Graduate school has changed my life, however, very few people realize what graduate school is and what it actually encompasses. In this post I hope to walk you through what it looks like to get a Ph.D. in a STEM related field, how we’re not students or employees and how you can encourage those of us who embark on this journey.

Ph.D. life:
I am a third year Ph.D candidate in Genetics and Molecular Biology. I work 45-50 hour weeks. that are often unpredictable. My workdays are built around performing experiments which can take anywhere from four days to two weeks to do. Depending on the day I can spend 4-5 hours doing lab work and 4-5 hours of doing data analysis or writing. Often these exact numbers vary based on the amount of experiments I have going at any one time. People are surprised when I tell them I have to go in on the weekend to feed my cells or stay late because an experiment is working and I want to keep getting data. A Ph.D. student does not just work 9-5 and 40 hours a week. Our hours depend on experiments. We do have a more flexible schedule but with that flexibility during the week comes the need for flexibility with a personal life when there is a lot going on in lab.  

Uncertainty is a huge hallmark of science. Sometimes my cells decide to be uncooperative and grow too fast or slow. An experiment may work one week, but not work the next. As the scientist, a lot of my time is spent scratching my head wondering what changed between experiments and making sure to record every parameter about the experiment I can! Some scientists even track the weather to see if that impacts the data they receive from their experiments. This uncertainty leads to many experiments being repeated and very rigorous standards for keeping track of experiments.

Ideally, all of my experiments will help me answer a scientific question. With the data I receive from my experiments I can write a story about how I think a molecule is working or why the data looks a certain way. I base this story on all the other stories that have been written in science. My work should add something to the field I study so that other scientists can repeat my work and build off of it. In order to graduate I have to publish one of these stories in a scientific journal where it is reviewed by other scientists. This process takes a long time and I am only required to publish one of these stories, though I hope to publish multiple during my time in graduate school.

Besides time performing experiments, a significant amount of our time is spent writing abstracts, grants, and designing posters. This may seem like a huge waste of time but the time spent not pipetting is actually crucially important. Not only do we learn to tell a story that needs to be heard  but it allows our work to be critiqued. Anything we write, present or share in graduate school is chewed up and spit back at us with questions, comments, and a lots of red pen. We learn to thrive on failure and constructive criticism because that will make us stronger and better scientists in the end. 

We are also learning how to think differently. All of us study different topics so deeply that we become an expert in whatever our dissertation ends up being. We are taught to not take things at face value. Our classes consist of journal clubs where we read primary literature and pick it apart one paragraph at a time asking what else should have been looked at and if the right methods are used. We are taught to question everything and look at everything logically and with strong skepticism. I alluded more to the effect of this in a previous post, but this can lead to a lot of tongue-biting in social situations when your pseudo-science radar starts flashing. At the end of the day, we all receive a Ph.D. In all reality it does not matter what project people work on. I study muscle development but I could work on almost any project and learn the same set of core skills needed to grant me a Ph.D. 

This gets to the real kicker. Every other week a church friend or family member will ask me when I’m going to graduate and get a ‘real job’. First of all, science is unpredictable so I have no idea when my paper will be published and when I will get a Ph.D. At my university there is an average time to degree but so much depends on how your experiments go. When people ask this question it is one of the most discouraging because we have no idea and it can be a reminder that we have so much to get done. Second of all, being a scientist is a real job. We are asking questions about the natural world, learning how to answer those questions and communicating our findings. Through all of this, we are challenged to think deeper and more critically. People outside of STEM tend to make mass generalizations and treat scientists pursuing a PhD like we are just students even though we are training to become professionally recognized as a voice of reason in the scientific community. This gets into how grad students are defined. 

Student or employee or neither?:
In most of my conversations with people they try to classify me into one of two categories: student or employee because that's all they know. As a student, I have to fulfill certain class and teaching requirements as well as pass several qualifying exams and pay tuition. As an employee, I do not get summers off and instead have more time to dedicate to my research, but I am neither one of these categories. I would argue there's a third category that people don't know about. This third category is the apprentice in the trench and is a perfect depiction of graduate school. 

Our time in graduate school is one of purposeful sacrifice. We know more or less what we are getting into when we begin the five-year journey but we often are not prepared for the failure that vigilantly marches to meet us. This failure can take many forms: interpreting data wrong, messing up an experiment, an experiment not working no matter how many times you attempt it, a difficult class, months spent writing a grant only to not get it - the list goes on. Nevertheless, we persevere through this failure looking around for glimpses of light in the darkness. 

