one last adventure: Vienna

On my last weekend abroad, I traveled to Vienna with a couple of friends.  Even though I was a bit travel-weary at this point in the semester, I just couldn’t pass up such a good deal (we found $50 roundtrip flights)! Besides, Austria was the 10th (!!) country I have had the opportunity to visit this semester, and it was satisfying to hit double digits on my country count.

After a delayed flight, we arrived in Vienna late on Friday night.  Since we were flying out on Sunday morning, we knew we had to make the most of our one full day in the city. And so, we spent all of Saturday exploring!

We began the morning by grabbing apfelstrudel pastries and wandering around the Naschmarkt food market.  Next, we visited the cathedral and famous Vienna Opera House.

Though we had basically eaten dessert for breakfast, we couldn’t resist stopping at the Sacher Cafe to indulge in the famous Austrian dessert–the Sacher Torte.  I don’t usually enjoy the combo of chocolate and fruit, but let me tell you, this cake is amazing. Who know that chocolate and apricot could be so delicious?


After overdoing it on the sweets, we stopped for a quick lunch in one of the Christmas markets that we stumbled upon as we wandered the city. Although Copenhagen is known for having good Christmas markets, they simply cannot compare to the ones in Austria! These Christmas were massive and jam-packed with tourists and locals alike.


After poking around the crowded markets, we made our way to the Hofburg Palace and enjoyed wandering around the grand facade.


Next, we took a 40 minute walk across town to visit the Prater amusement park to take a ride on the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris Wheel.  From the top of the massive ferris wheel, we enjoyed a gorgeous view of Vienna at night.


After a busy day in Austria, we packed up and came back to Copenhagen on Sunday morning–just in time for me to study for my last exam.  After completing that exam on Monday afternoon, I can finally say that I’ve finished my schoolwork for the semester!

This experience has been such a whirlwind–I’m looking forward to some time at home to catch my breath before jumping into another busy semester at Kenyon.  Even though I’m so excited to go back to Nashville (and sleep in my own bed), it’s going to be hard to leave Copenhagen and my host mom on Friday.  However, I have a feeling that we’ll keep in touch, and maybe someday I’ll be lucky enough to come back to visit Denmark!

time to hygge

I can hardly believe that this was my last weekend here in Copenhagen.  Even though I’ll be staying in Europe until the 14th, I have plans to travel to Vienna next weekend, so this was the final Saturday and Sunday I’ll be spending in my cozy Danish apartment.  Most of this free time was spent writing papers and studying (yay, it’s officially finals season), but I was able to set aside some time to hygge with my host family.

Sidenote: even though hygge loosely translates to “cozy,” it means oh so much more. It’s an adjective, a verb, a noun, an exclamation.

On Saturday afternoon, my host mom invited us to hygge with her family.  In this case, hygge meant sharing a meal, decorating for the Christmas season, enjoying delicious Danish treats such as æblesvier and Scandinavian pancakes, and then watching a Christmas movie together.


my DIY Christmas candle

In Gitte’s family, it’s a tradition to make these advent decorations every Christmas.  Each of us were given a candle, and, after setting the candle in a clay base, we were responsible for creating a wreath-like decoration for the base. We cut up the branches of pine and arranged the branches with other festive garnishes. The tiny mushroom on my wreath is my personal favorite.


Sarah’s candle

My host mom was excited to keep our decorations–two small reminders of me and Sarah–and enjoy them throughout the Christmas season, even after we return home. This family time was the perfect relief from all my schoolwork, and I’m so glad I was able to spend this last Saturday together with my host family.  I truly can’t imagine what my semester in Denmark would have been like without my host mom Gitte–she has been such an integral part of my experience.  I know I’m going to miss her (and her home cooked meals) so much when I go back to college!

IMG_5515 2.jpeg

thanksgiving paella

I woke up this morning 5am to catch a flight and, since then, have spent the whole day working on essays and projects.  Nevertheless, I am in such a good mood because I got to spend the last week hanging out with my wonderful family!!

Last Saturday, my mom and grandmother came to visit me in Copenhagen. It was so much fun getting to play tour guide in my own city, sharing all my new favorite places with the two of them. Sunday was my grandmother’s birthday, and we celebrated by visiting the Kronborg Castle (Hamlet’s castle) and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

Even though I had classes to attend on Monday and Tuesday, we made the most of their time in Copenhagen. This included an afternoon in Tivoli, of course. We also got to wander around the Christmas markets–a charming new addition to the city streets. Even though it was freezing out, we kept warm with mulled wine!

