Welcome!

You have found the blog of a boba-loving pre-med undergrad, studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark! If we haven’t met before, I’m Katherine— Nice to meet you!

This is where I’ll be sharing my experiences with you, in words and through a camera lens. To my worried parents (Hi Mom and Dad), my bored brother, my awesome friends, my curious relatives, prospective DIS students, and whomever that may stumble upon this, come follow me on this journey! It’ll be quite the adventure.

If you want to know more about me, head to the menu at the top left! There’s a navigation page there as well.

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15.10 // a quick update

An blog update here is long overdue… my apologies. But rest assured— I’m alive and just about to begin classes again after a week-long break from Travel Week 1. This brief update here is to be deleted later, maybe.

Many posts to come, mostly ones in a sort of series, “backtrack,” where I fill in the many events and trips (mostly just photo galleries) that I had wished to post about but never got around to. Here’s a list of some of the posts I hope to publish soon:

  • backtrack // Core Course Week
  • backtrack // various field studies.. tbd
  • backtrack // At the lakeside
  • backtrack // Afternoon at Papirøen

Travel Week 1

  • Day in Malmö
  • Brunch at Restaurant Charlottenlund Fort

  • Cafés and city wanders
  • Concert in Copenhagen: Season opening of the Copenhagen Philharmonic
  • Kulturnatten 2017
  • 2 months in Denmark —can’t believe the halfway point is so soon!

For now, the photo collection below is a sneak peek or a compilation of what I’ve been up to lately. Vi ses!

☁️ now playing: D (half moon) // Dean ft. Gaeko

26.09 // .

Today, I felt inclined to write, more than I ever have, but as with a lot of raw, hurt, heavy emotions and experiences, I wanted to keep these words here within me. Today is not the day I do such a thing, as I’ve found it’s always for the worse whenever I bottle everything up. So here goes.

Today, I wept.

During class, as I turned in an exam. No, it wasn’t just because of the exam. And no, it wasn’t because of the class.

Studying abroad isn’t only the bright, fascinating, bubbly experiences usually shared. True, there’s a lot of really cool places to see, new delicious food to try, warm-hearted and inspirational people to meet, captivating courses to dive into— that can’t be overlooked. But that’s only a part of the experience.

There are the long days, the sad days, the cold days, the days you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed and you try every little thing in the day to hopefully make it better… And worst of all, the stressful days.

Today, I was overwhelmed. Firstly, by these few packed weeks of exams, presentations, and projects before the first Travel Week. My first midterm exams all lined up within a few days of each other, and when I didn’t know what to expect from these new professors and this new academic environment/system, the tests became a huge source of stress. Lectures weren’t too difficult, and I understood the material, but at the thought of the exams, I froze.

But perhaps what stressed me out most— academic pressure. As pre-medicine, one of my goals while studying abroad was to study well and hopefully help my grade point average, since all my DIS courses (that I’m taking all for a grade, not pass/fail) transfer for my home college. And, as I unfortunately do too often, I soon feel overloaded by the pressure I put on myself to do well… which ends up, usually, for the worse.

I can’t say this hasn’t happened to me before. In the past year, I also experienced such when faced with organic chemistry and computer science, two courses I still can’t fully wrap my head around to this day. And there were exams for these courses after which I’d walk quickly back to my dorm, curl up, and sob until my eyes stung, overwhelmed by stress and worry. After completing these courses though, I hoped to move on.

On top of that, I hadn’t had the time to relax. Day after day, week after week, of classes, studies, activities… what I missed most was alone time. Time spent in silence, completely alone, usually in blankets with tea doing something simple (ie. origami, leisure reading) to clear my mind and stop myself from thinking about my worries for a while. So far at most, I’d stop for boba or ice cream on the way back home to my host family… I haven’t really let myself truly rest.