One week you can discover a glorious piece of data, the next you can be slogging through an experiment that never works. Most of the days during a five-year PhD program are full of hard work with little reward and your work can seem all encompassing. It's something you've fully given yourself to and that you labor towards which makes it different from a job. It's also something that has no defined ending which makes it different from school. It's an investment of your time, energy and ultimately yourself because you walk out of lab a changed person with a Ph.D. in hand. It is because of this consistent plodding through the thick and thin that I would argue we are apprentices in the trenches. 

I do not write all this to garner sympathy but rather to share what it is like in graduate school. We are not employees and we are not students. We are on a long journey in the trenches with a dim light at the end of the tunnel that hides behind clouds, trees, and other people to try to discourage us from the path. If you know a graduate student, give them a hug, a cup of coffee and stop asking them when they're going to graduate. Try to understand what they’re going through and try to realize that they don’t have all the time in the world to volunteer or spend time with you because they're barely able to get enough sleep or make food. Ask them about their science if you want to. But if you don't want to know about their science or don’t have time to truly understand it then don't ask because it hurts more for people to not care about this five year long war we are battling through.


     For a year and half now I've been pursuing my dream to become Dr. Hinkle with a Ph.D in Genetics and Molecular Biology. I knew graduate school would change me, however, I anticipated most of this change to be step-by-step like the marathon that grad school is. Recently, I realized how much change has happened in just the past few months and knew I needed to write about it in order to process it. I then thought that throughout my graduate career I can continually revisit this topic because I knew there are many more changes to come. A disclaimer before I begin: what I list below aren't necessarily good or bad things, they're just different and come with their own positives and negatives and are thus in need of pondering.

Not all people can be pleased by data
      My job as a graduate student is to be skeptical. Skeptical of myself, skeptical of what research has been done, skeptical of scientific claims. This skepticism stems from a requirement to understand something scientifically in order to make judgement calls about it. My training is built upon this. I've even started a YouTube channel where another graduate student and I take scientific claims from the media and break the claims down as skeptic scientists and look at the evidence supporting the claims.
     Within this area of skepticism I've seen the most change in myself. Part of this change I've loved because I can see the blind spots in fields of study and think about ways to address them by really digging into the scientific literature. The other part of the change has driven me away from people who don't understand my skepticism about everything. Any time I see a claim about the next 'fat burning drink' or the 'magic pill to cure this symptom' my hackles immediately go up and the skeptic comes out. There are so many false claims out there and unless you know where to look for information and scientific studies (many of the scientific studies are not accessible to the public but there's a big push in science to make journal articles open access) it's easy to fall prey. This has been the hardest for me to deal with because I am often asked what I think about XYZ and people expect me to be super excited about what they're selling or what they're passionate about. When I respond with skepticism asking what studies were done with the magic pill, or what the ingredients are in the fat burning drink and how they work on a molecular level their smiles falter and I can tell that I have sorely disappointed them just by doing what I have been trained to do. I try to explain the science behind my reasoning but by not being supportive of what they or their friends are selling I've lost them and their respect. As a chronic people pleaser this has been really hard to deal with both mentally and emotionally because I'm doing what I've been trained to do.
      I used to be the person always in the middle, able to understand every side. But now, on certain issues, I take a strong stance because I've read the research and understand the science that is out there right now. I will be the first to admit that most areas of science have plenty of room for more research, but as a scientist I work with what information I have.

