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GRSP Alumni Perspectives
Reflections on a Singular Year

by Mathilde Illum, Denmark, Class of 2018-19, Oglethorpe University, sponsored by Rotary Club of Dunwoody

Mathilde Illum, cousin Catharina Vandekerckhove and Mhairi Gormley (all GRSP students) with Jackie Cuthbert at Atlanta Botanical Gardens last Christmas

Mathilde Illum, cousin Catharina Vandekerckhove and Mhairi Gormley (all GRSP students) with Jackie Cuthbert at Atlanta Botanical Gardens last Christmas

To describe this year with one word is a considerable challenge. The word, like my year here, must be complicated, yet simple; meaningful to me, yet to other people, a thing said in passing and never considered again. With these criteria (and my cousin) in mind, I decided that the best word would be some physics term, and what better than “a singularity," in every sense of the word.

In one sense, this year is singular to me, as it still seems inexplicable that I should be given this amazing year when others are deprived of it by my very presence in this country. It truly has been the best year of my life. I have experienced so many different aspects of existence here, including some I didn't know were there: the life of a college student, a friend, a Dane in America, a Scandinavian living in a "Communist nation," a teenager who gets up at 5:45 every Friday to go to her Rotary meetings, and last but absolutely not least, an eternally grateful GRSP student.

At Oglethorpe University, I have many, many new friends, and gone from being "that girl who speaks Dutch" to "our friend, Mathilde from Denmark, who we'd dearly miss." This brings me to some significant cultural differences between the US and Denmark: where Danish people are relatively closed off, most Americans are at first glance much more open and hospitable. Danish people have a shell around them that you must crack before truly getting to know a Dane, but this shell is non-existent for Americans. They love so fiercely and truly that it's baffling, and that is something I will do my best to bring home with me.

On the Rotary side of things, I believe I've been blessed with one of the best clubs. The Rotary Club of Dunwoody is riddled with loving, kind, giving people, who accepted me with open arms from day one. This especially includes my host moms and my Trustee: y'all were amazing. From volunteer work to the student weekend, I've had the time of life I never thought I'd have. Turns out, I just jam hard with retirees, whether we're packing books or selling raffle tickets.

Another definition of the word "singularity" is that a huge space is condensed into an infinitely small space. This is exactly what this year feels like. So many people, feelings, experiences, and memories, all condensed into one tiny year. For me, this was anything and everything: My Ogle-friends complaining about deadlines and yelling at me for not knowing the difference between Powerade and Gatorade (trick question: there is no difference), Jackie's kittens and Sunday dinners. Browsing Goodwill with my Good friend, Will. Student weekends and long bus rides. Host families and the Super Bowl. Buying cowboy boots and tentative plans to purchase a matching hat. Knowing that Atlanta is the home of Waffle House and Coca Cola. Most of all, new friends, both at Oglethorpe and in the GRSP, two new moms, and a new country to call home.

Posted by Lynn Clarke
January 9, 2020

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