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on July 22, 2019 on 7/22/19 from ,

Wrapping Up: Reflecting on My Time Abroad, and Where I’ll Go Next

Today marks three-weeks since I’ve been back home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I knew that coming home would happen sooner than I expected – but wow, did it come QUICK. I can’t even begin to comprehend how incredible my time abroad was; looking back, I have warm, fuzzy-feelings for the home I’ve created for myself in Copenhagen.

My adventures abroad, though, of course had not been perfect. I faced many bumps in the road (pun intended) – including my wheelchair breaking, getting my debit card information stolen (which I forgot to mention – ha!), culture shock anxiety, and being homesick for my emotional support animals. But I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

I now know that I can live on my own, as a physically disabled, neuroatypical, queer and transgender man. Not only that, I can travel independently and navigate a new country, which I had never done before. It was terrifying at first, but so exciting at the same time that I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity pass by.

And now I’ve done it. But, what did I get out of this experience as a whole? Let me discuss with you some things that have stayed with me now that I have been back to the U.S..

  • Being out of my comfort zone isn’t as scary as I thought:

Growing up, my “comfort zone” was fairly limited. My physical disability has been one of the biggest obstacles in gaining my own independence, and I felt quite anxious to delve into new territory while abroad. However, doing so (with coping skills and a sense of adventure along side it) helped me believe in myself and my capabilities more than I expected. For example, when going on excursions in my free-time, I felt myself having anxiety when having to navigate trains and Google Maps in order to get from one place to another. What if we get lost? What if I trip and fall, hurting myself? What if we get pickpocketed? The racing thoughts and tension in my body did not subside easily. Once I started to do things more often with people I trusted, I gained confidence in myself little by little. I rode my bike in the streets of Copenhagen, and

began venturing further and further on my own. Even when my wheelchair broke, I remained calm and confident that everything will work out alright. This is something that I am SO proud of myself for, and it has stuck with me even nearly a month after coming home. It’s given me the reassurance that I can ride my bike at home and trust myself to get home safely. It’s given me the motivation to take my dogs out for walks more often, and to just get out and enjoy the world around me more independently.

  • I deserve to take care of myself, even if it means things like using my wheelchair more than I’d prefer:

Using my wheelchair has been an internal struggle for me for longer than I can remember. I hated having to bring it abroad, because for me my wheelchair was a sign of weakness that brought feelings of embarrassment and shame. However, that changed during my study tour to Berlin, Germany.

Some classmate friends and I were out one evening attempting to find a food market to eat dinner and get drinks. Since it was a bit of a haul on the trains to get there, I brought my wheelchair because I wasn’t sure how much walking it would be. That wasn’t an issue until we managed to get off from our first train stop, and tried to find our connecting train. There ended up being stairs everywhere we looked inside the station; an awful lot of them, too. We didn’t exactly want to haul my wheelchair up four flights of stairs if we didn’t have to. At that point I started to feel guilty and ashamed that I needed this much help.

My friends reassured me, though, that they were willing to help me out however I needed. With smiles and laughs, one friend assisted me up the flights of stairs, and others carried my wheelchair up from behind me. I even joked that “this is going to be a great adventure to write about for my blog!!!”, feeling uplifted by the moral and physical support from people that genuinely believed in me. And, from that, I started to believe in myself.

From that experience, as well as a few others while abroad, I began to realize that needing my wheelchair isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, at least. Instead, using these tools of assistance with the help from friends can enable me to do more, see more, and become more. It’s kind of ironic that it took me 22 years, and some time spent half-way across the world, to realize this… but I’m glad I did. It’s allowed me to grow even more open-minded with myself, and have compassion for my own needs and abilities.

  • I really, really want to go to school in Scandinavia or Germany to get my Masters Degree:

Connecting with the instructors for my classes (who are also active professionals in their fields) made me realize how much I truly love psychology and human sexuality. However, living in Denmark and Germany also made me realize how much work needs to be done in these countries, too, in order to create sex-positive and LGBTQIA+-positive cultures.

Since I’ve come back to the U.S., I’ve started to see and feel how uncomfortable I am, living here. I don’t hate this country, I just have almost always felt out of place here. My private, introverted demeanor doesn’t exactly mesh well in American culture, and neither do my disability, and queer identities. In Denmark I felt safe and secure, almost as if I belong in Copenhagen more than I do in Minneapolis. The culture truly spoke to who I am as a person, and even more so as a young student.

During my time in Germany, I also had this similar feeling – perhaps even more so than in Denmark. When I learned from Pro-Familia – Germany’s leading sexual health and rights organization – that there is a huge demand for English-speaking sex educators and therapists in Berlin, I decided there is no going back. Eventually, I hope to move to Germany or Denmark in order to get my Masters abroad, and then settle down in Berlin. By getting my postgraduate degree abroad, I can not only save TONS of money, but also open my education up to more cross-cultural knowledge! Also, I believe that my newfound drive to immerse myself in different cultures can allow me to open up more as an individual. If spending six weeks abroad can benefit me as much as it did, imagine what a few years could do!

Well, that about wraps up my written blog posts for my summer study abroad endeavors.

I want to thank you all for following me along this incredible journey in Copenhagen, Berlin, and all the way back to Minneapolis! A BIG thank-you to FEA – without your help, I would not have had the opportunity to study abroad and jumpstart the amazing educational and career opportunities ahead of me. I am forever grateful, and cannot wait to see where life takes me from here!

– Carden