Time management
      I think back upon the hours and hours I spent watching the Office, Gilmore Girls and Friends with fondness, incredulity and criticism. On the one hand, laughing at Michael Scott's antics after a long day felt well-deserved. On the other hand, I wish I had used my time more wisely. Since getting married in July of 2017 and beginning graduate school in August of 2017 I have had to learn to manage my time on an hourly basis in order to get everything that I want to get done. Managing my time has always come easily to me but trying to balance marriage, grad school, family time, church activities, YouTube filming, weightlifting and still seeing friends has been like juggling 20 plates at once, hoping and praying they don't fall down. My current self laughs at my past self and the way I thought I managed time well then because now I feel like freaking SuperWoman some days.
        One of my chief joys in life is helping others out whether that be judging a science fair, serving with my church or helping someone with interview prep. Most of the time I force those things to work into my schedule at the detriment to my sleep, time with Steven and/or overall sanity. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at my calendar for the upcoming week and felt stabbing pains in my chest because I didn't know how I will get it all done. One of the wise, older adults in my life said "becoming an adult is just learning how to say no and to prioritize what is important to you." Never has that felt more true than now. I've had to learn how to be okay with saying no even when someone's face falls because I was the perfect person to do this one thing they needed. Being in these sort of situations has been crucial to learning how to get more done in less time. While being efficient with my time seems like a good thing, it's easy for me to focus on all the things I need to get done and neglect the people I love who need me to be mentally present with them. My time is something I'm constantly appraising and asking myself if I'm doing things that line up with my life's priorities.

Sticking to my guns
      Grad school is a carousel of feeling like you know nothing and knowing nothing but having to act like you know something and knowing something but not being completely confident in yourself to say that you know it. In my interactions with faculty, especially when I'm talking to them about research, I have to be sure of myself first, and my research second. If I show even just a little hesitation about what specific antibody I used, or gene event I looked at, my credibility goes out the window and I'm reduced to a sputtering graduate student that should remember what dilution they used. With certain male faculty, you also have to work much harder to prove yourself as a female. At times, being forced to be so sure of myself has been difficult to deal with, but it's also taught me to stick to my guns in other areas of my life (see point above). I'm in a field where you have to speak up for yourself and show people all the things you've done and how great you are. As a person who really doesn't like to toot my own horn this has been hard to grapple with, but my graduate mentor has been instrumental in helping me still stay humble but also give myself credit where it is due.

Everything is out of my control 
     I've probably been asked at least 30 times when I will graduate and my normal response is "hopefully in three and a half more years but it depends on the science." Science is not something that can be predicted, or planned or anticipated. That's why it's called research because you re-search again and again trying to find something biologically interesting that can serve as the basis for your thesis. As a planner, this has been the most amusing/frustrating thing about science to me. I even had one of my undergraduates that I mentor ask me why I'm in science if I want to plan for everything and make everything work. I laughed and thought about that comment a long time and decided that I stay on in science when it's hard because it's a place where God continually teaches me to rely on Him. My experiments may not go to plan, I often think I do not have enough time in my week to get everything done, people may not agree with me, but my joy in life does not and should not change because my foundation is set upon God and his love for me.

It may be the two cups of coffee coursing through my veins. Or the wonderful time of encouragement I had with my discipleship group. Or the amazing soundtrack from the movie Nerve. Or the changing of the seasons to one that is near and dear to my heart. Or the five months that my boyfriend and I have spent together today. Or the fact that this semester is going so much better than the last. Whatever it is, I feel alive for the first time in a while.

The past few months have been full of ups and downs for me. Part of the summer I rushed in and out of doctors appointments, urgent care and the emergency room as I dealt with severe chest pains, trouble breathing and lightheadedness. Clinically, nothing was wrong for which I am extremely thankful. However, without answers it was unclear what happened and why. One moment I could feel fine, the next I could be plagued by chest pain which sent my mind into a whirl of negative thoughts, doubts and generalizations that weren't true and ultimately caused me to doubt God and doubt the people who care for me. 

For those that know me, I love to work myself into a hole. I've already shared about my struggles in resting and taking time for myself and how well that worked out last semester. This semester it's been less intense so I've been able to 'rest' more, yet in my resting I often fail to actually rest and instead peruse Facebook or end up studying physics for eight hours straight. This semester, it seemed like every week I would struggle a day or two and often with chest pain accompanying that struggle. After much searching, I believe those pains are caused by stress and a high-functioning 'busy' anxiety.  People with high-functioning anxiety tend to keep themselves busy to avoid being alone with their own thoughts. They hide their anxiety with a smile or laughter and tend to 'turtle' or withdraw into themselves when things are going wrong instead of opening up and allowing others to help.

