A Few Rats with Some Drugs: A Day in a Pharmacology Lab

For my Neuroscience core course, we got to visit our professor’s rat lab as a field study. I have worked with rats before, and I have got to say that they still weren’t appealing to work with. Regardless, it was cool to see what our professor does besides teach us, and we got to learn about the different kind of research that is currently going on.

Once we got there, we put on really pretty coats and hats before coming in contact with the mice. Once we were in the lab, Jesper (our professor) and one of the students working in his lab ran us through standard cognitive tests like the elevated plus maze, which is often used to test anxiety. Since we are in a pharmacology class, we also got to see the mice under the influence of different medications and how that affected their general behavior as well as their reactions to various stimuli. It was interesting to finally see the reactions and effects in person, since up until now most concepts had only been described as symptoms associated with either unorganized, under-stimulation, or overstimulation of various receptors on neurons. The ability to be able to apply what we had been learning, and to finally see these medications work in vivo definitely helped tie some loose ends together. It was also cool to hear everyone else’s questions, since we all do come from various experience levels regarding research and neuroscience in general. I have only taken two neuroscience classes before coming here and I really do appreciate having people at all different levels in class because I feel like I get to know all of the fun facts from the classes that my classmates have taken at their home university!

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It was nice to see how similar the research environment in Denmark is to that at the University of Illinois. As biology major, I will definitely have to go on to pursue some further education that will include some sort of research. Due to the minimal amounts of time I have spent in research labs, it was nice to not only see where research was often performed, but also be given examples of what an experiment in action was like. The pseudo experiments we did during our three-hour field trip really put into action where the timetables, the graphs, and the materials and methods come from in the many research papers I have studied, and really helped me understand why it takes so many years for even one article to be completed. After deciding what to test, a lab must pass the animals’ ethical regulations, they report anything and everything that the animals will be exposed to, and they must also find grants to pay of the necessary drugs, to pay for the space, and then pay for any other cost that may come up during the process. So once all of this is completed and passed by the directors, then the experiments can begin.

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This was definitely an eye-opening experience regarding the research side of being in a science department in college. There is a lot more that goes into it than meets the eye, which is something I am glad and grateful to have been exposed to before making a commitment to the research field without really having a full understanding or awareness of everything that it entails.

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Firenze with Friends and Food

Still on the first travel break here! That Thursday we boarded a train to Florence and got there relatively early. In comparison to Rome, it is definitely smaller and slower pace which was a nice change. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that lucky with the weather, so we walked straight to hostel to drop our bags off and grabbed our raincoats before heading out on the town.

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Our first stop was of course the markets!! There were just rows and rows of people selling leather, jewelry, and all of the trinkets you could think of. I have never really bargained before, but after an hour or so there I felt confident enough to barter for a bag. I ended up walking out of there with a new leather bag for a lot cheaper than they were selling it and some pretty good Christmas presents for my family. For the rest of the day we walked around the city exploring all of the little nooks.

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Audrey, who I mentioned in my post about Oktoberfest, is actually studying abroad in Florence, so we met up with her and some of her roommates at a restaurant called Dante’s. Even the people here really just wanted to feed us. So we got there and Dante himself introduced himself as we ordered. We all chatted for a few hours and shared our food because it was all very good. The hospitality in Italy is definitely not secluded to just Rome because Dante gave us a round of free shots and free shirts! We hung around and chatted for a while longer, before getting some one-euro gelato. These prices definitely were a lot nicer to my wallet than the ones in Copenhagen.

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The following day, we went inside of the Duomo and then climbed up the bell tower to see all of Florence. I am glad we decided to climb up the tower instead of the Duomo because when we looked out at the city from that high, it was nice to be able to see one of the most iconic landmarks. We made our way down and then headed over to Gusta Pizza for lunch! At Gusta, they will make your pizza in the shape of a heart if you ask, so Cara and I acted like we were on a little date and split it. We headed to the Boboli Gardens for a walk afterwards and then climbed up to Piazza de Michelangelo. We had already seen the city from a higher prospective earlier in the day, but it was really nice to just sit along the ledge near the trees and hang out. There were a lot of people around there because of the gelato festival, so it remained pretty exciting the entire time we were there.