All that, on top of sleep deprivation from the frequently restless nights and another reason I’m not comfortable sharing, left me exhausted. And the diabetes exam, even though I was comfortable with the information, all the stress, worry, and pressure weighed me down, and I ended up pressed for time. Tears came just as I tremblingly handed in the exam to the professor and didn’t stop.

Don’t worry— I feel better now. (Mom and Dad, really. I’m okay.) My professor talked with me and made sure I was okay, and even helped me reach out to the DIS Care Team, whom I met with after class to talk things through and spend some time to recover a bit before my afternoon neurology lecture. I also reassured my professor that it wasn’t because of her exam and/or I didn’t have enough time to finish it. I didn’t have a problem with it—the questions and time limit were fair, and she gave us example test questions and a list of tested topics with sufficient time to prepare. And if anything, this diabetes course is my favorite of my five DIS classes, not only because of the topic but also because of the professor’s refreshing teaching style with the perfect balance of lectures (the way she explains concepts is very clear and precise) and interactive group discussions/activities.

Right now, I’m in my blankets, with tea and an ice cream bar, and a finished origami kusudama ball sits on the windowsill. Tomorrow, I only have plans to explore all the scrumptious street foods at Papirøen, or Paper Islands, with a couple friends from my core course for lunch because of a canceled field study. I’m taking until tomorrow afternoon off to rest. I do have another exam this Friday for Neurological Disorders and Diseases that I already feel pretty prepared for, and I’ll remember to breathe. I’ll be okay.

☁️ now playing: Nosedive // Dynamic Duo, Chen

19.09 // A month in Denmark

A month has passed since I stepped foot in the Copenhagen airport and began a journey to study abroad in a country and culture I didn’t know very well. Days slowly become blurred together as everything settles into routines—commutes to class and back, classes, packed smørrebrød lunches, dinner with my host family, help with cleaning and cooking, and studies. Classes have become easier to follow, my hesitation to participate in lecture questions and group discussions has been fading, and I’ll be taking my first exam this Thursday.

At times, events break my routines. Core Course Week pulled me out of the house in the wee hours of the morning last Monday, and while I barely knew anyone in my Psychopharmacology class, we explored Århus and Odense together and returned from the short few days closer and sleepier than ever. After lectures in the Copenhagen portion of the week on Thursday and Friday, a few of us went to lunch together at Sandwich Pigen and gelato in Torvehallerne.

And no, the remaining days weren’t all the same. One evening, my younger host brother William drew personalized placemats for each of us for dinner. Another day, my host mom Veena and I went boot and candy grocery shopping after I thoroughly soaked my walking shoes a few times in the past weeks’ rainfall. One Saturday evening, I challenged myself to prepare my family traditional recipe of pork dumplings for my host family, a meal that typically takes my family of four a half day to prepare together (It was a success!). And the next day, my host family and I braved imminent thunderstorms and enjoyed a refreshing lakeside walk, cake, and coffee with my host father’s parents.

Days may have blurred, but a few recurrent observations and struggles arise.

rain. The light drizzle on my face on the way to class, the soft roar of thunderstorms rippling across the city, the soft pitter patter on the roof above my room as I fall asleep, the umbrella-evading streams that soak my socks and shoes, or the calm hush on my umbrella as I hold a warm cup of boba tea… It rained. Following an amazingly warm and sunny Sunday two weeks ago, grey storm clouds started rolling in and haven’t stopped. Despite my Californian love of rainy weather and the calm peace of staying indoors with warm tea and blankets while watching a storm pass, I was met with struggles I hadn’t considered.

Growing up in Northern California, we’d get the occasional rainstorms, the ones that ripple across the bay and leave the streets flooded from poor drainage infrastructure. They’re expected, maybe a few every few months or so, and otherwise, it’d be sunny skies or overcast foggy days. Going to school in Southern California wasn’t that different, and rainstorms left my college campus flooded, and I’d have to jump over streams a meter wide to get to class and back. Umbrellas usually sufficed, or perhaps a light waterproofed windbreaker, and if I got drenched, I could head back to my dorm to change and do it all over again.