Recently, I've struggled with a lot of self-inflicted loneliness from shutting myself off from people. Only those closest to me who I let in have been able to see through the façade. It's taken many tears,  lonely moments and wise words from my best friends to help me realize how much I'd been hurting myself through this act of turtling. I'm an extrovert and I'd go to events and just feel depleted yet still I would smile and act like everything was ok. After those events I'd feel unsatisfied because of the lack of meaningful conversation. I desired for others to go out of their way to open up when I wasn't even willing to do so myself unless probed enough. I believed the lies Satan threw at me that no one wanted to know how I was really feeling when they asked me. I kept myself busy and avoided being home so that my family wouldn't see the cracks that we beginning to show. I nearly crushed a friendship by internalizing everything I was feeling and not allowing one of my best friends to help as she wanted to. 

I wanted to honestly share my struggles as a way of opening up and to be able to use the art of writing to not only help me understand what I've been learning since June but also to hopefully serve as an encouragement to others. The one thing I've learned and will continue learning is how blessed I am. God has placed some amazing people in my life who are there to encourage, support and challenge me. It breaks my heart that there have been many times when I've doubted those people and doubted God's love for me. I'm not on any medications, I haven't been to a doctor to have them corroborate my research, however I am now aware of a weakness I have. This weakness can not always be controlled however, I can do my best to seek the support of those around me, take my mind captive when negative thoughts creep in and rest with peace in the promises of God. This song by Jeremy Fisher has been a huge source of comfort and biblical truth for when I've had days of struggle: 

Those who trust in You have nothing to fear. 
For You are our Rock, You are our God.
And though the night is long we will not lose heart. 
For Your promise is sure, Our hope is secure. 

And though our hearts are breaking Lord we pray and cling to hope. 
That you are in control and all this pain will bring us good. 
For you are always faithful, always faithful, always true. 
And we will always trust You, always trust and wait for you.

Those who trust in You Are held in your love, 
You fill up our souls, In you we are whole. 
And when weakness comes and doubt sweeps in like a storm. 
Your grace will sustain, For you never change. 

And though our hearts are clinging to the things that bring us death.
 You will never leave us so in Your great love we rest. 
For you are always faithful, always faithful, always true. 
And we will always trust You, always trust and wait for you. 


My days are marked by a cyclic cycle consisting of praise Jesus hallelujah coffee, morning alarms that never seem to shut up, eight hours of being a wolf geneticist, tennis/biblestudy/movies/dinner with friends, continuous calendar checking and worry to make sure I'm not missing an appointment or meeting with someone and the minimal amount of sleep to stay functioning.

To be completely honest, I love having a bunch going on. It makes me feel important, special, popular and gives my life more meaning. It's a selfish passion that hurts me more than helps me... as I am painfully realizing.

Resting is not my forté. On a regular basis I hear the comment of 'Oh Emma you look really tired.' I pride myself on acting like everything is ok, that I'm fine and can keep putting my body through the craziness that I commit myself to every week. I struggle with taking time for myself and taking care of myself because I feel like my job is to take care of others and be there for them 100% of the time. Whenever I take a moment for myself to read, exercise, or just think, I am paralyzed. I think how I could be spending that time with others and how my time could be more productive and efficient. I fear that as soon as I take a moment for myself, those around me will think that I am less committed to them and do not care about them.

Back in March, I dealt with extensive anxiety because of all the things I was trying to do without taking care of myself. I foolishly thought that God would continue to sustain my body on 5 hours of sleep, minimal exercise and an inconsistent eating schedule. God, in his graciousness, allowed me to be plagued with pneumonia during the time when I thought my world was going to come crashing down because of all the things I was trying to support in my life, just by myself. After that, I realized that taking care of myself is crucial and that I'm going to be a less efficient witness if I am consistently run down and trying to catch up - even if I'm run down doing good things.

I say that I realized taking care of myself was important, but to be honest, I'm right back where I was in March. Thankfully less affected by anxiety, but I'm tired, run down, in need of sleep, and just a less effective version of myself. Ultimately, I'm realizing that the root of this recurring occurrence is an idol of control. I struggle with control and I've struggled with it for as long as I can remember. My efforts are spent trying to control everything from my schedule, my relationships and my future. I wonder why I run myself to the ground and the answer is literally staring me in the mirror. I struggle trusting that God has a plan for me that is better than what I could ever dream. I doubt the truths that God has so clearly laid out in Scripture. Ultimately, I lack trust in my Savior who chose me, redeemed me and is sanctifying me. This morning I woke up distraught over what God has been showing me in my heart. Even when God shows me parts of my heart that need pruned, I want to fix those problems quickly and on my time and control even what only God can control, my sanctification.