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When we came back to the central city, we walked around Florence’s equivalent to the Walking Street, and went in and out of the shops. We looked at a lot of the artwork and sculptures around there and then headed to dinner. At this restaurant, the one restaurant I don’t remember the name of, I had the best fettuccine with truffle sauce there is. The portion, the pasta, the sauce, the everything was as perfect as it could have been, and I could not have been more lucky to have this as my last meal in Italy because it would have been very hard to top. We sat around and chatted until the rain stopped, and then we made one last gelato stop before getting to the steps near the Duomo. We closed off the night outside of this beautiful church just people watching and enjoying each others company as the clouds cleared and some stars peaked out.

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“I can’t wait to see how cute and fat you got in Europe.” –Mama Joshi

All Roads Lead to Gelato

Throwing it back to elementary school me, the second I saw Lizzie McGuire explore the streets of Rome on the back of an Italian pop star’s moped I was determined to make my way to the eternal city. Flash forward to now, a junior in college and believe it or not the Lizzie McGuire phase still hasn’t completely worn off. I am lucky that I picked a city like Rome to swoon over for 11 years, because it still did not disappoint.

We reached the center of the city pretty late at night, after our delayed flight from Munich finally landed and we were able to catch the train within seconds of it leaving. Luckily the lady we rented the Air B&B from was still waiting for us at the other end and we walked over to the apartment together.

We fell asleep pretty fast from the long day we had had, and good thing we did because we conquered a lot of the city on Monday. Our apartment was right next to the Spanish Steps, so we were in an ideal location to most monumental spots. We strolled around for a while, looked at the Spanish Steps, stopped by Pizza Navona, saw the Trevi Fountain (under construction) and got a really nice taste of the insane traffic! There is no such a thing as crosswalks in Rome, and I highly doubt people would even use them if they were there. Everyone would just start walking into the street and expect the cars to stop. I have had to do this in India before, but I still hold my parents hands for it. Talk about having to grow up while being abroad!

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Every time we would walk by a café or a little restaurant, you could hear Italian men laughing, chatting, and drinking their espresso. They drank it standing up and it seemed like it was almost on the go, so very different than the sit down culture of Copenhagen. As we continued walking, we saw buses, we saw cars, and bam there is the Colosseum! It actually seemed like it came out of no where, and it was weird to see cars being driven around it and people just walking right by it as if it was just another building.

We had reserved a tour of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel a few weeks earlier, so we headed to Vatican City after lunch. Due to the heat as well as the herds of visitors and tours going through the chapels and the museum at the same time, it was difficult to take in everything it offered. We eventually did make our way through the maze and stampede, and arrived at the Sistine Chapel. They only let a few people in at a time and they didn’t allow anyone to talk. I am glad they did this, because it was crazy to think that I was finally seeing the frescoes I have heard about in every history, art, and religion class I have ever taken. Any picture does no justice to the actual thing. Michelangelo sure did know a thing or two about good art.

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That night we ate dinner in Trastevere, and little did we know that we would end up eating dinner in this area every single night we spent in Rome. The first night we went to a restaurant called Cacio e Pepe, and even with my high expectations of the food here, I was still blown away. First of all, we were trying to decide where to eat but when we were looking at the menu, the waiter was really insisting on feeding us. As a group of timid Americans we were trying to take our time and make a somewhat rational decision, but all of the sudden he was offering us prosecco, bread, and a full table. So we accepted without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into, and boy am I glad we did. We sat down, ordered the house wine, pasta and pizza dishes, and ate to our hearts’ content. There were people walking around, there were wine corks stuck in between the cobblestone, and I was surrounded with good company. I do not think that my first dinner in Italy could have been more wonderful.

