Physical relocation transforms identity

128

After traveling for almost 24 hours, I stumbled out of the taxi. I didn’t know if 200 kroner was a normal thing to pay for a 20-minute taxi ride, but I didn’t care after a long day of traveling. Carrying a month’s worth of luggage in my hands, I walked alone on one of the quiet empty side streets of the city and looked for my new “home.”

This summer, I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. I went with no expectations, previous research or idea about what was in store. That was the exciting part — I was ready to be somewhere new. During this experience, I understood what it meant to step out of my comfort zone. A relocation of physical space can be a transformative experience that we neither know we need nor expect. The world is larger than we think, and the culture of living in Copenhagen and studying abroad helped me see this.

With all our distractions in life, we need to take a break— a real break. As a college student, I’m constantly on my phone, trying to catch up with schoolwork and worrying about my career. The break that we need from these things doesn’t come in the form of a few-month break from classes, but rather from physical relocation: moving and staying somewhere that is foreign or uncomfortable, even if it’s close in physical distance. It does not necessarily mean a study abroad trip, but for me, it was. Before going abroad, I found it challenging to find personal opportunities outside of Oxy and my hometown, Los Angeles. I used to fear the day I’d have to leave these comfortable spaces, but now I yearn for it.

Danish public transportation was a crucial adjustment, considering I was used to driving everywhere. When I arrived in Copenhagen, a program advisor told me to download a Danish app to find the public transportation schedule. Of course, I sought the Uber app, but there was no Uber in Copenhagen; I was not in LA. I often asked for help and waited for the English translation to make sure I was getting off at the right stop. The last week, I remember feeling confident enough to put my headphones on and travel within this new home of mine. The more I opened myself up to the city, the more the city opened itself up to me.

The “Meaning of Style” course that I took in Copenhagen introduced me to new perspectives on a variety of topics in fashion: theories of body, representation of various communities and sustainability. My professor gave us insight to into the fashion industry and all the efforts he and others in the field were making in Denmark toward sustainable fashion and innovation. The art of fashion and the significance of the clothes was something I hadn’t considered before. It made me value my clothes as different pieces of my self-identity, rather than as material goods as we consider them in the U.S. My own style was even inspired by the chicness of the Danes’ outfits. I wouldn’t have known as much about fashion and its inspiration if I didn’t put myself in other people’s shoes — literally.

It was unbelievable to bond with people from both the U.S. and Denmark in a new locationI was able to meet all these amazing people who were not only from Copenhagen, but from all over the world. It was special that my friends from the program all somehow picked to be in Denmark at the same time.

Studying abroad is more than an unnecessary vacation. It’s important to consider the opportunities that these experiences offer and how that leads to a transformation of identity. Living in a foreign place and taking classes or working forces one to truly explore the culture. It is a humanizing experience that gives you new knowledge of freedom, confidence and solitude. For the first time in my young adult life, I felt disconnected from anything outside of my physical location — no call or text phased me. The only thing that mattered was what I was learning in Copenhagen, about both myself and the place.

I completely recognize the privilege of being able to travel abroad. If it’s accessible, I strongly encourage people, especially young adults, to physically relocate. Take advantage of any opportunity to travel, even if that means dedicating yourself to the city or town nearby. Learn things about yourself and the world you never knew.

Serena Pelenghian is a junior Critical Theory & Social Justice major. She can be reached at spelenghian@oxy.edu.