Student shares lessons from her first study abroad trip


Adrienne Oliva/Clarion

Getting to see amazing architecture was one of the highlights for Madison College students who participated in the study abroad trip to Denmark over Spring Break.

Adrienne Oliva, Staff Writer

During an eight-hour layover in Amsterdam on my class’s way home from our International Entrepreneurship study abroad trip to Denmark, I met someone special. His name is Gompers, and he is black and white tabby cat hand puppet. Though it may sound absurd, I believe that Gompers symbolizes a lot of what I learned during my first trip abroad. Let me explain.

The eight-hour layover that allowed me to meet Gompers what not part of our original itinerary. In fact, none of the flights we flew on during our trip were. All of our flights to and from Denmark each had their special challenges, and though the path to getting these challenges solved was stressful, our flights turned out okay. In fact, everything that felt like a mini-nightmare during our trip turned out okay, too.

Our instructor and travel lead Janet Kilsdonk wisely told us before the trip to “assume things will go wrong,” and that is exactly what happened. However, this didn’t mean things were ruined, or that I was never going to go home ever again, despite what the anxious voice in my head was saying. It just meant that we had to make a new plan, and get used to going with the flow. This was an extremely necessary exercise in flexibility for me. I am a big fan of structure; I like to make a plan, and stick to it. But that just isn’t how travel, or life in general, is.

Studying abroad allowed me to practice getting comfortable with the unexpected, and even be able to make the best of it. This is where Gompers comes in. Our 8-hour layover in Amsterdam was not part of the original plan, but was a result of a complicated events that resulted in our original scheduled flight not being available to our group. During my 8 hours in an Amsterdam airport, the most unexpected thing happened: the anxious voice in my head shut up, and I actually had fun.

I spent most of my time in the airport with fellow classmate, Eric. We checked out high end shops, made fun of silly souvenirs, and most importantly, spent time in a Dutch toy store, which is where we met Gompers. After having him on my hand as we played in the store for a half hour, we decided it was only fair that I bought him at that point. We spent the rest of our time in Amsterdam goofing around with Gompers; taking photos with him, having “conversations” with him, and introducing him to the rest of our travel group. He turned out to be the best part of our time in that airport. To me, Gompers represents what it looks like to make the best of a complicated situation.

He also represents what I learned about people while abroad. My time in the Amsterdam airport was fun was not because of Gompers, but because I spent the time goofing around with Eric. Though I learned Eric was truly a wonderful person, I don’t think I would have ever talked with him before, let alone spend hours with him in a foreign country. In fact, there was no one I went to Denmark with that I would have spent time with beforehand. It was not because I didn’t like my classmates, but I just didn’t know them.

I came to find that I genuinely liked being with all the people I traveled with. I found myself valuing what I experienced in Denmark not only because of what I was doing in Denmark, but who I was doing it with. Even the less “fun” moments of our trip, such as our layover in Amsterdam, became enjoyable because of my classmates.

Of course, our layover was not the only occasion where a stressful situation arose. For example, In Denmark, the bathrooms are different. Specifically, the shower heads are detachable. My confusion in how to work the shower led to a full on bathroom flood. Needless to say, I was mortified.

This somehow became one of the funniest moments of my trip, because I shared it with my lighthearted roommate, Emily. She helped laugh off the embarrassment I had about the incident. I now giggle when I think about how I scooped the water into plastic cups so I could pour some of the water that flooded our shared bathroom down the drain.

I had to go to another country just to get to know my classmates, and once I did, I thought they were all wonderful in completely unique ways.  

I not only made bonds with my classmates, but also with some of the Danes, as well. I specifically made a friendship with a Danish couple in the city of Kolding. The three of us bonded over makeup, LGBTQIA+ activism, and our love for Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

This bond I created with this couple is something I will always hold fondly in my heart, because I was able to truly connect with people who live a different life than I do, and live it thousands of miles away from me.

Being able to get to know both my classmates, as well as my new Danish friends taught me that most people in the world must be really lovely, it is only a matter of getting to know them.  

Looking back on my trip as a whole, I truly believe that Gompers the cat puppet to me symbolizes some of the most important lessons I learned about the modern travel experience. Things will inevitably go wrong; flights will be delayed, bathrooms will be flooded, things will be forgotten. But that’s OK. The point of traveling is to experience a new reality, not to experience everything the itinerary said would happen. Traveling is about taking the good with the bad, going with the flow, and enjoying who you are with, and that is exactly what Gompers the cat puppet symbolizes.

My experience abroad makes me hope that all Madison College students get the chance to travel abroad one day. Without a doubt, the lessons I learned are extremely valuable to me, and I hope that everyone gets the chance to learn their own lessons, and possibly even meet their own Gompers.