistically, based on my budget if I can hit at least 3 countries I’ll be happy. I have already made plans to travel to Lisbon and Madrid for travel week so that will be fun. There will also be a long Easter break where I can hopefully hit 2 other countries. Malmo, Sweden is a bus ride away so I’ll go there some random weekend. I also want to do at least one solo trip. Ideally to the Farrow islands.

Anyway, my point is, I am relegating out of country travel to long breaks and a few weekends. It is good for my bank account, and it also allows me to live like a local. For some study abroad students, Denmark can act as a landing pad while they travel to other European destinations. There is nothing wrong with this option. However, I want to really take my time and explore Denmark. This weekend, it was warmer than usual for this time of the year. So my friend and I went to take photos in Copenhagen and enjoy the relative warmth. We had lunch at a place that I discovered and now love because of its hygge vibes. We later on sat and talked about life over an evening cocktail. I also visited my local library on Sunday and did some work. It might not be the ‘most exciting weekend’ but it was relaxing and somewhat productive.

As my time here moves fast, I want to really take in as much of Denmark as I can in the relatively short time I have here. This requires that I slow down to have a chai latte and chocolate cake at my local library on a Sunday afternoon and just be.

Game Development Core Course Week

Every semester DIS arranges core course week. Core course week is a week where our learning is taken out of the classroom and into different spaces that engage in the core classes that we are in. Overall the experience was unlike any other learning experience I have had. This week I appreciated the fact that learning does not have to happen in the classroom. Learning is a continuous process that should not be confined within the four walls of a classroom. Another beautiful thing about the core course week is that as classmates we were able to interact with each other more which usually doesn’t happen in a classroom setup where we are sitting and listening to our professor teach.

Here is a breakdown of how the core course week went down!

Day 1: Game Jam

Game jams are events usually about 2-3 days long where people meet up to create digital or analog games. The DIS game jam was a 48-hour challenge to create our own 2D games bottom up. By the end of the 2 days, we were to have a prototype of a working game that revolved around the theme “One Button”. Coming into the game I was anxious because I wondered how I would be able to make a game after only learning about game development using Unity for a mere 3 weeks. I was also recovering from a cold so I was not really as alert as I would have liked to be for the game jam. I worked with a group comprised of 2 other amazing classmates and they did most of the work lol. We created a multiplayer 2D platformer game. I worked on the camera controller and helped with creating the background looping effect. My other 2 groupmates worked on the players and the obstacles.

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Our 2D Game.

I am a slow learner and this is a fact that I know about myself and have somewhat made peace with. The game jam pushed me to test what I have been learning in my class and lab in a way that was uncomfortable but very necessary. I’m the type of person who feels like I have to know everything about a certain topic before I can make something and share it with other people. The game jam pushed me to rely on whatever I knew thus far and with the help of google, create a working prototype for a game. Something I would not think I was capable of after learning for 3 weeks. Although I got frustrated at my pace in the game jam – I wanted to work faster, more efficiently and contribute more to the group, I learned and did not give up That counts for something.

 

Day 2: Game Jam and Escape Room

We continued working on our games from 10 am and till 2pm after which we presented the games that we had made and had the chance to play each other’s games. I was impressed with the games we had all made and it was also fun playing each other’s games. Later in the evening, we went to an escape room at Mystery Makers. I have never been to an escape room before. An escape room is a  is a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints, and strategy to escape the room in the time allotted (Wikipedia). It was really engaging. The fact that I was away from my phone for an hour and utterly engaged in this one activity was refreshing.

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Also could not take photos at the escape room

Day 3: Rest

We had Wednesday off and I went to the library to do a technical interview which I completely failed at 😦

Day 4: Vallekilde Hojskole (High school)

Early Thursday morning we left for Vallekilde Hojskole (High school) located in the Island of Zealand. Vallekilde is a folk high school. Folk high schools are institutions for adult education which emphasis on personal development, learning different subjects without the pressure of having exams. They were founded by Grundtvig, a Danish pastor, philosopher, and teacher. I actually did a presentation about him in my Danish Language and Culture class. It was amazing that I had a chance to spend a day at a folk high school. Vallekilde has different learning tracks one of which is game design. We spent the day learning about puzzles and escape rooms. We created our own puzzles in groups and had a chance to play each other’s puzzles. A highlight of that day was singing “With a little help from my friends” by the Beetles from their songbooks during the morning assembly that we attended.

