On Finishing Exams and Winter Blues

Settling back in has sucked some of the life out of me. Is is the weather? Is it the studying? Or it just me? The last two weeks have mostly involved eight to ten hours of studying per day and ‘life maintenance’, otherwise known as a consistent and concerted attempt to understand why customer service is somehow even worse here in Europe. Combine that with the bleak grey of a Danish winter and I think resettlement has taken its toll on my mental well-being. I’ve been more homesick in my first week back than I was all last semester, which is, of course, odd given that I was just home.

Finishing the term, I’m left with less certainty about what I want to do with my life and more certainty about areas of my academic life I could improve in. I’m more certain that development is a field I’m interested in, but I’m less certain about what part of that field I would like to go into. I’m more certain that I know what some of the most pressing issues are, but less certain what my direction will be and what contributions of worth I could make. I know I don’t want to do a PhD, but that I can be capable as I writer, and that I still need to work better on writing with concision and communicating specific ideas. Exams made that clear to me. I am by no means the smartest one in the room, so I will need to find the thing that makes me feel like I am.

I’m still not sure if I like the European system of exams more or less. Sure, you have a Christmas break followed by an entire month to read and prepare, but what’s the use? In some ways, it’s valuable, but after going through it I kind of just wished I had the opportunity to kill myself studying at the end of the semester and be done with it. I liked the extra time for the essays, but the time allocated to preparing for my sit-down and oral exams just psyched me out. I probably would have been equally prepared had I taken the exams at the end of the semester. In any regard, the disappointment of getting an exam that focuses on about a tenth of the material you learned the entire semester is a universal feeling everyone can relate to.

At least it’s over.

On top of this exam anxiety, I think I’ve been touched by a bit of the seasonal affective depression. To be fair, though, I have given the malaise a fertile breeding ground: I messed up my sleep schedule; I’ve been studying many hours a day; I haven’t been given myself the time to be especially social; I haven’t been exercising much. There’s been a lot of down time and waiting, so much so that I even got to the point of questioning the entire point of being abroad based on one bad day. Instead of taking personal responsibility, though, I’m going to blame it on the weather. It sounds silly, but for someone who never thinks in apocalyptic terms when it comes to their emotions, the connection to the weather seems like it might be true. Here, there’s none of the romance of the snow or the occasional sunny but cold day. It’s consistently a little bit dreary and it’s certainly not helping my mental state. Perhaps I also need a new apartment, something that’s not just an unwelcoming room adjacent to a dark kitchen and an odd roommate to come home to. I think that would make me feel more at home.

I had my last exam this morning, though, and now I’m free and can feel myself rising from the muck. The time off until my next term will give me time to reevaluate, take a break, be a tourist and get the rhythm of my life back on track after a little post-holiday malaise. I managed to book myself a free trip to Krakow with travel credit, and I think the rejuvenation of travel will be a much-needed salve. Until next semester, UCPH.

On 2016: A Cobbled-Together List of My Most Memorable Experiences


An incomplete list of the most memorable things I could think of from 2016, a seductive year with a crappy personality.

The East Side Gallery in Berlin – One of the most flat-out beautiful and immersive things I’ve seen while traveling. Abstract but still manages to take you back and feel connected to a part of history.

Applying and getting accepted to grad school – In the Fall of 2015, I couchsurfed in Copenhagen, Denmark and slept on the couch of someone doing a Master’s in Global Development at the University of Copenhagen. The next thing I know it’s January, I’m back home in America and I’m applying to only that program. I get accepted two months after that, and a year later almost to the day from applying and here I am.

Kubo and the Two Strings – A lovely animated movie and one of the best movies I’ve seen in years, which is sadly likely to get looked over by the likes of Finding Dory and Zootopia (not that those are bad films).

CHVRCHES concert in Boston – Seeing my favorite band at the House of Blues for the second time was a great reminder of why they’re my favorite band and why I love Boston. Need to go to concerts more often than I do.

Random overnight trips to Montreal with my best friend – The most memorable things people do are often the things that happen out of nowhere. One Monday I text a classmate I’m only acquaintanced with to hang out. It’s Spring Break, so the next thing I know we’re planning an overnight in Montreal Wednesday into Thursday, just a five-hour drive from Boston. We wandered drunk around Montreal and that’s the story of how me and her became best friends.

