Did I get here?

When I was a little girl, I used to take my mother's backgammon board, which looked like a small brown briefcase, and pretend I was going on vacation. Channelling my godmother, I'd pack it with my play clothes and make up stories of exotic locations my Jem doll  and I visited. (In case you didn't know, Jem was the better version of Barbie since she could actually move her arms AND hands.)

The desire to travel never left, but the opportunity to leave America's borders always eluded me. In college, the study abroad program meant taking out additional loans. And after I graduated, finding a real job, with benefits, was far more important than satisfying a childhood dream. But when I was laid off from my adult job on my 25th birthday (best birthday present ever), fate finally answered my wishes and I landed a freelance position that took me to Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games. Instead of buying food with the per diem I received during my assignment, I used it to buy a train ticket to Vietnam once my contract ended. 

When I finally returned home, I knew I couldn't stay. Spending almost two months in Asia changed me; it was like the universe finally told me a secret I knew it had been keeping from me for years. 

Planning my escape

So I wanted to leave the States and honestly, didn't have any preference regarding country. I had very few requirements, it only had to be nice to me as a young African American woman, and I could get by as a monolingual since me and foreign languages have never played nicely with each other. 

Upon hearing my plans for escape, a very good friend suggested that I study abroad in Scandinavia. She reasoned that the area's desire to attract foreign labor would give me the greatest chance for funding and going to school in the country that I would hope to immigrate to would provide the network necessary for securing work after graduation. Since she is brilliant, I followed her advice and discovered a joint master's program between the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Lund University in nearby Lund, Sweden that I fell in love with.

With a target selected, it was time to work on the next phase of my plan, securing funding. Student loans were simply not an option since I didn't want to owe Sallie Mae an additional $40,000 on top of the $25,000 I already owed. Scholarships were the ideal choice and I spent a year researching available programs and preparing applications. 

The school where I received my bachelor's recommended me for a Fulbright Scholarship and also helped me apply for one from the American-Scandinavian Foundation. One final application went to the Danish Government's Scholarship for non-EU students. 

And the results are...

After pouring my heart and soul into the application for Fulbright, I received my rejection via email on my Blackberry as my best friend and I drank margaritas at Chipotle. Not even making it to the second round was such a gut punch that I bawled over my burrito bowl. Then the rejection from the American-Scandinavian Foundation came a few days later. At least they had enough class to send an actual letter. The final kicker was when Copenhagen University said that I had been accepted into my program, but their budget for the year did not leave room for any scholarships. Congratulations. 

I felt so defeated, I spent several days laying on my mom's couch like a deflated balloon. But my mother is not the most sympathetic person and only let me wallow in self-pity for a week before she made me get up and think of a contingency plan. 

Since the program that I selected was a partnership between Copenhagen University and Lund University, the faculty suggested that candidates apply to both schools to increase their chances of getting in. And at the time of my application, Swedish universities were still free to international students. I would still have to take out a loan to cover my living expenses, but the amount would be comparable to the tuition I would pay at my safety school of Queens College. So I decided that I would go to Lund if they accepted my application. Their acceptance letter came the next day.

Several days later, Copenhagen University sent out an email stating that they had received funding for scholarships, I was a finalist, and the final selection would be made in a few weeks. So I waited. After about three weeks of radio silence on their end and me having never accepted or rejected my place there, I emailed Copenhagen University and said, 
I received notice several weeks ago that I would be recommended for a scholarship to the University of Copenhagen. At this time, I would like to ask, has a final decision for the selected candidates been made? This information will greatly influence my decision in accepting admission to the University of Copenhagen since I've also been accepted to  Lund University in Sweden which currently charges no tuition fees. Please advise and thank you for your time. 

I received an email from them two weeks later informing me that I was an award winner. They also wanted me to finally confirm my acceptance into the master's program, which I did with unabashed glee.

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