Coming to Denmark, the weather at first wasn’t as terrible as I expected it to be. It was still warm (bit cooler than California), and though there were the few unexpected rainclouds drifting across the city, it was comfortable. But for the last two weeks, the rain came. Sometimes a soft, quiet drizzle where a rain jacket would be plenty, but other times a straight chilly downpour with winds would evade my rain jacket and umbrella and leave my legs and feet drenched. Not that that hasn’t happened to me when in California, but when traveling on Core Course Week or away going to class, I couldn’t just go back to a dorm and dry off. Hence, the boot shopping.. and the umbrella and scarf that’s always in my backpack.

Danes do use waterproof (or at least water resistant) shoes and boots sometimes, though raincoats and umbrellas are usually used first. And when biking, they brave the rain. I’ve seen many bikers with raincoats and ponchos, and some even bike one-handed to hold a large umbrella.

It feels like California winter weather now. But it’ll only get colder from here on out…. and this Californian is hoping she won’t freeze too often.

meeting locals. Going abroad, I hoped to meet locals as part of learning about Denmark, its culture, and its people. As introverted and quiet as I am though, I often feel too nervous and shy to reach out and talk to them on my own…

But in the past month, I’ve met many locals already, with my host family or with my class on field studies. I joined my host family to several birthday celebrations and dinner gatherings, and my Danish Language and Culture class went to Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium. Everyone I met was friendly and especially curious about why I chose to study in Denmark of all places. My most meaningful encounter with locals so far was at the gymnasium. My classmates and I got to learn about the daily lives of Danish students firsthand, and while we had loads of questions for them, they were very curious about our American university lives as well. Perhaps the most surprising was the maturity and independence of the Danish students that we met. Though only 17 or 18, they seemed like they were the same age as us.

Meeting all these Danish people also led me to notice more of the differences and similarities in their culture and mine.

One, celebrating birthdays, something that’s pretty similar to what I’ve experienced back at home. Typically children had two birthday celebrations, one with family and another with classmates and friends. In the last two weeks, I joined my host family in celebrating my younger host brother William’s birthday. First, a weekend afternoon birthday celebration with relatives and close family friends, similar to the one I went to the first full day after I arrived in Denmark. The day of his birthday, a Wednesday, his parents sang his choice of a birthday song with Danish flags to wake him up and prepared his favorite breakfast, and that evening, I joined them for dinner at his choice of restaurant, a running sushi place. The following weekend, he had a joined birthday celebration for him and a couple other classmates at a bowling alley and arcade with school friends.

As for those beyond secondary school and university years, there’s a wide variety of ways to celebrate birthdays, and I went with Veena to her friend’s birthday celebration, a lovely evening with dinner, drinks, and lively conversations. Most guests only knew the host, Tina, and so we all introduced ourselves to each other. I was worried I would feel awkward there, but I didn’t feel that way at all, especially since everyone was so warm and welcoming. Yes, I did tag along Veena’s side for a lot of the evening, but I also had the opportunity to talk to the others on my own. And no, Mom, I didn’t try any alcohol. Tried my first virgin mojito though, and it was really good.

But then, observing those around me on my daily commutes to class and comparing that to those at these birthday events, I’ve noticed just how quiet Danes are in public. The train squealing and rumbling on its tracks is the loudest noise on the S trains most of the time, and clicking tones of the pedestrian sign is oddly noticeable on city streets. Touristy areas are typically louder, but in general, it’s quiet.

But when at home and at dinner gatherings like Tina’s, Danes are warm, cheerful, and open to conversation. Chatter and laughter rose above the tinkering of cutlery and glasses in Tina’s home, and the atmosphere was even more lively with music from the house’s bluetooth sound system.

Another thing I’ve noticed a lot of— the Danish flag. It doesn’t just fly above major city buildings and historic locations. There are a bunch everywhere, in buildings, on walls, in homes… And they’re used with every holiday and celebration, whether historic holidays, birthdays, or even Christmas. They’re the garnish on birthday cakes, the garlands on home and store walls… I already have some to bring home.