Hiking every week of the summer – I was more physically active than I’ve ever been this summer and hiked nearly twelve mountains, seven of which were in the White Mountains. I have really fond memories of hiking both with friends and on my own. I think my favorite memory was a long solo hike I did on the Fourth of July up Mount Monadnock and down the backside, and then back up and down the front. Really nothing more beautiful; it’s where I’m at my happiest. ‘Merica.

The Chainsmokers – Some of the only Top 40 I can really get behind. ‘Nuff said.

Thanksgiving in Europe – After arranging a Thanksgiving potluck at the University of Copenhagen, I was happy to see that nearly three-quarters of the Global Development class came out to enjoy the night with us. A smashing success if I do say so

Weather BEFORE.

An amazing month of summer and new friends in Copenhagen – The first month of my grad program was one of the loveliest months in memory. Drinking by the lakes, getting to know new friends, cycling around the city, the newness of everything, still excited to be in a foreign city, the sun is shining, learning to fall in love with my new home before the weather takes a turn for the worst.

Vacation in Burlington, Vermont – Another great overnight with one of my best friends. Beer, whiskey, driving through the Vermont countryside, donuts, improv comedy, burritos with a friend-of-a-friend’s 50-something coworkers. What more could you want?

Living in my first apartment – Bills sure are overwhelming? My non-successful attempts at self-sufficiency were nevertheless memorable for the experience of near-complete independence and the feeling that I had more control of my life. The apartment was okay, but the location close to the Merrimack River in Lowell, Massachusetts made summer nights feel very satisfying.


Lost and drunk in Denmark – It’s a new city and I have no idea where I am because I’m drunk and cycling home to an apartment in a country I couldn’t place on a map five years before. Life is good.

Going to a meeting of the New Hampshire Democratic Party in a snowstorm – I do miss the feeling of snowstorms, which don’t seem to be a thing over here, at least like they are back home. After a sort-of bad one, it felt very appropriate and memorable to drive up to Manchester, New Hampshire with some UML Political Science people and see Bernie, Hillary, and others speak. Reminded me why politics is so exciting despite all its absurdity. Seem like such halcyon days given the current perversion of reality that is our current political situation.


Revisiting Scotland – A lot of memorable nights with a lot of good people on the other side of the ocean. Was fortunate enough to spend three years in the Model UN at UMass Lowell, and was glad to be back in Scotland at another conference. Especially memorable are the long nights just talking in the hotel room and revisiting the Scottish Highlands. Could certainly see myself retiring to the Scottish countryside…

Starting the Gilmore Girls (bear with me…) – An actually amazing show with great characters and dialogue that isn’t just for girls. Only half way through.Presents an idealized version of New England that I can be nostalgic for despite my lack of sureness that it ever actually existed in that way…


Working on the Bernie Sanders campaign – I had the privilege of spending about a month and a half volunteering and ‘interning’ for the Bernie Sanders for President campaign. I met new people, reminded myself why I studied politics, and reinvigorated my faith in America and humanity. The grunt work of politics is unendurable and I like Europe, but I feel guilty when there’s so much to do back home and it feels like everything’s falling apart.

Slate podcasts – Podcasts – of which I’m as active a consumer as you’ll find – got me through the 2016 election and 2016 in general. They are how I stay up to date on news and culture, and the podcasts from Slate Magazine and Panoply are the best on the Internet. I listen to stuff about comedy and politics mostly. I also recommend the Run-Up from the New York Times, Politico’s Nerdcast, The Ezra Klein Show, Maeve in America, FiveThirtyEight Politics, NPR, WTF with Marc Maron, The Axe Files, the Tim Ferris Show and Rachel Maddow for those interested in increasing their podcast diet. Do it, it’s worth it.


Finally graduating – Feels good, huh? Especially after an all-too-quick semester of working thirty hours a week and typing up loose ends at the university.

Election party in Copenhagen – As we realized he was going to win at five in the morning, I started to cycle home knowing he’d probably be President by the time I woke up. If the bike ride home at 5:30 was any indication with its unrelenting snow/rain and dark clouds, I think there was an omen buried somewhere about the future of the American electoral process.