The following day, we took things a little slower. We woke up and headed out to Campo de Fiori and when I say that the Italians like to feed you, I am not kidding. We got there, and all of the sudden everyone was handing us little samples of cheese, fruit, and absolutely everything and anything dipped in truffle sauce. I obviously didn’t reject any of it, and I definitely have no ragrets. We wandered around the market for so long, just looking at all of the different fruits, eating some snacks, and listening to people laugh and bargain with the vendors. We strolled around the smaller streets for a while longer and stopped into some shops. Around lunchtime we went to Pastificio. It is a small pasta shop that sells heaps of pasta just from 1 pm-2 pm. We got there around 1:20 pm and the line was so far out the door that we knew it was going to be good. We ate it sitting on the Spanish Step with the sun beating down on us, which made it even better. Then, since no Italian meal is complete without gelato, we made our way to a gelateria that was a recommendation. There I ate the best pistachio gelato there ever will be. I probably won’t eat that flavor again, just because that one, the one that I got on the corner of Piazza de Popolo will never meet its match.

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On Wednesday, we headed to the Colloseum for a tour and also got to walk through the Roman Forum. I did not meet a Pablo, but I also didn’t have Mrs. Ungermeyer yell at me so no complaints here.

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Around lunchtime we found a restaurant where I ate the best pizza I have had in my entire life. Growing up in Chicago, I am forever loyal to the deep dish pizza, however this brick-oven, thin crust sheet covered in cheese, sauce, and everything else that was sent from the heavens will hold a special place in my heart. As previously mentioned, no meal in Italy is complete without gelato, so we headed to a place deemed as the best gelato in Rome. Since it was the best, I decided to really test out as much of it as I could, and got a scoop of raspberry with a scoop of nougat on top of it and of course some cream. I obviously have not forgotten about the pistachio I had the day before, but boy oh boy was this incredible.

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For dinner, we went to….Trastevere!! Luckily we got to meet up with a friend from high school who took us to Tony’s. It was right next to the restaurant we had gone on the first day and I had the best potato gnocchi in the world. Each little dumpling felt like eating a little cloud and then the sauce added the perfect amount of flavor. We all caught up and chatted over some of the house wine and good food, and then we got free tiramisu! I told you, everyone there wanted to feed us. Even though we did have to put a close to our adventures in Rome, Florence did anything but disappoint.

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“If you don’t eat copious amounts of ice-cream while you’re abroad, you did it wrong.” –Allison Shaner

PROST!

During the first travel break, our first stop was the land of Munich, Germany for nothing else but OKTOBERFEST! We got to the central city around midday, and the closest Metro stop to where we were staying was Marienplatz. I need to be honest and say that the public transport in Copenhagen has definitely spoiled me. The metro and the regional trains, including all of the stations/stops are extremely clean and don’t even smell! The ones in Germany really weren’t that bad, but after spending the last month and a half in fancy Copenhagen, the difference was pretty noticeable.

We eventually made it out of the train station, and the first thing we laid our eyes on was the Glockenspiel. If you want to see medieval architecture, then this is pretty much as good as it gets. The building itself is huge, and filled with arches, gargoyles, and everything you could imagine being surrounded by if you wore a cloak and drank wine out of a goblet. The Glockenspiel plays and turns every hour, so once the clock towers strike the hour, it starts playing exactly on cue.

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Our hostel was really close to the festival, so we walked there, put our bags down, and were finally able to think of getting some food in our system. None of us were entirely keen eating traditional German food quite yet, so we found a cute little Vietnamese place in Germany!

A huge perk about this meal was that it was not a small fortune to pay for. Copenhagen is known for its high prices, so eating out is pretty rare (especially as student tourists). However, just for a few euros I was able to fill my stomach with enough food to feed a small village. Hey, a girl’s gotta eat!