Core Course Week and all its events/stories will be in a separate post later in the week. It’ll also include my thoughts on the active and immersive studies I get here, in lecture, field studies, and study tours. As for now, I have exams to prepare for. Vi ses.

current count: cups of boba: 6 // cups of tea: 45 //  rain vs Katherine’s shoes: 0:4 whoops

☁️ now playing: Yanghwa Bridge // Zion. T

06.09 // Field Studies pt. 1

Field studies! The half day trips with your DIS classes that truly make the most of Denmark and the city of Copenhagen as your classroom. Often, the trips are just for an amazing hands-on experience (not usually asked for on exams) and a great way to collaborate and grow closer to your classmates and professors.

On two occasions this DIS semester, I have two field studies that fall on the same day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. And today was one of them!

This morning, my Danish Language and Culture class went to the Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium, a sort of Danish equivalent to a college preparatory high school. Our professor, Catharina, led our small class of sixteen students from our meeting place at Nørreport station onto the trains and buses (through light rain) to the school.

In the midst of lectures on the Danish education system, it’s amazing we got this opportunity to go to a gymnasium and meet the students ourselves. We were introduced to a class of twenty-four year 2 students (age 17-18, one even 19 after an exchange program). Split off into small mixed groups of Gammel Hellerup and DIS students, the gymnasium students gave us a tour around the school, showing us the facilities and where they usually go to take their classes, eat their lunches, study during breaks, and hang out (and party on campus, which include alcohol, as the legal drinking age is 16). While we asked them questions about their daily lives, education system, and career aspirations, they also asked us about what was high school like for us, how has university been, and how did we choose Denmark for study abroad.

Many of the Danish students were surprised that most American university students lived on campus during the year and that we were able to have an exciting social life on top of our studies. According to some of the conversations I had in my groups, the Danish students (our class had a biology/psychology concentration) seemed really busy with lots of assignments and exams, and when we asked about what they did in their spare time, they just answered that they were typically too busy and rarely could hang out with friends (some did sports or other hobbies though). Meanwhile, we were amazed that education is free in Denmark. While only some Danish students go on to university, they’re even paid in a sense to carry on to higher education, since 5839 kr. (around $900) is given by the government per month to cover book and living expenses while at university. Because tax rates are so high, a lot of resources are provided by the government, including education, healthcare, and more.

We had a lot of really interesting conversations with the students, and our time was too short. We gathered for a group photo before stepping back out in the rain to head back to Nørreport station.

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In the afternoon, I was back at Nørreport station, heading off with my Neurological Disorders and Diseases class (also of sixteen students) to the Rigshospitalet in Glostrup, which is small but well-known for it’s highly specialized facilities and staff in neurology and neurophysiology. We met two of our professors, Anna and Helene, who led us through the hospital and its quiet hallways (Well, another door struggle. Those doors are opened using string handles dangling from the ceiling..) into a conference room.

Two of the hospital’s staff, a doctor and a technician from the neurophysiology department introduced us to the field of clinical neurophysiology (study of the nervous system by testing bioelectrical activity in the brain and nerves). They explained some of the imaging and testing methods used for neurophysiological examinations and then showed us examples of taking EEGs and EMGs on a couple volunteers among our classmates. We asked a lot of questions, and we were all fascinated by the brain waves recorded on the EEG and the muscle twitching from the electrical current stimulated for the EMG.

I had learned about neurophysiology and seen these study methods of EEGs and EMGs performed during my past classes or clinical summer programs, but it was interesting to see how they’re done in Denmark and how the “normal” numbers from the recorded data are compared within the Danish population. The technology was quite similar, but the data analysis was slightly different.