Halloween in Latvia – Weird nights figuring out last minute Halloween costumes and drinking with people you met on Couchsurfing in the Baltic States while on vacation with one of your new friends from grad school. What more to want?


Star Wars: Rogue One – An amazing film experience that reminded me why I love Star Wars so much. The only thing that really makes me feel like a kid again. Real talk.

Bon Iver – 22, A Million – The best album of the year, hands-down. Nothing creates a better mood.

The 2016 election – Well, that happened. No really, I was there. “Back in my day…..” –future self

Board games in a hostel in Germany with friends – Quiet nights in a hostel in Hamburg playing board games on the floor of a hostel with your friends before you head back to university – and having a damn good time of it.


The Crown – The best new series on Netflix and a fascinating look at the first decade of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Can’t help but get the sense that none of it matters because monarchy is stupid, but it’s good drama and John Lithgow as Winston Churchill is about as good as it gets.

Canvassing in the back roads of New Hampshire – Listening to NPR on the morning of the New Hampshire Democratic Primary while skidding out in my car while I try to canvass and get out the vote for Bernie Sanders in the back roads of New Hampshire. Lot of “Beware of Dog” and ‘Trespass and I’ll Shoot You” signs. Good news: he won. That was a good night; regret not going to the after party in Concord.

Charlie Rose – I like interviews and am a 58-year old man who reads the New York Times at heart. What can I say?


Laid over in Munich – A chance to breathe before the holidays and catch up on life and my thoughts. Yay for missed connections.

Overnights in Washington DC – Road trips to the nation’s capital during finals week to do emergency biometrics for your Danish visa. Memorable except for my active repression of the George Washington Bridge and the New Jersey turnpike. *shudders*

Adopting a cat – There’s nothing like winters in New England, so what do you to get through in your first winter on your own? Adopt a mean cat with your roommate and pretend like it’s fun to be around.


The year of politics – I was more active this year in politics than I’ve been before (which is still not a ton) and got more of an education with the 2016 election than I did with an entire Political Science degree. I think I’ll look back on it with fondness despite the outcome because of everything it taught me.

Walking over the Charles Bridge in Prague – Prague is the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited and you get a sense of that history walking over the Charles Bridge. I might just move there after grad school for no other reason then it makes me smile just thinking about it and its history.

Quiet summer days reading by the river in Lowell, Massachusetts – I was semi-successful in rediscovering my love of reading over the summer. I had a beautiful backyard near my apartment and have a lot of nice memories of late mornings drinking coffee and reading a book.

Book signings in Cambridge – Nothing like an extemporaneous reminder that I need to read more. I went to see Anu Partanen, a Finnish writer, speak about her new book The Nordic Theory of Everything. It was a beautiful reminder of what we could do better in America and what Nordic life really means with all its quirks. A month later and I’m experiencing the Scandiavia she described. (Where oh where has it gone on these cold winter days?)

TA-ing for the Model UN – I was fortunate to get the experience to be a teaching assistant for the Model UN. It reminded me that I can be a leader when I need to be and that I have the capacity to teach if I really need to. Have a lot of work to do as a public speaker, but it’s certainly interesting to get the vote of confidence to see that side of the classroom. Learning and campuses are infectious – maybe I’ll still yet do a PhD? Maybe.


NPR – I’m an audio learner. It’s easier for me to retain information I hear than information I read because I have a poor memory. Audiobooks don’t work for me and lecture’s sometimes don’t, but podcasts and radio certainly do. Discovered a love for National Public Radio in all its earnestness. (I’m officially a fuddy-duddy I would have made fun of five years ago.)

Summer nights watching Game of Thrones – Getting home after long sticky summer nights, oftentimes spent hiking, and watching GoT with or without friends is a memorable experience in-and-of-itself. Television is so compartmentalized these days that it’s special to get that collective experience of something these days. Best show on television.

Rediscovering Massachusetts – Whenever I could this summer, I tried to waste my gas by doing day trips all over Massachusetts or running in different parts of the State. Reminded me how beautiful New England is and how much I love Massachusetts in spite of a pretty overwhelming election season.

