I started my second full day in Copenhagen feeling really proud of myself for quickly adjusting to the Danish lifestyle. I woke up early, took the bus to campus (without having to use Google Maps on my phone!), grabbed a tea and croissant from a cafe nearby, and headed to class ready to learn about the psychology of criminal behavior.
After class, I met my roommate and we headed to a store nearby to pick up some things for our apartment. On our way out, I checked the pocket of my jacket that my phone is usually housed in and it was gone.
I rushed back inside to look around the store and I asked the workers if they had seen it. I emptied my backpack three times to make sure I didn’t put it in there with my purchase. I ran back to the school building I was in earlier and asked around while my roommate stayed back to check the store again. After a third round of searching and multiple unsuccessful efforts with the Find My iPhone app, I started to panic. Tears started streaming down my face despite my efforts to not alarm Meredith, the roommate who I had just met the day before.
Realizing how lost, emotionally and physically, I would be without a phone connecting me to navigation apps, Google Translator, and my loved ones back home, I continuously thought “why me? Why did this have to happen to ME during my first 48 hours studying abroad?” As dramatic as it sounds I couldn’t fathom my life, especially in Denmark, without my iPhone.
After an emotional FaceTime with my mom, the calming presence of Meredith, reassuring words from Andrew, and a filed police incident report, I went to the closest Danish version of Best Buy. I traded in a large amount of unbudgeted money for a new phone. The emotional rollercoaster of that Wednesday left me exhausted and feeling defeated, and I was naively sure that the whole episode was the worst thing that could’ve happened to me.
The next day my class went on a guided study tour led by the Copenhagen-based social enterprise called “Street Voices.” This organization started as an initiative to give a voice to the social outcasts in Denmark by walking people through the hidden corners of Copenhagen and shedding light on the difficult lives of those who face problems of homelessness and substance abuse. Not only does this provide employment opportunities for these vulnerable groups of people to support themselves, but Street Voices also brings awareness to the marginalized Danes.
The homeless man who led our tour told us gut-wrenching stories about his life on the streets and his hard fought battle with depression including multiple suicide attempts. He showed us places where he has slept with his trash bag of belongings clenched tight so his only spare outfit wouldn’t be stolen. We walked past an establishment called “Hugs & Food” that offers free meals during the week and storage lockers where the homeless can safely keep their important personal documents. He told us how important socks are for people walking hundreds of meters a day and the dangerous consequences of having fragments of sock fabric penetrate foot wounds and cause infections. The horrendous stories of the young women who are the victims of frequent sexual assaults and rape was just a glimpse into the unimaginable lives of people struggling to survive on the streets.
It didn’t take long for me to realize how minuscule my phone problems were in the grand scheme of things. My biggest concerns as I was preparing to come to Denmark were if I had enough black outfits that would help me blend in with the Danes and if my favorite products would be available at the Danish supermarkets. Meanwhile, thousands of people are struggling to find a functional bathroom to use and wondering where their next meal is coming from. Despite how out of reach it may seem, homelessness can affect anyone at any time. No matter how secure we think we may be, there is no telling what tomorrow will bring.
This eye-opening experience is one that will stick with me for a long time. And so will the words of the man who showed me a small part of his world on the streets and followed up by saying “life is still beautiful.” Life IS beautiful and so is this amazing place that I am fortunate enough to spend my summer in. As I continue my adventure in this unique country with one less iPhone and a lighter wallet, I will remember to acknowledge how blessed I am and to not take a single second for granted.