Right now life is difficult, but God reminded me this morning that I have been called to "rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer" (Romans 12:12). Even though I am walking through a spiritual valley, I am still called to be joyful and thankful for what God has placed in my life. Instead of focusing on my problems, overthinking and trying to control, God has called me to live a life marked by faith, a life marked by joy in every circumstance and ultimately a life marked by love for those around me. The lessons I'm learning are not without pain, but I'm thankful for a God who pushes me, challenges me and leads me further towards Himself. I am striving to focus on today. To rest, to let go and to choose joy because Christ chose me.


Every year I make it a priority to dwell upon the year before and create some resolutions for myself. This year, I wanted to center my life around my life verse:

  "She is clothed with strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future." 
(Proverbs 31:25)

After coming out of the amazement and wonder that accompanies studying abroad, I knew that I needed to have a central mindset to adopt for this year so that I could keep my mind focused on the many tasks at hand.

Through Copenhagen, the Lord really wanted me to learn how to live in the moment, especially because I wanted to be back home experiencing things that everyone else was experiencing. Now I am having to live in the moment but in the reverse. Living in the moment is even more important for me at this stage of life. I can't live in the past and dwell constantly upon Copenhagen and the dream I lived out while there, but I also can't live in the future and worry about what I'm going to do after University. It's a very difficult balance that I have definitely not found yet. Day to day, I have to tell myself to focus on what is in front of me, whether that be a girlfriend for coffee, my sister who is trying to tell me an exciting story or my Physics professor. In the past, I would be physically present somewhere, but fail to be mentally present since I was planning my life in my head, trying to solve a homework problem or just zoning out. God has really challenged me to live in the moment because it allows me to focus on what God has placed in front of me, instead of trying to live according to what Emma wants all of the time.

Many people (especially through the last week) have asked me "How are you doing?" with a hint of curiosity in their voice because they expect me to be having a really hard time adjusting. Others are just wondering when the crap will hit the ceiling in my life and to be honest so am I. Over these past three weeks, I have been so happy and content... it's been scary! I've had a hard time understanding it. As I have dwelt upon the reasons for this happiness, I've realized that the sole reason is God. There was a day in Copenhagen where I began having a panic attack when I thought about coming back home and having to get integrated back into my church, train my brain into studying again (study abroad? We all know it's just abroad...), and furthering friendships. I was so worried. God has totally had his hand around me for sure through these past three weeks. As I am adjusting back and encountering the American way of life, I have been forced to be in constant communication with God and that has made the world of difference. When I walked into my college church group expecting it to feel like home, but it felt totally different, I gave it to God. When I failed my first quiz in Biochemistry, I gave it to the Lord. When I woke up with the absolute worst attitude because it was cold and early and my tea was bad, I gave it to the Lord. I've just realized how much I need God every single moment of my day and how much better my days are when he is part of them!

I have also realized that I am a different person. My friends have told me that I've changed a lot but I didn't really believe them until I'd had the chance to be back home. There have been many days when I have realized that I have to make a decision. Am I going to fall back into my old routines, or am I going to create new ones that represent my changed self? There have been many times when I want to choose the easy path, but making new routines like making myself talk to new people at church, or making myself run in freezing temperatures, or just not drinking Cheerwine for my health has made such a difference in adjusting back home.

I know that right now, I'm enjoying being back because life is different and new and yet all the same but I don't doubt that there will be a time where that will wear off. However, now I am choosing to live in the moment and rely on God because he is the source of my happiness.


Dear Copenhagen,

I am going to miss you so much. In five very short months we have become closer than I could have ever imagined - which makes it very hard to leave. It's going to be wonderful to see all of my friends again, but I know there will still be a hole in my heart where you belong. Before I get on the plane back to America I wanted to thank you for all that you've done and all that you've meant to me.

Thank you for introducing me to so many amazing people. After dealing with tidal waves of loneliness and culture shock, I was in need of some good friends to keep my mind off of home. You provided that and more. From my host family to my actual Danish family, to my friends, I was enormously blessed with the amount of support and love that they showed me. They showed me around castles, islands, coffee shops, countries, libraries, museums and everywhere in between. They were my eyes to see new sights and my sounding board to understand and appreciate opinions different than mine.