After stuffing our faces, we made our way around the festival to figure out our plan of action for the insanity that would be a Saturday at Oktoberfest. Before getting here I was really just expecting this to be only a beer festival. I thought there would be rows and rows of tents and then kegs as far as we could see. There obviously was that, but there were also rides, and carnival games, and incredible little booths that sell candied nuts, treats, and fruit covered in everything! It really felt like county fair, obviously bigger by about 3000 fold, I mean there was a Ferris wheel! We strolled around a while longer, got some chocolate covered apples, and then headed back to the hostel because we had an early morning waiting for us.

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5:30 am. I am not kidding you when I say that is the time I put my dirndl on and braided my hair. I am not a morning person, so getting myself out of bed to get dressed, braid my hair, and drink beer did not seem appealing by any means. Regardless, Cara, Leah, Audrey, and I got ready and headed to the Hofbräu tent to get in line. The doors open at 9:00 am, but we got there around 6:00 am and still were not the first people in line! We waited in line for what seemed like forever, before the security guards announced they were opening the doors. It was a stampede. People just booked it into the tent, and were running everywhere to claim tables. Luckily a group of us got a table that also had benches, so we knew we wouldn’t have to spend the rest of the day standing. Within seconds the beer maidens came by with giant steins and there were people with baskets selling pretzels and donuts!

The entire weekend was incredible. Throughout the entire festival, there were people from Germany but also from all around the world who came to the biggest beer festival in the world. While we were in the Hofbräu Tent people were standing up on tables, chugging their beers, and singing old songs. There were steins being slid across tables and live music for all of us to sing along to. Throughout the day, I ran into people studying abroad all over Europe, some of them who I went to high school with!

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Yes, this is an alcohol-centered celebration and I am sure some people are not a big fan of that. But after being there I can say that the alcohol was just part of it. The entire atmosphere is filled with people all dressed up and just wanting to have a good time with their friends. It didn’t really matter that I was wearing a dirndl from a costume shop in Copenhagen, and it definitely didn’t matter that I wasn’t German. Even spending just a day at Oktoberfest, I thoroughly enjoyed the company of the friends I made, I enjoyed the same German folk song they played nearly 30 times, and definitely enjoyed drinking good beer out of a stein the size of my face.

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“Beer tastes the best during Oktoberfest.” — The German girl I met at our table

Biking in Bornholm

The weekend after the half-marathon I made my way over to Bornholm for a DIScovery trip. This is just one of the many trips that is organized by the school, so there are other students, leaders, and a pre-planned itinerary. All I had to do was show up!

Bornholm is a small island, actually closer to Sweden than it is to Denmark. It is filled with quaint towns and miles and miles of bike trails. We made our way over there on a Friday night by ferry, and got to the hostel just in time to see the sun rise. It is called the sunshine island of Denmark, and it definitely did not disappoint, well at least not on the first day.IMG_2180

After eating some breakfast everyone grabbed a bike and headed out to the first town. The rolling hills and the consistent view of the ocean definitely made the ride feel shorter than it actually was. Once we stopped, we strolled around the small market in the square and then got ice-cream, which seems to be becoming a staple to my other bike rides as well. Eventually we made our way out of that town and planned to head to the beach about an hour further south.

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While making the plan to go to the furthest beach, we did not realize how far the beach actually was, and the fact that we would have to bike all the way back to the hostel. So instead, we made our way to a smaller and closer beach which was still just as nice. I am glad we soaked all of that in because it was probably the final enjoyable moment for the next two hours.

Since the ride to beach and to the town were all downhill, the ride back was the same trails just the other way. But with our luck, not only was the road getting higher but we were now going against the wind. After riding by on the lowest gears and occasionally stopping for water, we made it back! We were greeted with some dinner, which I am sure was exactly what everyone was thinking about for the second leg of the trip home.

After everyone had showered and rested for a bit, the leaders bought us all some very well deserved candy, snacks, and beers!! The rest of the night was spent chatting, laughing, and sippin on some juice with friends I may not have met if I didn’t go on this trip.

