Many people think of study abroad as an opportunity to explore another culture and to take a break from the academic rigor of Sewanee. This is not the case, or at least not the only case, for study abroad, especially if you study neuroscience in Compenhagen.
DIS, which runs programs in Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark, named Natalie Dalton Fitzgerald, C’18, to receive its Neuroscience Academic Excellence Award. Fitzgerald received the award for her work in the Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience Program that DIS offers at its Copenhagen Center. Faculty on the program select students such as Fitzgerald for the honor based on “diligence, commitment, academic performance,” as well an ability “to contribute to a positive, collaborative learning environment in class.” DIS provides one of the few programs that focuses on Neuroscience, so the selection of a program that contributed to her major was a relatively easy one.
The program is unusual because it is taught by practitioners who conduct research rather than by professors at a university. Such an approach allows the faculty to have first-hand knowledge of their subjects and to introduce students to specialized topics such as “first-line treatment for all sorts of psychiatric disorders, from classic ADHD medication…and antipsychotic medication, to new research looking into microdosing ketamine as an effective antidepressant,” according to Fitzgerald. The program also included field trips to local sites and to nearby countries, so that students could analyze how researchers approached similar topics in applied settings and in in different contexts.
Still, Copenhagen and the Pharmacology and Neuroscience Program offered plenty of opportunities to learn about and explore a different culture. For example, Fitzgerald was able to live with a local family. Fitzgerald recalls, “From the first day, they showed me unconditional love, and they are some of the most selfless people I know, but more importantly, they gave me a sense of Danish culture, from our hygge (a sense of coziness or warmth) every night, to delicious meals, to discussions on the openness of their society, and tours in our first few days in the city.” For Fitzgerald and her host family, this sense of hygge was created by sitting together around a dinner table or on couches after a meal.
While living and studying in a different country has many challenges, Sewanee also prepared Fitzgerald to succeed inside and outside of the classroom in Copenhagen. Fitzgerald notes, “Sewanee's style of learning, with the discussion-based classes and small classroom environments gave me the experience to be able to speak up in other classes and participate, and I am now confident that the environment of Sewanee's classrooms puts its students in strong positions going into the real world.”
The academic and cultural experiences of study abroad contribute to student’s maturation and personal growth. This was certainly the case for Fitzgerald. “I loved my time abroad, and my study abroad trip really taught me a lot about neuroscience, but most importantly, it showed me a lot about what is important to me, and even gave me a whole new amazing family. Experiencing the Danish culture that is just so, so different from our own (and all that I had really, truly experienced), taught me a lot about trust, openness, and helping other people. I grew a lot while abroad, and learned a lot about balance, planning ahead, and independence.” In Copenhagen, personal growth sometimes comes in the form of learning to balance studying neuroscience and hygge.