My family was also able to share a meal with my host mom. My host mom, Gitte, was so generous and welcomed my mom and grandmother into her home for dinner. It was so fun watching my real mom and Danish mom get to meet, and I can’t wait for my host mom to come visit Nashville so that we can take a turn hosting her!

During the second half of the week, I didn’t have any class. Woo hoo for Thanksgiving break! And so, on Wednesday morning, we traveled from Copenhagen to Barcelona where we met up with my dad who had flown in from Nashville. We spent the rest of the week together sightseeing, enjoying the warm weather, and eating some amazing food.

For Thanksgiving this year, we spent the day enjoying the beautiful architecture of the famous Catalan Modernist Antoni Gaudí. In the morning, we visited a park he designed with gorgeous views of the city below.


And in the afternoon, we visited his famous cathedral, Sagrada Familia. Let me tell you, I’ve seen a whole lot of cathedrals during my semester in Europe, but this one takes the cake.  Even under construction, Sagrada Familia was truly stunning, and totally unlike any cathedral I have ever seen.  I’ll have to go back when it’s (supposed to be) finished in 2026.

Even though we skipped the turkey this year, we certainly didn’t go hungry on Thanksgiving. The day was filled with tapas, paella, cava, and churros.

After spending Friday morning at the Picasso museum, I went Black Friday shopping for the first time in my life. Our hotel was near the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, and the streets were lined with fun and interesting shops. Many of them were having Black Friday sales even though they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Luckily, it was not nearly as crowded as Black Friday in the United States!

On our last day in Barcelona, we went outside the city limits to visit the 1000-year-old Montserrat monastery and mountain range.

Next, we visited the coastal village of Sitges where I was able to see the Mediterranean for the first time. Even though Spain was much warmer than Copenhagen, it was definitely too cold to swim.  Nevertheless, sitting on the coast and enjoying our final tapas made for the perfect end to the perfect vacation.


czeching it out

Over the weekend, I visited two of my high school friends who are also studying abroad this semester. Oddly enough, I think I’ve spent more time with my friends from high school this semester than I have since starting college.  Many of my Harpeth Hall classmates are currently studying abroad in Europe, and it’s been so fun getting to catch up with them–some of whom I haven’t seen since graduation!

Two of my close friends from high school, Dasha and Carrie, are spending their semester in Prague. Carrie is studying communication and journalism, and Dasha is doing an intensive film program. Visiting the two of them in the city where they have been studying for the past three months was the best–I got two built-in tour guides!

Together, we explored some of the famous landmarks of the city.  In a whirlwind day and a half tour, I got to see the iconic John Lennon Wall, the Prague Castle, and the Charles Bridge.


the view from the Prague Castle

The city itself was gorgeous–and the prices were even better! Unlike Copenhagen (which rivals NYC for being outrageously expensive), food and drinks in Prague were so cheap.  I wandered around the grocery store there in total awe.


beautiful Prague

Though the attractions were beautiful (and the food delicious), my favorite part of this weekend trip was spending time with old friends. After being in Copenhagen for the past three months, I was beginning to feel a little homesick. However, spending my weekend in the company of my lifelong friends was the perfect remedy!


enjoying the John Lennon Wall with Dasha

learning about sex work in the Red Light // my week in Amsterdam

This past week, I traveled with my core class at DIS to study in Amsterdam.  Notorious for its historic Red Light District, Amsterdam was an obvious choice for our study tour since my program is specifically focused on Prostitution and the Sex Trade.  Over the course of the week, my class had the opportunity to hear from a diverse array of individuals and NGOs about their perspectives on prostitution, human trafficking, and migration.

My week in Holland was an illuminating academic experience–truly unlike anything I have experienced in a traditional classroom setting. I have gained so much insight into the reality of the sex trade in Amsterdam, hearing firsthand from people who have bought and sold sex.

This post turned out to a pretty lengthy one–it was a jam-packed week–so if you want a quick summary, just scroll down to LONG STORY SHORT.


