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Maddie Gorelick

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Physchology B.S. Neuroscience minor
Program: Danish Institute of Study Abroad (DIS): Copenhagen
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Term: Spring 2019


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
Although I have experienced global travel, before last semester, I had never done so on my own without the comfort and security of being with family or friends. I have always wanted to live abroad, and especially after living independently in college for two years, I felt ready for the challenge of exploring the rest of the world (beyond North Carolina) as an individual. I chose DIS for many reasons, one of which being the academic curriculum and how many immersive opportunities it would offer me. It can sometimes be difficult to get meaningful experience in the field of psychology as an undergraduate, and DIS had courses that really excited and interested me and were different than those offered at UNC. I also loved the idea of taking trips with my classes and seeing how the concepts we would talk about in class could be applied in our travels across Europe. Another huge draw of both the program and the place is that I wanted to go somewhere entirely new. While I had heard positive things about Copenhagen, I barely knew anything about Denmark and wanted to challenge myself to go somewhere totally unfamiliar to me and truly learn about it through my personal experience.


What did you learn about yourself?
Up until I went abroad, the most independence I had experienced was coming to UNC, which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from my hometown of Charlotte, NC. While I certainly grew and learned a lot during the first half of my college experience, it wasn’t until going abroad that I not only truly felt independent, but I also proved to myself that I had the capability of taking care of myself and living on my own. There is something so empowering in knowing that I can, theoretically, land in any airport in the world and confidently figure out my way around a new city. Especially as someone who likes to plan every detail in advance, I learned that I am capable of trusting myself and my instincts and now know from experience that even if things don’t go exactly as I planned, everything will be okay. On a similar note, I had not previously thought of myself as someone who feels the need to constantly be exploring and stepping outside of my comfort zone. Both living in a metropolitan city like Copenhagen and traveling to many different destinations made me realize that continuing to learn and explore new places is something that I do want to prioritize in my life. It was exciting to realize that I can be more spontaneous than I ever thought possible and I found that I am capable of dealing with just about any situation thrown my way. My semester abroad was one of, if not the most influential experiences in my young adult life in both teaching me about myself and guiding my decisions as I move forward.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
At the end of April, I had about a week off of class for Easter, and my two best friends that I made in Copenhagen and I traveled around Switzerland. After a semester of living in and traveling in mostly urban European cities, it was on this trip, as I hiked through the Jungfrau Mountain Region with two of my closest friends who I had only known for a few months, that I realized just how much I had gotten out of my time abroad. Surrounded by the unbelievable Swiss landscape, I got a breath of fresh air and soaked in some of the last moments I would have on my incredible trip. My hike from Mürren to Gimmelwald not only exposed me to the most breath-taking views I’ve seen in my life, but was such a fun memory that I have, of laughing with my best friends, appreciating the beautiful world around me, and truly living in the moment.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
My biggest piece of advice is to try and be as present as possible while you are abroad. Especially once you fall into a routine and possibly begin traveling around different cities or countries, I definitely found that it can be easy to forget how amazing it is that you have this time to live and learn in an entirely new place. Living in the moment and making the most of every situation is so important, especially when new opportunities arise – some of the greatest experiences can happen when you least expect it! It is a mindset that can be tough to maintain at times, but I found that I had the most fun when I tried to look at every situation and moment as an opportunity. However, at the same time, there can be a lot of pressure to do everything while you are abroad. Yes, there are many things that I either meant to do or looking back now wish I had done, but that will always be true in life; it is difficult but very important to avoid trying to “do it all” and instead simply appreciate the experiences you have for what they are and try and make the most of every moment that you can.


Would you do it again?
Absolutely - I wish I could! Studying abroad was 100% the best decision I have made since coming to UNC, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.


How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at UNC?
The DIS curriculum is designed to be different from typical American college courses in its heavy emphasis on experiential learning. Each DIS student chooses a “core course,” which serves as a focal point of your semester; you go on two trips with your core course (one 3-day trip in Western Denmark at the beginning of the semester and one week-long trip later in the semester to a variety of different places, depending on which core course you choose – mine went to Milan and Verona, Italy!). This curriculum allowed me to learn about a subject, such as the role of mindfulness in wellbeing in my Positive Psychology core course, and then go experience it through a seminar on mindfulness meditation taught by an expert in the field. Additionally, classes are not held on Wednesdays, which is one day a week that is reserved for “field studies,” in which you travel around Copenhagen with your classes in order to apply what is learned in the classroom to the real world. For example, I visited a Danish public school for children with autism through my Developmental Disorders class and attended a performance of the Royal Danish Ballet with my Danish Language and Culture class. Also, I’ve taken a lot of great classes through UNC’s Psychology program, but something I loved about DIS is that for psychology specifically, they offer classes on a wide range of interesting topics that are not offered at UNC.