Thank you for the amazing food that will be sorely missed. The fresh, crunchy bread that I woke up to in the mornings with a piece of cheese and chocolate on it. The rich, sweet chocolate that I bought in literally every city I could (Danish chocolate was still the best). The dark, aromatic coffee that made my eyes burn and my mind churn at a frantic pace as I sipped its goodness. THE PASTRIES. Oh my the pastries. Buttery, succulence that melts in your mouth. I know that once I go back to America I will try to recreate some of the amazing things I tasted, but they will never taste of Copenhagen. People in America will laugh when I eat a rye bread smørrebrød with a fork or when I salivate over the thought of amazing beet/carrot/cabbage salad or when I go on and on about an amazing chocolate milk called Cocio.

Thank you for opening my eyes to both the bad and the good. I have seen a lot of the world during these five months: Denmark, Scotland, England, Germany, Sweden, Kosovo, Albania, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech-Republic. I have been able to understand so much more of the European politics to actually be worried about the future of our world. I have also seen things that I never have the desire to see again. On the flip side, I have been so fortunate to see people go out of their way to help me. From the homeless man who carried my bike up the stairs, to the lady who opened up her apartment to me so I could go to the bathroom. My faith in humanity has been restored. I have seen how change is a good thing. Denmark does not have to be the same as America. They both are amazing countries with some great differences between them but one is not better than the other.

Thank you for the loneliness that I experienced. Besides being one of the more challenging and dark times of my life, it taught me so much about myself. Through my loneliness, I was forced to examine myself in the mirror with no one around me to hide me from myself. The loneliness made me realize how I can rely on Christ to strengthen me and that I don't need others to do that. Tears were shed but those tears allowed me to grow, and strengthened myself as a person. After hiding behind the shadow of others for 18 years,  I have finally been able to stand on my own as a person and be so strong and so confident in myself and my abilities.

Thank you for the adventures we had together. From midnight bike rides through the city to coffee shop hopping to American festivals with real Ford F-150s to Star Wars nights with Danes, to deep conversations at 3am to hearing crazy people on the S-train, belly-laughing at the antics of my host families children to not understanding a word of what someone said to me to crazy Hungarian ticket ladies who don't speak a lick of English to eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at the concierge in Budapest to that one time I accidentally took out $700 in Budapest to feeling violated by all the people at a twenty-one pilots concert to crying over stupid love stories to watching friends with Danish subtitles to eating so much food at Dalle Valle to just living and loving life here.

Thank you for the laughter that we shared. No one may have understood my silent chucking during culture class at a meme, or my guffaw at the guy with a little tiny man bun, or my sarcastic jokes that Danes don't understand, or my belly-laugh when I ran into someone's mailbox and dented my bike basket, or my constant laughter at the Danish language and the funny nuances of it, but I still laughed. Whenever I was lonely or homesick all I had to do was laugh and life was significantly better.

Thank you for new perspectives. Copenhagen is quite different from Cary, NC in the politics, people, lifestyles and so much more. From my many encounters with those who think/believe differently from me, I have been able to understand and appreciate the perspectives of others, even if I don't agree with them. I know I'm going to go home and utilize some of those perspectives in my own life, but I am thankful that I have been exposed to so many different views on life, the universe, and everything.

Thank you for affording me a glimpse of a different future. From going to Kosovo to being here in Copenhagen to being in Albania to thinking about back home there is so much that I could do. You have showed me that the world lays at my feet. I could be a Science teacher, get my Master's, get my Ph.D, go volunteer for a year, go intern. I can do anything and everything and I don't know what I want to do, but that is ok. I don't have to know the future, I just have to live in the now.

Thank you for the beauty. I never believed that one country, filled with only 5.6 million people, could be so gorgeous on so many different levels. Everything I saw, blew me away. The grounds in Fredericksborg Castle, the many colored bikes riding beside me, the modern tapestries in the Queen's Royal Reception rooms, the sun setting at 3 pm, the families laughing and smiling together, the tall, attractive Danish men, the design of Danish homes, and the nature all around.

Kære København, jeg siger ikke farvel. Jeg siger kun vi ses til næste gang. Jeg elsker dig og jeg skal kommer tilbage snart. Jeg skal kommer tilbage snart. Mange tak for alt.