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Vallekilde Hojskole sign

Day 5:  Aarhus University and ARoS Aarhus Art Museum

On Friday we spent the morning at Aarhus University learning more about the game design process. We learned about citizen science which is public participation in research. We got to learn from the citizen science research team at Aarhus University. The team creates fun games that help in their scientific and social sciences research. We got to play one of their games, Quantum Moves, a game that helps in quantum physics research. In the afternoon we had lunch at the Aarhus central food market then went to the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum which is famous for its rainbow panorama. We were then treated to an exceptional dinner at a Globben Flakket. I loved the salad, which is an anomaly. That’s how good dinner was. I loved the salad!

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Dinner at Globen Flakket

 

Day 6: The Lego House

On the last day, we explored the Lego House in Billund. I never played with Lego blocks before so it was pretty remarkable that the first time I played with Lego blocks was at the mother ship. We explored the different zones that emphasized different aspects of play. The zones explored cognitive skills, social skills, creativity, and emotional intelligence. Having lunch was a whole experience that involved Lego blocks, human waiters and robots. That’s the best way I can describe it.

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Classmate building his Lego blocks

 

All in all core course week was fun, engaging, I bonded with my classmates and learned a ton!

 

 

 

Embracing the Unpredictable

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My host family’s fridge door which we use a whiteboard to learn Danish and Swahili

It’s been a week since I arrived in Copenhagen and started my study abroad semester with DIS. I am living with my host family in Lyngby, and it has been a joy getting to know them. My first week has been very exciting. I have met so many new people from different places around the U.S and beyond. I have started exploring Copenhagen, and I am in love with the cobble-lined streets, and the grand old buildings that dot every street. I catch myself being in awe of things I would otherwise not notice such as how the sun rays accentuate the beauty of the buildings. When I walk into a coffee shop, I can now appreciate the intention and the effort put into creating cozy and intimate spaces, giving spaces that Hygge effect.

However, with new experiences, there is a lot of unpredictability involved. Our minds hate unpredictability. We are wired to seek out the safe and the comfortable. When thrown into new environments, it is normal to feel a little overwhelmed with the newness of things. This has been the case for me. When I first had to take the train to DIS I was so nervous that I would get lost or miss the train or have some random unexplainable thing happen to me. Thankfully I did not get lost, and I have not gotten lost yet thanks to GPS.

I am excited to be taking all my classes because they are so different from what I would normally take back in my home college. I am in the Game Development class, and yet I am not an active gamer! Sometimes I wonder why I am taking the class. I’m I good enough for the class? This is classic imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head. When those moments of self-doubt hit me, I know it is my animal brain seeking safety by avoiding the new and the unpredictable. I remind myself that I am just as good as anybody to be pursuing my interests.

Living with a host family is both exciting and nerve-racking. I am eternally grateful that my host family welcomed me with open arms and made me feel part of the family from day one. My host dad is an amazing cook so I am treated to tasty new dishes daily. My host mum is super sweet and interested in learning about the Kenyan/African culture. My host brother is funny and energetic. The dog! Mika the dog, deserves a special mention because she greets me every day when I come back home. I’ve never had a dog before so I am loving all this love and attention.

However, I am still navigating the awkwardness that can arise when living in someone else’s home. What chores I’m I expected to do around the house? What level of interaction is ideal for all of us? Should I go to my room after dinner to give you some family time or should I stay and make conversation? These are questions that have come up in my first week of living with my host family. Through proper communication and patience, I know things will get clearer. For now, I am consciously training myself to be comfortable with the unpredictability of the newness of my experiences.

Unpredictability, although nerve-racking, can lead to unanticipated moments of fellowship. Never would I have imagined that I would be getting my orange juice from a fridge whose door is filled with Danish and Swahili words.