The following day was a little wet to say the least. A large group of us set out to see the ruins on the northern part of the island, but about 2 miles into the ride the rain started to come down pretty strong. We stopped a little further up the way to see some cliffs before four of us figured we would rather hang around the little town our hostel was in.

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Once we made it back, we stopped by the pancake house, which was a delicious call and then just roamed around. Rebecca and I went on a walk and then a shorter bike ride to explore other places close to where we were. I am not kidding when I say that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a mermaid here. The rocks, the clouds, and the color of the water all seemed extremely fitting to the set of The Little Mermaid and as inaccurate as that movie probably is, I still had a bit of hope that I would spot Ariel or at least Sebastian.

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At the end of the day, we took a ferry to Sweden where we had a bus pick us up from the boat dock. From there we took the bridge back to Copenhagen, and before we knew it we were back home! So after nearly forty miles, three scoops of ice-cream, and a very good weekend, I can say that I am very glad I signed up for this trip.

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Run Happy

Still playing catch up here! On September 13th, I ran the Copenhagen Half-Marathon, which was quite the experience! I have run a few before so I was pretty comfortable with the distance, but since I have been abroad, I haven’t really been able to keep any training schedule.

The actual race didn’t start until 11:15, so it was a nice to not have to wake up before the crack of dawn. Once Cara, Alex, and I made our way off of the extremely congested S-train we walked to the exit and realized it was pouring rain! Of course, I am just wearing some running shorts and a long sleeve shirt. My watch was broken and I was holding my transportation pass and phone in a Ziploc bag, so preparation for this day could have been a little better on my part. We stopped by the nearest grocery store to get pretty race jackets (aka garbage bags) and then headed to the race start.

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Once we got into the race environment the excitement kicked in. We saw the elites take off and shortly after, our wave started to shimmy down the racecourse. This was the first race I have done in a city, so it was a nice change to have people at every leg of the race cheering, dancing, clapping, and frolicking around in ridiculous costumes. The rain had slowed down for the start, and up until about mile eight it was pretty dry. Then, once I started making my way over the canal and into one of the windiest parts of the city, the rain decided to make a nice re-appearance. Because of the not so ideal conditions, miles eight to ten were definitely not my favorite, but I got through them and was able to coast through the last three before being greeted at the finish with a medal, a beer, cinnamon rolls, and bananas!

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During the race people were cheering for me in languages I didn’t understand, but it is very reassuring that race environments seem to be pretty universal. Seeing the city blocked off from other traffic and having pacing groups throw streamers up at mile markers made running through the rain worth it. There were choruses singing outside of cafes, there were people playing instruments along some streets, and even karaoke events planned around the racecourse.

Over the last two months, I have usually felt like an outsider looking in. Even though everyone speaks English here, it is not that hard for Danes to tell who is a foreigner. With my colorful clothes and non-blond hair, I often feel like I stick out like a sore thumb anyways. However, having the opportunity to be a part of this crowd and just being so jacked up on endorphins, I didn’t even think about those differences. For the first time since I’ve been here, I couldn’t stop smiling and truly felt like I was included in the group of the happiest people in the world.

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“We run when we’re scared, we run when we’re ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time.”– Christopher McDougall

Some Perspective

I am very sorry for not updating this in while, but there are just so many activities and so little time! I am going to rewind to the beginning of September, when I went to Western Denmark with my psychopharmacology class. We visited some lectures regarding the clinical, pharmaceutical, and research sides of neuroscience. We also visited the Ovartaci and ARoS Museums in Aarhus, while doing everything H.C. Andersen related in Odense.

The talks were intriguing and exciting because we got to hear about the research these professionals are currently doing and we got to hear about the world’s largest brain bank! It was weird, but still exciting for a group of brain nerds.

