One of the fondest memories I have of being a Purdue student so far is not on Purdue campus, but on the other side of the world for nearly 7 months in Denmark during my sophomore year. It is difficult to describe fairly and thoroughly how rewarding it was for me to study abroad for a semester. I immersed myself in research at the University of Copenhagen and took classes as part of my concentration in Emerging Challenges: Environmental Microbiology. I enjoyed being a part of Sustainable City, a student group from Studenterhuset and made long lasting friends with people from around the globe. My favorite thing about Denmark was the biking culture and the ease and power a bike gave me in Copenhagen. I could go anywhere I wanted to and felt safe doing so. I was able to visit the historic Christianhavn and track down the hidden wooden giants made from re-purposed wood! Biking allowed me to take my time and drink in the beautiful sights of Copenhagen’s architecture.
I was very inspired by their environmentally conscious way of living and the innovations they came up with to address pollution, food waste, the recycling industry, transportation, climate change, etc. I stumbled upon the Repair Cafe one day as I was biking to the lab and found out that a cafe hosted a repair shop once a month for free. The Repair Cafe is volunteer run and free for anyone to use to repair their broken things or ask a volunteer to fix something for them, be that clothing, electronics, or even toys! I happened to have three pants with holes in them and was able to get them fixed the next time I saw them. Being a study abroad student, I did not have ample sewing resources to do so. The people in the Repair Cafe were also working with their government and the EU to pass laws that would force companies to make their products reparable, rather than disposable, to curb waste. How wonderful it would be if we could do that in the throwaway culture in the United States!
Los Market, a zero waste grocery store, and WeFood, a reduced waste grocery store, were also some of my places to visit as well. Los Market was made on the principle that food should be bought without disposable packaging to curb waste. WeFood was a volunteer run grocery store selling food that were past the sell by date but in good condition to be consumed. I absolutely loved biking to both places, bringing my jars and containers to Los Market to buy grains, vegan gummy bears, beans, flour, olive oil, mushrooms, salt, vegetables, all without disposable packaging! At WeFood I enjoyed buying cheap bread with the knowledge that I was preventing it from going to waste and that the money was going to countries struggling with famine, such as South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Europe’s amazing rail system allowed me to travel to Sweden and backpack for a week in their woods on a shoestring budget. I was also able to visit Micropia, one of my favorite museums in the world located in Amsterdam, and taste delicious chocolate in Belgium. In each country I visited I sought for new information and experiences, making connections with people and learning about their background and view points. The views, the cultures, the environments, and the people all deeply enriched my worldview and the experience is something that I’ll hold dearly. In some ways I wish I went for an entire year instead of only a semester to continue to learn from the Danish’s hygge (cozy in Danish) way of living. They’re statistically one of the happiest people in the world living a minimalist lifestyle centered on building friendships and community, so they are definitely doing something right.
My suggestion to Purdue students is to not be afraid to take a bold giant leap into another culture, learn a new language, build new friendships with people completely different from you, immerse yourself in your studies in another country surrounded by new and wonderful sights. There are many scholarships available to College of Agriculture students to curb the costs of travel and living expenses. In some cases you can even work at the other country. I was given that option in Denmark through my student visa. The preparation may seem daunting at first but once you get there, you may love it so much you won’t want to leave by the end.