One of the most stressful parts of study abroad preparation in August was also one of the most routine: packing. I found it surprisingly overwhelming to look at all of my clothing, school supplies and knickknacks and decide what to leave behind for four months. How many pairs of shoes do you actually need? Is there suitcase space for room decorations? Are there any toiletries that you can only find in the United States? What can I live without, and what do I truly need? With limited suitcase space, packing light was essential.

Shaving down to the necessities is a characteristic element of the study abroad experience. You are removed from most of the physical things that make home, home and also away from many of the support systems typically provided in college. Without these buffers and safety nets, you’re only really left with yourself. Realizing this truth made me reassess the value that I sometimes place on objects and spurred a mental shift in my priorities to heavily favor experiences over possessions.

After I settled into my time abroad and finally got the hang of my class schedule and daily routine, I started to realize how little I missed the things I didn’t have with me. Somewhat surprisingly, my day-to-day life was minimally different despite the absence of so many of my belongings. This realization led me to ponder what is essential versus what is convenient and reassuring, and to analyze how much joy can truly be derived from “stuff.”

As the semester is wrapping up, I’ve started to once more take stock of my physical presence in Copenhagen and how it will come home with me. Many of the items of clothing that I so painstakingly picked out in August have been battered by constant use and mediocre washing machines and will be donated instead of trekking back to the United States. Their space in my suitcase will be taken up by new things — objects that hold meaningful memories: the plastic bag of receipts, ticket stubs and memorabilia that will soon be glued into a scrapbook; the embarrassing amount of parmesan cheese I bought at one of Copenhagen’s famous julemarkeds, Danish Christmas markets; and small Scandinavian gifts for my family.

When I packed to come abroad, I used my physical belongings to help me imagine an existence for myself in Copenhagen. When I got here, though, I realized that everything I packed was just background noise: What I did once I got here, rather, was what held importance. What specific coat I packed didn’t matter besides that it kept me warm while I made memories.

When I left New York, I felt as though I were packing light — so light, in fact, that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it through the semester. Now that I’m at T minus two weeks until I fly back, I realize that light was all I needed. I was also surprised to find that being free of my stuff and many of my support systems was liberating rather than an obstacle; I wasn’t obligated to use them or to devote mental energy to them. This freedom allowed me to live much more in the moment and to newly appreciate the way that they can impact my life when I do have them.

Now, when I get home, one of the first things on my to-do list is an overhaul of everything I own. Much like I’m starting to do here in my final days, I’m going to try to classify everything as needed, wanted or to be donated. “Enough” is much less than I thought it was, and I’m eager to apply that understanding to my life back at home. While I’m excited thinking about being reunited with certain things like my books, my framed photos and all the sweatshirts I couldn’t fit into my suitcase and to once more be surrounded by the structural support built into day-to-day life at Georgetown, I’m moreso excited to know that the way I approach these things will be changed because of my experience abroad.

I’ve loved my time in Copenhagen. The experience has been an opportunity for me to reassess the way that I lead my life and the things that make me happy. When I packed to come here, I was apprehensive and uncertain. My mind was full of expectations and my suitcase held what I later deemed to be nonessentials. As I get ready to leave, I now arguably find my situation to be the opposite: My suitcase has fewer physical belongings and more memories, and my heart and mind are full of new experiences, love for new friends and hope that the things that I’ve learned about myself will come home with me and help me “pack light” for the rest of my life.

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