Bagel dates with friends – Saturdays. Bagels. Friends. Bagels.


On Breaks, Exams, and Looking Forward

#NewYearNewMe #notreally #jk #lolz

#NewYearNewMe #notreally #jk #lolz

A quick note that while I am no longer employed by UMass Lowell, I will be continuing to blog here for the indefinite future. Hope that if you’re at all interested in my life or thoughts that you’ll continue to check it out. Happy 2017!

I was more ready for what returning home would feel like than I needed to be. When you’re 22, it feels like a big deal to return home after four months in another country. But it’s really not, and you do settle into a pattern of catching up with people like no time has passed on at all. Four years ago, that would have felt far off, because when you’re young it seems like you’re not maintaining a relationship if you don’t see someone for a week. But that’s not true, the scope of life simply expands.

When I think back to my childhood, I realize that every adult around me was doing the same and just letting the scope of their life expand, losing track of people for months and then reconnecting with them like nothing happened. But for a child, it seemed like time was this massive wall: everything was a big deal, everything was all-encompassing, every little thing mattered. But, time slows down, even as the pace of life speeds up. Relationships aren’t as big of a deal, nor need they be, and soon four months can feel like four weeks.

I’m in the in-between period. I’ve still got enough of that youthful 20s enthusiasm, but things do certainly feel different. The best way I can describe it is that I’m finally getting to the age where I realize that we really are all just making it up as we go along. I’m finally getting to the age where the people around me with kids aren’t authority figures, they’re people like I am who get thrown into situations and make it work because none of us really knows what we’re doing before we do it, even if we pretend. Kids are just adults-in-waiting, parents are just people, grandparents are just kids by a different name, and every single one of us is just trying to project a sense that they have everything under control. (A remarkably apt description of our current political situation, huh?) I get closer to that feeling every time I get on a plane, and especially as I sit in airports and watch people go about their lives (I’m a people watcher, what can I say?).

Four years ago, air travel felt like a big deal to me. I hadn’t been out of the country, let alone on a plane that took me across the ocean. And it felt like a really big deal. I visited Scotland for a week when I was 19 for a conference and it felt like the biggest thing that ever happened to me. “The world was my oyster,” thought the needy, non-self-aware, short, bare-faced child who had couldn’t imagine the idea that they would just let you drink alcohol at 18 in this brand-new place. Now, air travel is just like getting on a bus. It feels routine. Hopping over to a different place from where I grew up feels routine, and it’s weird to try and communicate that to people because people only understand it relatively.

Ah, to be a young boy of 19 again on their first time in Europe. (Never shaving again.)

Ah, to be a young boy of 19 again on their first time in Europe. (Never shaving again.)

In other words, I was glad to go home, and it felt big when I got on the plane, but for the first time I got off the plane on the other side of the Atlantic and really got the sense that life goes on — literally nothing had changed. It never really does. In fairness, what I try to emphasize now is that life is still very much life when you’re not in the same country, with all of the same boredom and minutiae and ups and downs of everyday life. It doesn’t make me the best conversationalist, but it’s the truth. (Least of all is there anything exotic about gray little Denmark and the shifty, quick-glance, dart-eyed, heads-down inhabitants it calls the Danes.)

In reflection after two-and-a-half weeks “home for the holidays!,” I think what I missed most about the U.S. (or at least Massachusetts) was the sheer diversity of life and experience. Not even racial or ethnic or class diversity, but the sheer diversity of people. Everybody looks different from one another (all different shapes and sizes!), everything is so sprawling, people have more aggressive conversations, there are more options, everything seems just a little more alive even in its fakeness. It would be overwhelming if I wasn’t from there and was going there for the first time, and I can see why it could feel that way to a lot of people who go to the U.S. for the first time, as well as why it seems so spellbinding even in all of its chaos. In spending more time in Denmark, I now see my values and personality as kind of trapped somewhere between the American and European temperaments – I feel too American for Europe and too European for America. Alas.

