Letter from Abroad: Rebecca Agababian ’21

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Rebecca Agababian ’21, Abroad Columnist

Hello again Dickinsonians, I am now coming to you live from Copenhagen, Denmark, after spending the fall semester in Málaga, Spain. 

Most of the time, I’m pretty sure the two countries couldn’t be more different; if you choose to nap in the afternoon here, you’re not considered to be taking part of the culture with a siesta; unfortunately, you’re just sleeping. When I left Málaga in December, it was jean jacket weather at its coldest and rained twice the entire semester. Denmark averages about 171 rainy days annually (that’s about 46% of the year) and the wind alone makes me reach for my parka. About the only thing these two countries have in common is that neither like ice in their drinks.

But moreover, the two programs couldn’t be more different either. Since my semester in Spain was a Dickinson-specific program, a lot of my immersion was pre-designed for me; I was able to visit a wide variety of Spanish cities and towns through the school, along with language exchanges that I was informed of also through Dickinson. All my classes were in Spanish. Even my housing—living with a host mother who did not know English—gave me a lot of insight into Spanish culture, all because of how the program was designed. 

But in Copenhagen, although this semester is immersive in itself, I’ve learned how much engaging in a new culture depends on individual initiative too. Although I’m taking a class on Danish language and culture, I’ve confronted the harsh reality that I won’t be fluent by the end of the semester. Regardless, Copenhagen has a wide variety of holidays and traditions to witness and learn more about, but they can all pass right over my head if I don’t take it upon myself to learn or at least ask about them. Since the majority of the immersion has stopped being decided for me, I’ve found that immersion can take many different forms and be just as rewarding when it’s done individually.

For example, Denmark has a holiday comparable to Halloween on Sunday, February 23 called Fastelavn (pronounced faust-e-laun. I don’t know why either.) To celebrate, people used to put cats in barrels and beat them until the cat died:(. They don’t do that anymore—now they just put a picture of a cat on the barrel and fill it with candy instead, like a piñata, if you will. The most important part of this holiday is that there’s pastry that comes with it: like a cream puff, but the size of a hamburger. 

The decorations and food for this holiday have been featured all around the city. I’ve found that taking the initiative learn why the local superstore has plain wooden barrels on display is an important part of studying abroad: learning to ask questions and research not just because there might be a quiz on it later, but out of curiosity and a desire to understand my surroundings better.