 

The Journey to Copenhagen Begins!

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I am excited and at the same time nervous starting off my semester in Copenhagen. It is T minus 2 days to lift off  (Yes, I will occasionally have cheesy lines on my blog). It is now Wednesday and my flight departs on Friday evening. This whole week I have been getting ready for my 4-month stay in Copenhagen. To be honest, I have been very nervous about my upcoming study abroad experience. I have been nervous since the day I got accepted into the program. However, since I am highly trained procrastinator, I have pushed all thoughts about Copenhagen to the back of my head. Although I was not consciously thinking about my upcoming study abroad journey, my subconscious has been ruminating over it, which has led to my heightened anxiety. I knew sooner or later I would have to wrap my head around the fact that I would be living and studying in another continent for 4 months!

I am a Kenyan citizen studying at Villanova University which is located in Pennsylvania. All my family is back at home in Kenya, and I have been in the U.S for almost 3 years. Technically my 4-year college experience in the U.S already counts as studying abroad. Now I’m doing it all over again in Denmark! I’ve been nervous about it because I just feel like I have settled into a routine here in the U.S and I’m about to disrupt it by studying abroad. I love routine. I love knowing what I’m doing, where I’m going, where I belong. I know I have to get other the initial hump of culture shock and eventually I can settle into some form of a routine while in Denmark. Don’t get me wrong I am truly excited to be studying abroad in Denmark, I can’t wait to have some of the famous street food I’ve heard so much about. I’m also excited to be living with my assigned host family in Lyngby. They have already introduced themselves and I get such a positive vibe from them. Plus, they have a sleigh dog, and they live next to a water body. I love being by the water! Although I am excited to be going to Denmark, I find it helpful for me to be honest with myself and work through my anxieties.

So this is what this post is mostly about. What anxieties do I have and how am confronting them? One of the major concerns I have is the weather! I have lived in a tropical climate for 20 years and have been through 2 winters so far. I think I have packed enough sweaters, coats and long sleeved shirts, I guess I’ll know when I get there. I have also carried vitamin C and D tablets to boost my immunity.

I am also concerned about how I’ll manage my finances. I have always worked on campus for my stipend. I had an internship this summer so I was able to save up some money for my stipend, I also had to borrow some money to top it up. I’m really looking forward to traveling to other countries so I hope I’ll be able to manage my finances so that I don’t run short halfway through the semester! This semester will challenge me to really take responsibility for my finances. I’ve decided to bring a small notebook which I’ll use to budget and record my expenses. This I hope will prevent me from overspending.

I’m also anxious about what my experience will be as a black female in Copenhagen. I watched a youtube video of another student of color who said that apart from some few microaggressions she didn’t experience overt discrimination. Hearing this alleviated some of my anxiety. Ultimately, I am heading into Denmark with an open heart and mind with no preconceived assumptions. However, this does not mean I’m being oblivious of the reality of being a POC.

Phew! Now that my concerns are off my chest, I want to talk about the things I’m excited about! I’m excited about the classes I’ll be taking at DIS. My core course is Game Development. I’m not an avid gamer, actually, I just started playing MarioKart this winter break. I want to challenge myself in an area I’m completely a newbie in, and see what I can create. I’m also taking other fun classes like Innovation through Design and Photojournalism.

Again I’m excited to meet my host family. I have a younger sister back at home who is 8 years old. My host couple also has a son who is 8 years old so I’m excited to be a ‘big sister’ again.  I also can’t wait to travel to explore Denmark and other countries in the Schengen region. I plan to go to the Netherlands, France, Sweden and hopefully Spain and Iceland if I’ll be able to. I’m also eager to meet new people and form new connections. I look at life as a collection of stories. Our stories are intertwined with other people’s stories. I can’t wait to hear new stories from the people I meet and interact with at DIS and Copenhagen in general.

All in all, fears and anxieties are a normal part of life. Especially when undertaking big projects. However, the point is not to let them drown out the joys of living, learning and exploring. Oooh one last thing I’m excited about is posting Instagram photos with the caption #Hygge