Ellen Hu ’24
Arriving for my study abroad program in Copenhagen felt just like NSPO: the quick introductions, the standard questions about each person you meet, and feeling like you’re moving too fast for anyone to really get to know you (and of course vice versa). As an introvert, making friends in these situations induces a level of wariness that often impacts how many people and how often I choose to interact with others.
Situations like these are bound to happen when you and many others enter a new environment, but if I’ve learned one thing over the past month abroad, it’s that friendships can’t be forced. Time is key, and embracing the fact that friendship doesn’t happen right away allows us to better understand our communities and ourselves.
That’s not to say that embracing this is easy. Within the first hour of my arrival in Denmark, I was whisked away to my student housing and introduced to the nine people I would be living with for the rest of the semester. Well, 21 if you count the suite that was situated right across from the hall.
For the next few days, I was surrounded by these 21 people and the possibility of friendship. Yet, I struggled to see anything more than surface-level connections when it came to my situation. At first it went on for a few days, and then it stretched into half of a month.
It was especially difficult when it felt like everyone else around me was friends left and right. While all of my housemates were bonding to the highest degree, I was distressed. I kept asking myself what I was doing wrong and what I needed to do to make myself fit in.
I tried really hard – I talked to them in our common area and tagged along on trips around the city. We spent even more time together during weekly evening activities and I got to see how nice each of them were. Still, it always felt like there was an invisible barrier that I couldn’t break through to get below pleasant small talk in our conversations.
I began to feel isolated and extremely lonely. While my suite was out together doing an activity I wasn’t interested in, I would go out on my own to explore the city. Not fitting in wasn’t stopping me from doing what I needed to do to say I experienced Copenhagen, but my time didn’t feel like it was as memorable as it could be.
In the moment I couldn’t have wanted to be with other people more, but in retrospect I’ve realized just how formative the solo time was. It taught me a lot about how I see the world and everything I wanted out of my time abroad – especially when it came to the activities I wanted to experience and the people I needed to do them with.
For example, I realized that I’m more of an active traveler and want to get out and walk more than a lot of the people I was surrounded by. I’m also a morning person, and getting a head start on all of the other tourists was something that I valued, but others put lower on their priorities.
It wasn’t until I began branching out – getting out of the close-knit group that was forming – that I realized there were people that I connected with on a deeper level. And those people were amazing.
I began attending the student of color affinity group events and met so many people who were feeling the same way I was or who held values similar to my own. I began doing more with them and soon found that I was having conversations that flowed in a comfortable way. It was refreshing.
I also found comfort in my co-workers. While abroad, I have joined a small group of student photographers hired by my program. From the moment we all met for our first meeting, nothing felt too forced. We jumped at the opportunity to discuss our photography experiences while in Copenhagen and all of the tips we had for each other.
From there, my social circle only grew. Success in the realm of friendship came down to where and when I was searching. I was overjoyed when I finally felt like I had made deeper connections, and if anything the amount of time it took for me to reach that moment made it all the sweeter.
As I look back on the past month, I realize how many times I’ve been so focused on trying to make friends that I become impatient and worried when it doesn’t happen quickly. It’s always felt like time was never on my side, but now I know that my enemy is not the clock as it ticks away. It’s been me and my assumption that friendship comes in a heartbeat.
Ultimately, sometimes it doesn’t come at all – and that’s okay. As long as you embrace everything you are and find the people who do that as well, does it really matter how long it takes?
Image Source: Ellen Hu ’24