An Innocent Abroad: Tales from an American College Student Studying in Europe

An Innocent Abroad: Tales from an American College Student Studying in Europe

Denmark. Founded on an island in 1167, it is today considered one of the world's most environmentally friendly cities. 36% of its citizens commute to work by bicycle.

I have been in Copenhagen, Denmark for two months now, but it would probably be best to start at the beginning. And because I do not have any humorous asides about the packing process, we can skip past the awkward final goodbyes and hugs with my family at LAX.

It is important to note that I had never flown alone before and I had never left the continent of North America. My only international experience had been in Canada (“Hey, this is like America, only kind of better!”) and Mexico (“Hey, this is like America, only kind of worse!”). So every step of the traveling process was foreign to me.

The first leg of my trip to Copenhagen was a Lufthansa flight from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, Germany; so the majority of passengers were Europeans wearing trendy clothes while speaking trendy languages. While I am a proud American, some might even say obnoxiously proud, my patriotism does not mean I can’t recognize American buffoonery when I see it.

My first international introduction to this phenomenon was an angry, overweight and bald American sitting in the middle seat of the row I was assigned to. From what I could pick up from his livid conversation with a pleasant German flight attendant is that he had been “promised” an aisle seat by the airline; yet had been given the middle seat, an absolute crime against humanity. He rudely informed her that he worked at a U.S. consulate in some far off place, as if that entitled him to the roomy aisle seat I was snuggled into.

When that did nothing to dissuade the flight attendant, he then threatened to tell every single consulate or diplomat he ever came in contact with to never fly with Lufthansa. This threat was as confusing to her as it was to me. She is a flight attendant, not the CEO of Lufthansa. Why would she care? They eventually did swap him out of my row (before I could start buttering him up to get me a job where I could put my political science major to work) and in his place was a skinny Asian man who greeted me warmly before passing out five minutes into the flight and sleeping the entire 10 hours.

The flight was like any other I had ever been on, except the preflight safety procedures were done in German. I felt a little bit threatened by the end of it, but I’m pretty sure that is normal.

After finally landing in Frankfurt, everyone was herded into the customs line. I was expecting an interrogation, but the woman at the customs desk only asked me in heavily accented English where I was going. When I said “Copenhagen,” she stared at me for five seconds, stamped my passport and that was it. It was as if once she learned I was not staying in Germany, whether I was a well-disguised terrorist was no longer her country’s problem. I was waved right through. While convenient, German customs receives a D for security.

I was initially a little worried about navigating the Frankfurt airport because the only German words I know happen to be the names of concentration camps, an incredibly unhelpful vocabulary to have.However, the airport was easy to navigate and within two hours I was on my connecting flight to Copenhagen; armed only with my wits, a boyish innocence that got me through customs after one question and my love for America.

Matthew Grant Anson is a junior at Whittier College in Whittier, California. He is studying this semester at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Authored by: Matthew Grant Anson