One of the visits that had a significant impact on me was the Ovartaci Museum. This is an old mental asylum that has been turned into an art museum displaying work from mentally unhealthy artists. Ovartaci, a patient for 56 years was the largest contributor, but there are pieces from a variety of others ranging from people with schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and a combination of other disorders. Some of the art was colorful, involving a lot of things that wouldn’t make sense in reality, but were still nice to look at. However, there were also many exhibits that were dark and disturbing. They included drawings that were filled with graphite scratches, a lot of black and red, and many had little cohesion. Looking at these pieces showed me a side of mental disorders that no classroom or lecture has been able to explain to me. I could finally have some sort of emotional insight in the negative and dangerous thoughts that go on in an unhealthy mind, and to think that what was displayed on the canvas was just a portion of what was going on inside of the artists is still difficult to fully comprehend. Seeing these pieces of work definitely reinforced why I am studying what I am.

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After quite the heavy afternoon, we got to hang out by the water before heading over to our hostel. It was conveniently placed in the center of the “city”, if Aarhus can even be called one. It is the second largest city in Denmark, so in my mind I was expecting something similar to what Chicago is like in comparison to New York. Surprise! It’s not. This town seemed very under populated to be considered a city, and didn’t seem to really have a lot going on. However, it does have a walking street and an H&M nearly every 2 blocks, so definitely still a little similar to Copenhagen.

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For dinner our class had a group dinner at a beautiful restaurant along the canal. We hadn’t really had any social group events yet so it was nice to finally be able to get to know everyone better and also to get fed, because who doesn’t like good free food! We were very Danish for the night by spending multiple hours just chatting and laughing far after our meal was complete, and then we headed closer to the water where we continued to chat and share some stories. On our way back to the hostel, we walked by an Irish Pub and figured it would be a good idea to walk in. Good thing we did! They were playing good music and we had all broken the ice pretty well before, so we could crack jokes and just hang out at this point.

From the time of getting to Copenhagen to core course week, it was really difficult trying to find a consistent group to hang out with. I mostly had met nice people from different classes and different events which made it particularly difficult to hang out in groups. What was nice about this week was that the group was predetermined. Most of us are neuroscience, biology, or psychology majors so we already have something in common. Then, on top of that everyone seemed really open the meet knew people. The silent dynamic of the first bus ride to Aarhus has not been revisited since that very first time we traveled together, so the next two days were definitely a nice precursor to the exciting environment I get to spend the rest of the semester in.

The following day we headed to Odense, or better known as the H.C. Anderson’s kingdom. For a quick recap, H.C. Anderson wrote “The Ugly Ducking,” “The Princess and the Pea,” and my personal favorite, “The Little Mermaid!” He has written hundreds of other fairy tales and in Odense resides his home as well a museum that goes into further detail about his life and his work. Before we strolled through his teeny tiny little house and nearly cleared out the sweetest Christmas shop in the world, we had a traditional Danish lunch at a restaurant called The Ugly Ducking!

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I’ve got to be completely honest, Danish food isn’t my favorite. The rye bread is nice, but when it is served with potatoes covered in a curry sauce, it tends to get a little much. My body has definitely felt less sluggish on other days. However, if there is something that everyone needs to try when they come to Denmark it is dream cake! It is this wonderful little cake that has brown sugar and cinnamon baked into it, while it is covered with a light layer of frosting and coconut. There is a possibility that I felt sluggish because I had 3 pieces of cake, but I am just going to blame it on the food that I didn’t think tasted as good.

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            After sharing meals, museum visits, lectures, and hostel rooms, the class definitely started to feel like a closer group. On the bus ride back to Copenhagen there was more chatter and excitement than that first bus ride. Having core course week so close to the beginning of the semester really helped the process of making new friends and finding a smaller community within the entire program. Just having a roommate for three days and eating meals in groups definitely served as a great reminder that most people are still looking for people to hang with. It was a good reality check regarding the fact that everything is very new for all of us and we are all making cultural mistakes that we can make fun of each other for.

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