On Monday afternoon, we arrived in Amsterdam after a brief flight.  After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we went to visit and hear from a representative at PIC, the Prostitution Information Center.  The center was founded by a former sex worker in 1994 with the goal to provide accurate information about the Red Light District to tourists, student groups, and sex workers themselves.  In conjunction with PROUD, the Dutch Union for Sex Workers, the PIC aims to clear up misconceptions about this profession, giving sex workers a platform to share their own stories and experiences. For instance, the woman who spoke to our group at PIC works for an organization that connects sex workers with psychiatric patients and people with disabilities. Though she still works part-time as a nurse, she finds sex work rewarding and profitable.

Challenging the “victimhood” narrative that is so prevalent in discourse about prostitution, one of the slogans at the PIC is “Don’t Save Us, Save Our Windows.”  Rather than “saving” prostitutes–women who have chosen to enter the profession of their own volition–the Dutch government should be focused on saving their windows–providing sex workers with a safe working environment.


After this lecture, we ate a group dinner before visiting the Red Lights Secrets museum in the heart of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. It was our first time walking through the area at night, and the streets were packed with tourists. Though I would have assumed that tourism would be good for business, many of our speakers spoke to the contrary. The hordes of tourists populating the Red Light District often have no intention of purchasing sex–rather, they come to stare at the women in the windows much like animals in a zoo. Furthermore, these onlookers might discourage actual customers from completing a transaction. Therefore, the presence of this museum in the area was somewhat problematic, as it continued to attract a tourist crowd.


Though Red Light Secrets museum was a bit sensationalized, it did give us the opportunity to feel what it might be like to stand in the window ourselves.  The front of the museum looked like the front of any other brothel; upon first glance, you wouldn’t be able to tell it was a museum.  Once inside, you could sit or stand in the window, looking down at the masses of tourists.  For just a brief moment, I witnessed the scrutiny, judgement, and stigma of the window.

This experience challenged me to think critically about how I myself was looking at the sex workers in the Red Light District.  Though I certainly didn’t want to ogle, it also felt wrong to walk by the windows and very purposefully avert my eyes, disregarding the humanity of the sex workers standing in the windows.  After my experience at Red Light Secrets, I aimed to acknowledge the sex workers in the windows like I would any other person that I crossed paths with on the streets of the city.



The next morning, we went on a walking tour of the Red Light District led by a former sex worker from the UK named Mark.  He told us about his own experience working in Amsterdam and showed us some of the landmarks in the area.


a statue in the Red Light District, “portraying sex workers as they would like to be seen”

That afternoon, we attended a lecture from a representative of CoMensha, an organization working to combat human trafficking in The Netherlands.  We had heard from several anti-trafficking NGOs during our study tour in Sweden; however, this lecture from CoMensha was slightly different.  Since sex work is legal in Holland, voluntary sex work was not conflated with trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Following this lecture, we had a little free time to explore the city before our next group activity.  During this time, we wandered around the Cheese Museum (so. many. free. samples) and the beautiful Tulip Museum.

Our next scheduled activity was the Anne Frank house. This was a solemn visit, particularly in light of recent events in the United States, and walking through the secret annex was a poignant experience. However, reading Anne’s defiantly optimistic words of wisdom left me feeling hopeful for the future of the world around me.


the Anne Frank house

“All her would-haves are our real possibilities. All her would-haves are our opportunities. And the book’s a flame, a torch, we can light our own candles and take them and illuminate our hearts with the incandescence of her spirit.”

Emma Thompson, 2006


On Wednesday, we took a day trip to The Hague. In the morning, we visited the Humanity House, a museum that aims to give its visitors an immersive and interactive glimpse into the experience of a refugee.  Though the ‘immersive” portion of the museum was definitely a simplified portrayal, I enjoyed the last room in the exhibit where I was able to walk around and watch video clips of refugees sharing their personal stories. The museum did a good job of showing how multifaceted migration can be–each refugee had different reasons to flee their country, different reasons for coming to Holland, and needed different forms of support.


After some free time exploring The Hague and the Mauritshuis Museum, we attended a lecture by Maarten Abelmann, a representative from the Dutch Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings.  He spoke to us about the reality of human trafficking in The Netherlands and how the government is working to combat this crime.


Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer (in the Mauritshuis)

Though the National Rapporteur is responsible for coordinating data collection and reporting on the statistics of human trafficking, our speaker was candid about the difficulty of collecting accurate data about the prevalence of this crime.  His honesty was refreshing–many of the organizations we have spoken to seem to use any numbers and statistics that support their agenda without discussing the data collection process.

Maarten Abelmann also discussed how prostitution in The Netherlands is changing–rather than existing solely in the windows, prostitution is moving online.  He noted that, in one sense, this shift makes it more difficult to identify victims of trafficking.  With online prostitution, the incoming sex workers do not have to undergo an “intake interview” with the landlord or brothel owner to ensure that they are participating of their own free will. However, he also noted that this shift to internet prostitution can be a useful tool for the police, as they can look for signs of trafficking within internet profiles (for instance, if a profile says “available 24/7” or “willing to engage in unprotected sex”).


Thursday morning, my class went to Amsterdam’s city hall to hear a lecture from the Prostitution Policy Unit.  This government group was formed back in 2012 with the goal of creating a safe working environment for sex workers in Amsterdam.  They discussed some of the legislation and policies regarding sex work.  Additionally, we learned about some of the programming to support sex workers such as free STD testing, educational programs for vulnerable minors, language classes, and prostitution exit programs.

Next, we visited P&G 292, the prostitution and health center.  This clinic provides free hepatitis tests, pregnancy tests, and STD tests and treatment.  They can also provide PREP and PEP for a low fee, helping to protect sex workers against HIV.  Furthermore, they have confidential counselors and can help to refer sex workers to other social services.

Our last academic visit of the day gave us a look behind the window–literally.  We were able to step into a brothel and speak with a Romanian woman named Felicia who works there.  She shared her personal story with us, and we had the opportunity to ask any questions we might have about her experience as a sex worker.



On our last full day in Amsterdam, we had the opportunity to hear a perspective that seems to be largely silent in the public debate about prostitution: the voice of the sex buyer.  We spoke with a man from the UK who has been traveling to Amsterdam to buy sex since 2007 and keeps a record of his experiences on a blog.  He discussed the relationships he has established with some of the women in the Red Light District throughout his years of sex tourism and how his experiences with sex workers challenge the “prostitute as victim” narrative. Marcus also spoke to the stigma of purchasing sex–although he was happy to speak (very candidly) to us about the topic–he was careful to maintain his privacy, as he does not want anyone from his home or work to know about his escapades in Amsterdam and London.

Next, we heard from an organization called Not for Sale.  This NGO helps victims of human trafficking to integrate and reenter the work force, offering training programs and employment opportunities in their cafe.

Last, but certainly not least, we went on a canal tour with a company called Lampedusa. This unique company gives tours on the boats used by immigrants and refugees on their journey to Europe, and the tour guides are all people who have immigrated to Holland. We had the opportunity to hear from an Egyptian refugee about his process of seeking asylum in Amsterdam.

Long Story Short

Overall, I had the most amazing week exploring and learning in this city alongside so many of my new friends.  I think what I appreciated most about this experience was the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts from so many people who have experienced the reality of sex work.


with my classmates in Amsterdam

In particular, the first lecture we attended at the Prostitution Information Center has had a strong impact on the way I think about sex work.  During this lecture, we heard from former nurse–now sex worker–who works exclusively with disabled and mentally challenged clients. This woman challenged the traditional, stereotyped representation of a sex worker: her appearance, education level, and age set her aside from the prominent cliché. This visit affirmed the fact that there is no one narrative–every sex worker’s experience in this field is unique and complex.

My experience in Amsterdam has continued to complicate my understanding of sex work and the public policy surrounding this profession.  It’s easy to look at the prostitution debate as two-sided: the “happy hooker” versus the victim, legalization versus criminalization. However, the reality of the issue is much more complex.  Even if sex work is legal, as it is in Amsterdam, how will it be regulated? How can the government ensure the safety of sex workers without infringing on their right to privacy?

Being exposed to so many viewpoints and perspectives has challenged me to think deeply about my preconceptions of sex work.  More than anything, I think that this trip has affirmed that sex work is work. It involves people, just like any others, doing a job in order to pay their bills. Some might enjoy the work, some might not, and sometimes it just depends on the day. The profession is as multifaceted and complex as the people who choose to engage in it.

hygge hotspots

This weekend, my best friend from Kenyon came to visit me, and I had such a good time sharing all my favorite places in Copenhagen with her!  My friend Caroline is studying abroad at Exeter University in England for the year, and I was so excited that she was able to find a weekend to come visit me.