*plays a sad song on the world’s tiniest violin*

Part of the separation – which I both miss and don’t miss – is car culture. Our infrastructure isn’t such that a person my age could just not have a car, even for two weeks over a Christmas break. It would be social suicide. Not to even get into the environmental politics of it all, but the social politics of it are hugely disturbing. It affects every aspect of life; mostly in small ways, but ways you don’t really feel until you live in a big city or another country. Over the break, I was constantly in my car buzzing from place to place to do things and catch up people. It’s exhausting. I suppose it isn’t really different from just living in a big city, but there is something that feels acutely American about it about the breakdown of neighborhood and the constant shuttling around between different suburbs. (Especially in the Boston area where you get those weird long highways with a million shops on either side that they somehow expect you to turn into at 50 miles per hour and which somehow manage to all stay in business despite people constantly needing to get from A to B. But I digress.) Nevertheless, I had a good time being home and it felt good to catch up with friends and family.

Trust me, it doesn't look like this most days.

Trust me, it doesn’t look like this most days.

Now that I’m back in Copenhagen, I have to dig back in and prepare for exams. Or, rather, continue preparing, as I’m still in the middle of them. I still don’t quite get the Danish exam system or work-life pace. (It seems so balanced, how peculiar…) Every part of my body this semester has been screaming that I should be doing more and be busier than I am – especially since I’m only working ten hours week (remotely mind you!) – but that’s just not the pace of life over here. Instead of writing a 30-page paper for our final I wrote a 3300 word final (which, granted, I probably put the same amount of time into and forced me to concise down my writing, which you can tell by these unedited blog posts is rather difficult for me).

I’m at least content with the fact that my European friends also think the Danish system is especially laid back compared to other systems of higher education in their countries, and especially to the American system. (So I’m only a little bit crazy). It’s not bad, it’s just different – and probably healthier. I’ve been constantly occupied and constantly learning, but I haven’t felt stressed. Intellectually I can recognize that this is a good thing, but the American in me feels like I should be beating my head against the wall as part of the struggle to move ahead that usually characterizes the exam time of year. Perhaps I just need therapy and to work on my impatience.

The one exam I’m nervous about is the one I’m in the middle of studying for (which is still supposed to be only four questions in three hours). Fortunately, it’s the class that reminded me why I went to graduate school and why it’s worth pursuing an interdisciplinary degree, even as my inner self is screaming to remind people of the historical conditions and political implications of what we’re talking to be. It’s economics primarily – or economic theory I should say, because we leave a lot of the applied stuff to the economists – and business and geography, but I’ve learned a lot by doing it and it’s helped give in background to some of the topics I’m interested and the things I’m always learning about. (I still don’t want to learn statistical analysis through Stata, but alas it’s a good resume-padder.) I’m looking forward to exams being over and getting through the next semester, though, so I can get to the applied stuff and start looking for jobs. I’m ready more than ever to just live life.

Since it’s a new year, I feel like I should touch a little on looking forward to the year ahead. I listened to a podcast recently, which encouraged people to choose a theme for their year and then make every decision around that theme instead of making specific, small resolutions that are easy to fail at. In other words, instead of resolving to learn a new language, lose 30 pounds, or stop taking your anger out on your dog, you should aim to make your desires around a theme that has been lacking in their your and make every decision you can by thinking of that theme. With that in mind, I’ll end by listing five of my hopes for the year ahead which are related to my theme of connection.

  1. Make more uncomfortable decisions in my personal life.
  2. Think more locally – read local news, buy physical copies of things, cook more.
  3. Get settled, treat life in another country as more permanent than it probably is, personalize.
  4. Be more physical (“Think last summer, Nick, forget the temptations of Danish beer and hygge!”).
  5. Stop moving ‘bubble to bubble’: find more ways to get involved and meet people outside of those bubbles.

I fully expect that I won’t do everything I want to, but if I think of connection more in the opportunities that present themselves to be me, I firmly believe I’ll make more decisions that will advance me in the way I’d like to see my life advanced. I don’t know when I’ll next be home to the U.S. next, but until then I’m going to dig in, connect, and try to live my temporary life as a more permanent one than it might actually be.

Stay tuned for more stories about surviving exams and more vacation time (thanks, Europe!). I’m also going to throw out a Top of 2016 list (as in top things I did, learned, experienced, consumed, etc) because why the hell not.