It was a long day of class trips, but I definitely didn’t have to be nervous about them. The professors were all relaxed, and they reassured that the information presented on today’s trips won’t show up on exams or future assignments. I ended up with enough time between the trips as well, so I wasn’t at all left behind (full itineraries, location addresses, and professors’ phone numbers were posted last night in case).

Currently back at the house. It was my younger host brother William’s birthday today, and we went to a running sushi buffet place in Nørrebro to celebrate (my host parents also sang Happy Birthday this morning to wake him up). Resting and completing some readings for tomorrow. Looking forward to Core Course Week and the short study tour next week!

☁️ now playing: Intro: Serendipity // BTS, Jimin

03.09 // Week 2

It seems like just yesterday when I wrote my first weekly update.. Another week has gone by, just like that.

I’m still settling in— The streets of Copenhagen are starting to look familiar. I can go on my commute without checking Google Maps, and I’ve even begun taking slightly different routes and trying different train stations in the city to go to DIS (København H, Vesterport, Nørreport..). I check the train times before I leave for more efficient and relaxed mornings, and train rides are more comfortable than stressful. I’m learning my way around my host family’s house and am beginning to remember exactly which drawer do the pasta, soup plates, snack bowls, or honey go. Classes are settling into a regular class agenda and assignment schedule, and classmates and professors are learning each other’s names. Doors at DIS are a little easier to open. The way to Tea:licious cafe for my second boba this week doesn’t require checking maps, and I’m comfortable taking a detour to get there.

Of course, there are still so many places I haven’t been and streets I haven’t walked through. Sometimes, I stumble upon a new place I haven’t heard of before, like when Sam and I accidentally walked the wrong way and came across Fæstningens Materialgaard while avoiding construction sites near the Royal Danish Library. Or when my classmates and I explored the area around Nørreport station for our Danish Language and Culture group project and happened upon a cute coffee, juice, and sandwich bar called Big Apple with a chill hipster floral aesthetic.

I’m trying to stay as open to new experiences as I can. When my host family brings out some new sauce or food, I give it a taste. When I run into another DIS student on the train to DIS, I follow them on their usual walking route to the classroom building. One morning, I walked with my host brother Marcus on a new loop around the neighborhood I’ve never noticed. And since classes are encouraging active participation, I’m trying my best to ask more questions (even if it’s a short question to clarify something or to ask for some idea to be repeated) and to speak out my ideas when in small groups for discussion.

My host dad Morten offered me to join him, my host mom Veena, and their friend Peter to a rock concert this Friday by LCD Soundsystem. It’s an opportunity to try something new, but I’m unsure and nervous about this. Despite being offered earplugs, I’m terrified. As a person who grew up listening to classical music and mostly set the volume level from my earbuds to the lowest notch, I’m nervous about what could happen to my hearing. I also never really listened to rock music, except for the times Morten would play some around the house or some would play on the radio when in my friends’ cars. I’ve told Morten I’m still thinking, but I have a lot on my plate already from my classes… and Core Course Week is right around the corner.

Classes— have been fascinating but also just as stressful as ones at my home college so far. Perhaps it’s because I’m taking three science courses out of my total of five. The Stahl readings for Psychopharmacology are still difficult to understand, the Diabetes journal articles are arduously complex, and the Neurology clinical applications have so many tests and diagnoses in jargon still quite unfamiliar. What helps me keep going are the lectures and my attempts to condense and summarize each reading; my professors have been reminding us to not memorize every tiny detail and rather, to focus on the bigger picture that they highlight on their slides in lecture. Readings still take a long while and require lots of energy, but I’m able to breathe. The Hans Christian Anderson and Danish Language and Culture classes are also a breather in readings (fairy/folk tales, essays and cultural articles, etc), listening exercises (for vocab and pronunciation practice), and discussions.