I have less than a month here in Denmark. I really don't want to leave nor do I feel ready to leave. Nevertheless, I am coming back to good ole' North Cackalacky. Over the past few weeks, I've begun to ponder and dwell intentionally on this experience and how it's changed and shaped me.  I've been thinking especially about how I'm going to be a different person back home and what it will be like to integrate back into the American culture.

This semester I've been writing a paper for my 'American Fiction between the World Wars' class on the Lost Generation of World War I. This generation was comprised of those young people who grew up in both mind and body during WWI. This generation was marked not only by the changing times, but also by their lost nature, both spiritually and physically. The young men who fought in Europe came back to America changed. They expected America to be the same as when they left but America changed as well during the war. They struggled to find their place because of the change within the culture but mainly because they had gone through things that no one else had gone through. For those who came back from the war, they entered into a stage of exploration where young men and women experimented with what they found behind the curtain of adulthood in order to develop new morals and beliefs since the war shattered the old ones.

 The homecoming Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald expected was not at all what they received and they felt like outcasts immediately upon stepping on American soil. These two expatriates did not fit in with the American culture. This inspired them to write three literary masterpieces: Farewell to Arms, The Sun also Rises and Tender is the Night. In these three novels, the idea of the expatriate is further delved into. The expatriate is one who has 'lost touch with the soil' and desires to go back to Europe. The expatriate is one who is changed by their time abroad. Ultimately, the expatriate is one who is literally an ex-patriot - they are an exile out of their own country.

Studying the works of Hemingway and Fitzgerald has been a great prequel to my own homecoming. In many ways, I have related to the characters of Lt. Frederic Henry in Farewell to Arms, Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises and Dick Diver in Tender is the Night. All of these men were expatriates and all of them struggled to find their place in both the European and American culture. In many ways I'm definitely not a Dane and I don't completely fit into the Danish culture over here, but in other ways I have changed so much as a person from five months ago. Life back home has changed as well and in many ways I will be coming back as an 'exile.' I don't think I will identify as much with American culture from my time in Europe and that's a scary thought.

I've tried to begin preparing myself on the reality of coming back to the USA. One of my good friends told me that when I return most people will only want to hear maybe at most, a two-minute synopsis of my time in Copenhagen. Another friend mentioned that people will probably get tired of hearing about my experiences and won't really care at all. I've definitely had friends who have made an effort to understand my life in Copenhagen through frequent messages, texts, letters and snapchats. They've let me pour out my heart as I try to understand life over here myself, they've supported me through the tough days, and they've continued to be there for me no matter what. However, very few people will be able to relate to my experiences here in beautiful Copenhagen. They won't understand hygge, the obsession with Christmas, the biking culture, being an American in a totally foreign place and also how much someone learns and can change in just five months. Some will try but most won't even care. I'm not trying to be cynical, I'm just trying to have realistic expectations. 

For as long as I can remember, I have always held myself to extremely high, basically unreachable expectations just because I like a challenge. Half the time the challenge ends up seriously damaging my mental health because there is no earthly way I can complete it. When I first came here to Copenhagen, I had very high expectations about everything and I had to work through a lot of disappointment based on how high I had made my expectations. Through my time here, I've definitely had to lower my expectations and because of that I've been much more satisfied. Nevertheless, I worry that my expectations of returning to America are too high. Life won't be all roses.

I worry about coming back. I feel so comfortable here in Denmark now. I've put down roots and now I'm a tree being yanked out of the soil I've been in for five months. I worry what it will be like to integrate back into the culture of N.C. State. I worry if I can integrate into my groups of friends at my church in the way I used to be. Most of all, I worry that my time over here in Denmark has changed my view on life so much that it will be difficult to be mentally present in North Carolina.

I'm trying to prepare myself for the reality of coming back from studying abroad. Reverse culture shock is a legitimate thing that happens when you return home from studying abroad and part of me thinks I won't have any problem with it, but the other more realistic side of me realizes that the time it took for me to get accustomed to Denmark will probably be similar to the time it takes for me to feel reintegrated. Don't get me wrong, I am excited to come home and see all my friends and catch up, walk around State's campus again and enjoy all the amazing American foods I have missed, but at the same time, I'm a realist and I know myself and know that it is going to be hard coming back home. I am an expatriate and I have lost touch with the American soil, now I just have to be replanted in it again.


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