When we were both planning for our time abroad back last spring, I think we both assumed that–since we would both be in Europe–it would be so easy to see each other throughout the semester.  However, with busy and conflicting academic schedules, it was almost impossible to find even this one weekend!  I’m bummed that I won’t be able to see where she is studying, but it was so nice to spend time together no matter the location. I’ve been really missing Kenyon recently–it’s so beautiful there in the fall–but having a piece of Kenyon here in Copenhagen has helped me to feel a bit less homesick.

This was the coldest weekend I’ve experienced in Denmark so far, so it was a bit of a challenge to find warm activities to do with Caroline.  However, we really got an authentic hygge (the Danish word for cozy) experience–everywhere we went we were bundled up in sweaters and scarves, drinking warm beverages, and huddled up together under heat lamps! The Danish have really mastered the art of making winter less miserable–it’s all about the hygge.

Here are some of my favorite hygge hotspots in the city–

1. Nyhavn.  This one is a classic.  The old port is lined with beautifully renovated and colorful buildings.  The sidewalks are crowded with cafes and restaurants–the perfect place to snuggle up on a rainy afternoon with a cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine and take in the scenery.


2. The Living Room. The Living Room is my favorite coffee shop in the city.  It has such a fun/funky/hipster vibe and the comfiest sofas and chairs.  The basement area is especially hygge–it has its own fireplace and lots of little nooks and crannies where you can study or chat with your friends.  In the evening, the coffee shop turns into a laid back bar.


3. Tivoli.  Another Copenhagen classic.  Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world, right in the heart of downtown Copenhagen.  I went with my friend Caroline this weekend and got to see all of their Halloween decorations.  Since Denmark only started celebrating Halloween in the past decade, I wasn’t expecting too much, but Tivoli goes all out for the holiday.  It felt like stepping into Disney’s Halloweentown.  Even though it was chilly walking around the park, we kept warm drinking hot chocolate under some heat lamps in a Tivoli cafe.

4. Bastard Cafe. This hidden gem is one my very favorite places to pass an afternoon in Copenhagen.  The Bastard Cafe is unlike any cafe I’ve ever visited–the walls are lined with just about every board game imaginable.  You can order coffee, beers, and snacks, then settle down at a table to play a game with friends.  Some of the games are pay-to-play, but most of them are free!  The cafe has such a warm and homey vibe, and you spend a couple of hours getting lost in a game with friends.


coming home to Copenhagen

My independent travel week was so incredibly fun/exciting/engaging–it was also exhausting.  Being responsible for all my own transportation, lodging, and sightseeing plans was often stressful, and adjusting to so many unfamiliar cities was more strenuous than I had anticipated.  Though I’m so glad and grateful to have had the experience, I was definitely ready to come back when the week ended.

Returning to Copenhagen really felt like coming home. After two months of living here, I’ve settled into my routines, I know my way around (more or less), and I feel totally comfortable in my homestay.

This week has made me particularly thankful for my cozy apartment and host mom. After all my travel, it was so comforting to return to a warm, homecooked meal.  Not only that, my host mom had already purchased the groceries I would need for the upcoming week of breakfastes and lunches.  After a week of so much responsibility, it was such a relief to come back and feel like someone was looking out for me.

2018-09-07 16:24:23.893 2.jpg

my homestay apartment

The weather has also offered a warm welcome back to Copenhagen.  Apparently, we are experiencing record hot temperatures for the month of October, but I’m certainly not complaining! Knowing that the days of sunlight will be disappearing soon, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the bright afternoons.  Though midterms at DIS have been keeping me busy, I’ve been reducing stress by going on walks or jogs around my neighborhood.


the park near my apartment

I’m sad to be missing the beauty of fall in Ohio, but I have to say, fall in Denmark is looking pretty good!  As an added bonus, the park near my apartment has its own mini-horse.  Oh, and the trails literally look like something out of a fairy tale.



This week has made me so appreciative of the beauty of this city and how comfortable I have begun to feel here.  I can hardly believe that my semester here is already halfway over, but I’m trying to take a glass-half-full approach.  I’m looking forward to two more months of adventures here in Copenhagen (my new home).