What I’m most nervous about right now are the field studies and Core Course Week. Any class trip, short or long, I guess. I have two field studies this coming Wednesday: to the Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium (gymnasiums are similar to American high schools and college preparatory schools) for Danish Language and Culture in the morning, and to the department of Neurophysiology at the University Hospital Glostrup for Neurological Disorders and Diseases. Just a couple days ago, I didn’t know how I could have two in one day, since the Danish Culture one seemed to be a full day event. A flurry of emails to the DIS Registrar and a Canvas calendar event fix later, I wasn’t as nervous as before, but I still do not have an itinerary to my morning trip. Where do I go, what time do we meet, how long are we there for, and would I be able to make it in time for my afternoon trip..? I’m still unsure and hope I’ll get more details tomorrow.. but I really would prefer to get the details earlier.

Core Course Week is coming up soon as well, just one week away. Thankfully, there was a presentation on the itinerary and details last class, but there seems to be so much we need to prepare. It’s a few days away in Arhus and Odense, so I’ll have to pack my stuff with toiletries, some bedding, and passport… And I need to prepare for the tour assignments. Maybe the Fact Sheet assignment and presentation isn’t as difficult and meticulous as I think, but as of right now, it seems like a lot.

pauses from typing to watch the tiny spider walking in circles on the wall by my desk…

Homesickness. Or rather, the current lack of. I… somehow don’t really miss my family that much and honestly feel a sort of guilt that I don’t. Perhaps it’s because I still message, call, and Facetime them when time allows and receive the same regular texts/emails of questions, advice, and brief updates like when I was still home or at my home college. I truly thought I would be crying myself to sleep every night in these first few weeks from missing home and the people I love, but I haven’t really. Don’t get me wrong—I do feel the pangs of homesickness from time to time, when I watch the snapstories of my Scripps friends moving in and starting classes, when my family updates me on my dad’s most recent baked treats and road trips, and when I scroll through older photos on my phone to show my host family. Yes, I deeply miss certain people. I occasionally crave for foods that are more difficult to find here unless I make my own. It just hasn’t been as rough and emotionally draining as I thought it’d be.

Perhaps it’s also how I haven’t really felt much of a culture shock. My host family has done an amazing job introducing me to Danish culture— the lifestyle, cuisine, politics, social norms, welfare system, laws, economics, traditions, public transit system, language, ..and the list goes on. I ask them about anything I’m unfamiliar with, and they explain and translate as much as they can. They’ve taught me so much from the beginning that I’m already familiar with many topics brought up in my Danish Language and Culture class.

And perhaps, most of all, my host family helps me not feel so lonely. When I first received Morten’s email a week prior to departure, I was worried that we wouldn’t get along, that my host brothers would feel uncomfortable around me, and that I would feel like I didn’t belong. But we do get along, far beyond what I had expected. We teach each other lots, have long chats after dinner, and share a sort of sarcastic humor… When I tell them about my life stories, they tell me about theirs. I try my best to help them with the cooking, laundry, cleaning, and more, and they’re prepare and provide so much for me and introduce me to all their TV programs (I rarely watched any TV at home..) and music playlists. They invite me to as many events as they can and also give me my own space and let me to study in my room or sleep in. And most of all, my host brothers Marcus and William are comfortable with me around. Yes, they were shy when they first met me at the Clarion Hotel, but these days, they speak to me in English as much as they can, maybe even teach me some Danish, play football with me, share some goofy faces, share their couch space to watch TV, and tell me what they like and what football teams are best (Liverpool, apparently).

Today, my host family, relatives, and close friends celebrated William’s birthday that’s coming up on Wednesday. Most of the relatives were ones I met before at that birthday celebration I went to on my first day in Denmark, but there were some new faces as well. At some point while all the kids played football, scarfed down the bread buns and other food, and watched TV, William made a drawing of the family… and it had five people in it. He was excited to show it to me after the guests left. As he points to introduce every figure in the drawing, he says cheerily in English with a soft Danish accent, “This is my dad, this is my mom.. This is Marcus, this is me… and this is you!”

I feel more and more like a part of the family, and it warms my heart.

☁️ now playing: Lonely Night // Gary ft. Gaeko